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BOSTON (CBS) — Most great athletes are not like you or me. Where you or I would think rationally, a great athlete thinks crazy, using any and everything said about him as fuel to continue performing.
And make no mistake — David Ortiz is a great athlete. For proof, you need only look at his 440-foot home run last night in Baltimore, his 10th of the season and 388th of his career. At age 36, he’s on pace go hit 38 homers this season, and his .333 average thus far is better than any single-season mark in his 16-year career.
But if you need further evidence, look no further than his comments from Monday night.
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Ortiz was asked by ESPN’s Gordon Edes about the players-only meeting that reportedly took place earlier this month, and Ortiz used it as an opportunity to tell us all that he doesn’t care what people say about him. To prove exactly how much he doesn’t care, he went on a long rant.
“Well, let me tell you, I was reading an article [that] talked about the leaders people call ‘leaders’ in this town,” Ortiz told Edes. (How often do you read articles about topics about which you care very little?)
“Basically, it seems like no matter what you do, it’s not good enough,” Ortiz added. “And you can only call leaders the guys who are out diving for balls on the field or calling pitches behind the plate?”
A dig at Jason Varitek, perhaps?
Regardless, Ortiz said that despite the fact the he’s reading these articles, and despite the fact that he disagrees with their premise, he doesn’t care about them.
“What I do, I don’t do for people [in the public] to know,” he said. “I do it for my teammates, to get to know things better. I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about. … I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders.”
Ortiz then further clarified what it is to actually be a leader rather than simply appearing to be a leader, saying, “I’m a winner” and “I hate losing” but that he doesn’t grandstand to make his statements known to the public.
Yet, despite his extreme efforts to define “leader,” Ortiz claims he still doesn’t care if people know that he is a leader.
“I don’t give a [expletive] if they want to call me a leader,” he told Edes. “I don’t give a [expletive] if they want to call me a captain. I don’t give a [expletive] if they call me either of them. Because you know what? I always say I came to play this game and one day I’m going to be gone. And as long as I play, I’m going to try to do good. I’m going to try to do whatever it takes to win ballgames.”
But David, why are you so mad?
“I don’t get no respect,” he revealed to Edes. “Not from the media. Not from the front office. What I do is never the right thing. … You hit 54 home runs, then hit 35, it’s not good enough. How many people hit 35? Never good enough, bro. That’s why I don’t care.”
And that right there just may have gotten to the crux of Ortiz’s anger. Who really is disrespectful to Ortiz? It’s certainly not the fans, who even supported Ortiz during his dreadful early-season slumps in recent years and greet him with adoring cheers each and every time he steps to the plate at Fenway Park. And is it really the media? Sure, talking heads, columnists and the like have questioned how long Ortiz could remain a viable designated hitter for a team like the Red Sox, but it couldn’t have been classified as disrespectful. And the 35-home run season he mentioned was in 2007, when the Sox won the World Series and Ortiz led the American League in on-base percentage. If you go back and check the records, you won’t find too many disrespectful stories written about Ortiz that year.
So that only leaves the front office — the group that picked up a one-year option on Ortiz in 2011 when he wanted a long-term contract, and the group that signed Ortiz to a one-year deal this year when he once again wanted a long-term contract. The two sides were able to avoid arbitration, but clearly, the damage was done in Ortiz’s mind. He just didn’t get the respect he feels he deserves.
And really, he never will — not in his mind he won’t. And that’s exactly what leads him to be the player he is. The Red Sox, after having him around for a decade, are acutely aware of this character trait, and it’s impossible to say they didn’t play Ortiz’s contract situation perfectly. Right or wrong, they’re getting the most value they can out of that $14.575 million contract.
After Ortiz launched his bomb Monday night, he turned quickly, then slowly flipped his bat toward the Boston bench. In one brief moment, you could see Ortiz’s face, overflowing with supreme confidence. In his mind, it’s only a surprise when he doesn’t hit a home run, and for anyone to ever think otherwise is a sign of disrespect.
Logical? No. But the factors that drive great players to be great and continue to be great often aren’t. If you want the 30 home runs and 100 RBIs from the guy, you have to deal with the occasional rant about how he’s angry that he’s disrespected but that he doesn’t care about it. That’s an exchange that any team would gladly take.