Fans of the Boston Red Sox have been blessed over the last 13 seasons with one of the best hitters of all time serving as their designated hitter. Unfortunately for those fans, there will be no fifteenth season. Rick Rowand takes a look back at David Ortiz’s career and his impact on one of the most storied franchises in American sports.
Ken Rosenthal announced it via Twitter on Tuesday afternoon. David Ortiz made it official on Wednesday. Big Papi will be retiring after the 2016 season even though he has an option year, worth up to $16 million, left on his contract. But unlike so many other of our sports heroes, he’s going out the same way he played for the Red Sox, on his own terms and with a good chance to collect another World Series ring.
When the Red Sox signed David Ortiz as a free agent prior to the 2003 season, little did anyone suspect that he would turn out to be one of the best and most significant players in Sox history; as well as the face of the franchise in Boston’s runs to three World Series titles. At the time, it barely registered as a blip on the collective consciousness of the fans in New England.
And why should it have? Ortiz was signed to be the backup to DH Jeremy Giambi. He had been released at the age of 27 by the Twins following a career plagued by injuries. After all, the Twins didn’t quite know what to do with him, releasing Ortiz after he had hit 20 home runs, 35 doubles, knocked in 75 runs, and gotten on base at a decent clip (.329 OBP) in 125 games in 2002.
According to Ortiz, it was Pedro Martinez who first talked to Theo Epstein about signing him to play for the Red Sox. After the first couple of months spent mainly on the bench, and in a pinnacle move for manager Grady Little’s career, Ortiz was finally named to the starting roster, replacing the corpse of Giambi in June.
Ortiz went on to hit .288/.369/.592 with 31 homers, 39 doubles, and 101 runs batted in. He also helped lead the Sox to the post-season, where they eventually lost to the Spawn of Satan in seven games in the ALCS. Thank you Grady Little.
Every Red Sox fan knows how 2004 ended and what part Big Papi played in that magical season. During the regular season, he hit .301/.380/.603 with 41 home runs. He was named to the All-Star team for the first time and finished fourth in MVP voting. But it was in the post-season that the Legend of David Ortiz was born.
Down 0-3 in the ALCS to long-time nemesis, the New York Yankees, Ortiz came to bat with the game tied in the twelfth and Manny Ramirez on first. To say that this at bat was the most important of Ortiz’ career to that point would be an understatement. His walkoff home run against Paul Quantrill was the stuff that legends are made of. Ortiz also hit a walkoff single with Esteban Loaiza on the mound to win Game 5. His heroics earned him ALCS MVP honors.
In 2006, Ortiz set the Red Sox single season home run record with 54, breaking Jimmy Foxx’s record of 50.
The Sox made it back to the World Series for the second time in the Ortiz Era in 2007. While his performance in this post season wasn’t as spectacular, Ortiz still made a difference hitting .370 with three homers and 10 runs batted in.
The years between 2007 and 2013 saw Ortiz reach more career milestones, although he started off slowly in a couple of seasons due to a wrist injury and poor timing due to bad mechanics.
In June of 2008, while recovering from a wrist injury, David Ortiz became a US citizen in a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Library.
In 2009, he hit his 300th career home run and 270th home run as a DH – breaking the record previously held by Frank Thomas. In 2011, Ortiz passed Edgar Martinez, who held the record of most RBIs as a DH with 1,003. Ortiz also joined the Red Sox 300 home run club and won the Roberto Clemente Award.
2013 saw the Red Sox return to the World Series for the third time since Ortiz became a member of the club. It also saw Ortiz return to form in the batter’s box, hitting .309/395/.564 with 30 home runs and 38 doubles.
In the postseason, there were more heroics as he hit .353 with five homers, including two off of David Price in Game 2 of the ALDS and a grand slam off the Tiger’s reliever, Joaquin Benoit, to tie Game 2 in the eighth. Ortiz won the World Series MVP hitting .688 and going yard in the first two games.
In the World Series against the Cardinals, he took a very public leadership role with the team, gathering them together in the dugout during Game 4 and exhorting them to get their collective shit together, declaring “This is our time!”
But what Ortiz will be best remembered for during 2013 were his words and his attitude when the Red Sox returned to Fenway for the first game after the horror of the Marathon Bombings on Patriots’ Day.
For that moment, and with those words, David Ortiz became not just the face of the Red Sox, he became the face of the city.
In his final season, Ortiz will surely add more milestones. With 18 home runs, he will join Willie McCovey, Ted Williams, and Frank Thomas with at least 521 breaking into the top-20 all time. With 32 home runs, he’ll pass Jimmie Foxx and with 34 he will pass Mickey Mantle, rare company indeed. Ortiz also has an outside shot of breaking into the top 10 in career doubles (needing 40 to tie Hank Aaron) and should be able to climb into the top 25 in career RBI. But, the career of David Ortiz is not about awards or milestones or even his eventual enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame. It is about the moments. The walk-offs. The heroics. The leadership and the mentoring of the young players. It’s about becoming the spokesman for a grieving city. Surely, there will be more moments to come in 2016.
Not bad for a player who was the player to be named later in a trade for Dave Hollins.