Why is David Ortiz Having His Number Retired So Quickly?

The Red Sox are retiring David Ortiz‘s number 34 on Friday, June 23rd against the Angels. Although it made me happy that the Red Sox are presenting Big Papi with such an honor, it made me wonder why the Red Sox are doing this so quickly. Compare the timing of his retirement ceremony to the retirements other Red Sox legends’ numbers:

#1 – Bobby Doerr: Retired as a player in 1951, number retired by Red Sox in 1988

#4 – Joe Cronin: Retired as a player in 1945, number retired by Red Sox in 1984

#6 – Johnny Pesky: Retired as a player in 1954, number retired by Red Sox in 2008

#8 – Carl Yastrzemski: Retired as a player in 1983, number retired by Red Sox in 1989

#9 – Ted Williams: Retired as a player in 1960, number retired by Red Sox in 1984

#14 – Jim Rice: Retired as a player in 1989, number retired by Red Sox in 2009

#27 – Carlton Fisk: Retired as a player in 1993, number retired by Red Sox in 2000

#45 – Pedro Martinez: Retired as a player in 2009, number retired by Red Sox in 2015

#26 – Wade Boggs: Retired as a player in 1999, number retired by Red Sox in 2016

Every Red Sox legend has had to wait much longer to have their number retired by the Red Sox than Ortiz, whose number is being retired less than a year after his official retirement.  So why the rush?

My viewpoint is that the Red Sox are moving so quickly for two reasons. The first (and most obvious) is to further line the coffers of Red Sox ownership.  Below is the data that shows the attendance increase for  a “retirement ceremony game” versus the average per game attendance for the season:

Player Retirement Attendance Retirement Ceremony Average Attendance That Season Percent Increase
Bobby Doerr 5/21/1988 32180 30430 5.8
Joe Cronin 5/29/1984 15472* 20514 NA
Johnny Pesky 9/28/2008 37091** 37633 -1.4
Carl Yastrezemski 8/6/1989 33935 30988 9.5
Ted Williams 5/29/1984 15472* 20514 NA
Jim Rice 7/28/2009 38084 37811 .72
Wade Boggs 5/26/2016 36162 35564 1.7
Carlton Fisk 9/4/2000 32619 31925 2.2
Pedro Martinez 7/28/2015 38063 35564 7.0

*Ceremony was held on an off day as a fundraiser for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.

**Game was a doubleheader on a rainy day, which suppressed attendance.

As evident in the data above, it is certainly more profitable for the Red Sox to continue holding number retirement ceremonies.  

The other reason I feel the Red Sox are moving quickly with a retirement ceremony is that it allows the team to march forward with the new generation of Red Sox superstars and give a subtle nudge to Ortiz to stay retired. While Ortiz put up monumental numbers in 2016 (38 HR, 127 RBI, .315/.401/.620), 41-year-old baseball players don’t sustain that level of production.  His numbers would inevitably decrease, and his pride would not let him take the salary reduction that would go along with his lesser production. Current Red Sox leadership have demonstrated a desire to stay under the luxury tax threshold, and spending money on a player who has more sentimental value than anything else is not the most efficient way to maintain a winning baseball team.

Also, compare these two lineups:

Normal Lineup 2016 Opening Day Lineup 2017
  1. Dustin Pedroia
  2. Xander Bogaerts
  3. David Ortiz
  4. Mookie Betts
  5. Hanley Ramirez
  6. Travis Shaw
  7. Jackie Bradley Jr.
  8. Sandy Leon
  9. Andrew Benintendi
  1. Dustin Pedroia
  2. Andrew Benintendi
  3. Mookie Betts
  4. Hanley Ramirez
  5. Mitch Moreland
  6. Xander Bogaerts
  7. Jackie Bradley Jr.
  8. Pablo Sandoval
  9. Sandy Leon

In the past, inserting Ortiz at the top part of the lineup would force the Red Sox to play traditional Red Sox baseball (get a slugger to the plate and cross their fingers that he smashes an extra-base hit). The 2017 Red Sox have an amazing amount of young, multi-faceted talent that provide the team great flexibility. Sliding Betts into the 3 spot and moving Benintendi up to the 2 spot greatly increases the amount of speed at the top of the lineup without a major sacrifice in productivity. Benintendi stole 26 bases in his short stint in the minors  and Betts grabbed the same number last year in the big leagues, and this speed will allow the Red Sox offense the ability to adapt to a variety of different situations.

Instead of having a slower player (such as Ortiz) in the early part of the lineup, he would be dropped toward the bottom of the lineup. Placing Leon and Sandoval at the bottom of the lineup would reduce their at-bats and would allow the players that give the Red Sox the most flexibility the premium number of at-bats. Removing Ortiz will allow a more flexible roster that can better adapt to the intricacies of today’s game.


Featured image courtesy of Elise Amendola/AP Photo.

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