We knew this was coming, but even as it was announced (formally) yesterday from David Ortiz himself we never really wanted to believe it. Yes – the most clutch and charismatic player in Red Sox history is calling it quits after this upcoming season. Even though Ortiz just turned 40 (an age not many in baseball history people play to) we all collectively thought he had at least 2 more years in him. For Christ’s sake – dude hit 37 home runs this past season! While his pure statistics on the baseball diamond are historic and Hall-worthy (more on that in a bit) his impact on the Red Sox is beyond measurable by an statistic. David Ortiz changed the culture of the team and the fans – all the while providing Boston fans with some of the most memorable moments in the Red Sox long and storied history that includes some other dudes with names like Williams, Ruth, Boggs, Clemens and Martinez. As I stated in a prior post, I believe that Ortiz sits atop the Mount Rushmore of Boston Sports as the Red Sox representative of the four major sports in Boston History. I am truly sad to see one of the greatest Boston sports hero careers ever end – only because selfishly I cannot imagine anyone ever bringing me the excitement and joy one David Ortiz brought every game for his soon to be 20 year career. Look – I hate the idea of a “farewell tour” season the likes of Jeter and Rivera recently had. Ortiz himself said he would never do that, yet here we are with his announcement. In an unabashed homer move, I now selfishly look forward to the love and appreciation he will be receiving this year for an all time career. What follows is some thoughts on why he was the greatest Red Sox ever, and why he will be missed terribly by all Sox fans moving forward.
Charisma – For a period that started in 2003 and through present day, David Ortiz was the co-owner of Boston sports fans. Only one person eclipses him in these parts, one Tom Brady. However – while fans love Brady for being the personification of awesomeness on the field and the greatest to ever play his position (FACT), the adoration for Ortiz goes way beyond his on the filed exploits (even though they are amazing). People feel like they know Ortiz – like you could have a beer with him or hang out a BBQ with him. He has one of those personalities that is incredibly endearing and magnetic. Every word he said was important – and often delivered with a sense of humor. He is one of those people that literally lights up a room when he enters it. Larger than life in both size (dude is BIG) but also in persona, he has given us so many memorable quotes and quips over the years with a press corps and fan base that literally eats everything he says up. Yes – we have had our moments of anger with him – from his bitching at umps post game about his stats or his contract disputes over the years, but in the end we always welcome him back with open arms and hearts because we LOVE him. For non Boston fans – Ortiz locally endorses a lot of products and is in a TON of commercials. Guess what? For some reason with him we don’t see it as “selling out” so much as David being David – and the products he endorses benefit greatly from his endorsement here. He is a hugger – both of his teammates but also fans. He is a leader in the clubhouse – his teammates could not respect someone any more. Even more than all of this though – is something hard to describe but I will try. It is the FEELING you get when he walks up to bat in a crucial moment in the game. You FEEL like he is always going to do something special – and a lot of the times he comes through on the biggest stage possible. The fact that his nickname is “Big Papi” is just the icing on the charisma cake. For me, the moment that truly captures all that encompasses Boston’s love affair with Ortiz happened a few days after the Boston Marathon bombings when the Red Sox played their first home game after that awful day. The city was literally attacked, and before the game Ortiz came out, grabbed the mic at Fenway in front of thousands of fans and even more watching across the country and said “This is our fucking city!” defiantly – people went wild and pride and resilience swelled in our souls. Only he could have done that so perfectly. Chills city.
Clutch – We as Boston fans have been spoiled with some of the most clutch players in sports history – Bird, Russell, Orr, Pierce, Brady and of course, Big Papi. Baseball is different than those other sports though – in that in baseball it is much more a game of individual moments and achievements. In that category, even the players I just listed have a hard time matching the resume of Ortiz. Remember – before Ortiz and his three (!) championships, we were the “cursed” franchise. Had not won crap since 1918 and the bounces would continually go against us when we had a chance to break the ridiculous “curse”. Nope – all it took was the arrival of number 34 and his ridiculous post season achievements. People love to say Reggie Jackson was “Mr. October” but for my money even the “straw that stirs the drink” cannot compete with post season greatness of Ortiz. Let’s recount a few, shall we? Ortiz’s homer in game 4 of the 04 ALCS in the comeback for the ages against the hated Yankees. Next night, game 5 of 04 ALCS, he does it again with a walk off hit against the Yankees to pave the way for the greatest comeback in baseball history. Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS against the tigers, his infamous grand slam to tie the game. His batting average in the World Series that year was over 700 for the love of God. Every championship we won was on his very broad shoulders and in the most dramatic and clutch fashion possible. Yes – it was a team effort every time but none of those three championships are even remotely possible if it wasn’t for his now legendary exploits.
As the news of his retirement spread, the local and national conversation naturally turned to “is Ortiz a Hall of Famer”? That this question is even being asked is ridiculous to me, but here are the arguments for “no” being lobbied about in the press:
- He took Steroids – The Mitchell report cited Ortiz as one of over 100 players that tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. First of all – this was supposed to a confidential test and Ortiz denied ever taking steroids emphatically (call me crazy but I believe him). Secondly – STEROIDS WERE NOT ILLEGAL AT THE TIME IN BASEBALL (truth). Thirdly (and dropping the mic) – dude has been tested a ton of times since and never once came back positive. Honestly – I am more surprised to hear of people not taking some sort of performance enhancement in this era he played in – even the glorified Derek Jeter. Everyone did it and while that doesn’t make it right, it is a fact. Are we supposed to just ignore all the achievements of the last 25 years in baseball?
- He is “just a DH” – This one really gets me going. OK – so yes – David Ortiz was a designated hitter for most of his career. So what? Give me a list of more feared and productive hitters than him over his career in the same period? Yeah – that’s what I thought. Some of the greatest players ever in the Hall of Fame are there for their offensive abilities alone – and very rarely is someone elected to the HOF because of their defense (I am looking at you Ozzie Smith). The criteria is there whether he ever wore a glove or not – 500 + homers, 3 championships, World Series MVP, etc. This is “old time baseball dork” thinking and frankly thinking like this is what keeps driving the kids away from the game today. None of this “not on the first ballot” crap either – if David Ortiz is not a Hall of Famer then the Hall is a joke.
I get how baseball historians will likely continue to view Teddy Ballgame as the greatest Red Sox ever. He had amazing numbers and clearly was a transcendent talent. As I just stated I think Ortiz, not Williams, is the greatest Red Sox ever. To me, you have to win championships to be the G.O.A.T. and above even that, the fans need to love you. Every Red Sox fan worth his salt respects Williams – but he was never or never will be loved like the fans here love Big Papi. I will miss so much about him – his leadership, his ability and his presence on the field and in their clubhouse as a true bolt of energy and passion. Yes – I hate the “farewell tours” in baseball, but I will be (and I know – hypocritically) eating up every second of Ortiz’s farewell tour this year around baseball. We are seeing the end of one of the greatest careers in Boston Red Sox history – and much respect is due for the man – not just the baseball player. Here’s to Ortiz hopefully going out on top with some more clutch postseason heroics.