David Ortiz Joins Strange Company

Baseball produces more unique moments than any other sport. Whether it is the ball disappearing into the catcher’s equipment, a throw from right field that seemingly defies physics, or one of the premier athletes in the history of the sport running up a wall – baseball delivers the moments that have fans yelling “I can’t believe what I just saw!” Dave McCullough brings us back in time and looks at how the record book can bring together the strangest of bedfellows – like Shoeless Joe Jackson, David Ortiz, and … Dave Kingman? 

With his 36th homer and 122nd run batted in, David Ortiz rewrote the Major League Baseball record book. The Red Sox legend now has the most home runs and the most runs batted in for any player in his final MLB season. And in doing so, he erased two names from the record book that literally could not be more different – Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Kingman. The two played sixty years apart. They had literally nothing in common before David Ortiz broke both of their records in one week.

Of course, the Large Father quickly broke both ties because Ortiz is having the greatest season for any “retiring” player in MLB history, and he isn’t interested in sharing any of these records with anyone else. But, if you were to pull two names from a hat throughout all of baseball history, could you come up with a more diverse pair than Shoeless Joe Jackson and Dave Kingman?

Jackson long held every mark for a player in his final season, mostly because he was a fantastic player in the prime of his career when he was banned for life (despite being acquitted for his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox scandal where Chicago players allegedly fixed the World Series). In a 13-year career before being blackballed, Jackson compiled a resume that could have attracted Hall of Fame votes – were he not permanently ineligible. In his final season (age 32) season, he hit .382, with a .444 on-base percentage, and a .589 slugging percentage. He hit just 12 home runs, but racked up an astounding 20 triples to go along with 42 doubles. And, of historical significance, he drove in 121 runs – a record that stood for 86 years.

The Red Sox designated hitter trails Jackson in the OBP race by roughly 40 points. And, while Ortiz is having one of his best seasons in batting average – a robust .317 thus far – he has no chance of besting Jackson’s final season mark. He has never been the contact-hitter that Jackson was, but he more than makes up for it in power. Even though the man Bostonians call “Big Papi” has legged out a triple this season, it is his home-run-hitting prowess that has been his calling card. In addition to 47 doubles – a figure that leads the AL – he has blasted 36 round trippers in this, his final season.

Kingman was only known for power. In 16 major league seasons with seven different clubs, Kingman never logged a batting average better than .288. He also had a career .302 on base percentage. He played most of his career in the National League, else he would have been a designated hitter because his defense was subpar. But, for 30 years – Kingman retired in 1986 – he held the record for most home runs in a season by a player in his final MLB season.

Of course, Papi may still choose to give it one more go next season. Nothing would make Red Sox fans happier. But if this is the end, he has gone out on top, and as a record-breaking force who could bring together two names from baseball history that probably never had been mentioned in the same sentence before Ortiz brought them together.


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