BOSTON (CBS) — For athletes, Boston isn’t always the greatest place to be.
Sure, the fans are as passionate, knowledgeable and dedicated as any in the world, and the championships now seem to pop up at least every other year, but that doesn’t mean everything is always sunshine and rainbows for the men who put on a uniform. Whether you’re a fan who is unafraid to unleash the occasional boo from the stands, a writer taking a dig at a player from the press box or a talking head stirring things up on the airwaves, we’ve all been guilty of it at one time or another.
But in the wake of what just transpired at Fenway Park, there is simply no room for negativity. And in the spirit of positivity, while we still have the chance, it is the right time to take a step back and really share a proper appreciation of David Ortiz.
To be sure, the Red Sox won this World Series not solely due to the work of the designated hitter, but the now-three-time champion is one of the handful of players who were absolutely vital to the 97-win season (the most since 2004) and their 11-5 postseason record. The Red Sox may never have made it to the World Series without Ortiz’s grand slam to save them in Game 2 of the ALCS, and his thoroughly dominant performance against the Cardinals (.688 batting average, .760 on-base percentage, 1.948 OPS) was enough for him to earn World Series MVP honors, putting a neat and tidy bow on what has been a most incredible Red Sox career.
When David Ortiz signed with the Red Sox, he joined a franchise that dealt with talk of a “curse” on a regular basis. It hadn’t won in 85 years, and he wasn’t really supposed to be a key piece of the solution. He was signed to a one-year, $1.25 million contract after the Twins decided they didn’t need or want him, and he came to Boston to compete for playing time with Jeremy Giambi, who would collect just 25 hits that year, the final season of his short-lived career.
All Ortiz has done since then is hit 373 home runs, 17 more in the postseason, and be the most dangerous hitter in the middle of the Boston lineup for a decade, bringing three World Series championships to a franchise that hadn’t celebrated one since the World War — as in, the first World War.
That he was able to do it this year, at 37 years old, after missing 72 games due to injury last year, is nothing short of remarkable. And though David may have the confidence to play forever, the reality of the situation is that we are all witnessing the final days of one of the most prolific hitters the Red Sox have ever had.
That’s not to say that he is definitely due for a major dip in production next year, and it’s not to say that the Red Sox won’t have a chance to compete for another championship in 2014, with Ortiz again being a part of it. It is instead a note that right now, the future remains unknown, but what Ortiz just did on the game’s grandest stage was without a doubt something special.
There just won’t always be a David Ortiz. He is a one-of-a-kind superstar, possessing the elite talent necessary to succeed but also carrying himself with a larger-than-life personality. They don’t just give the nickname of Big Papi to anybody, and when he walks into a room, everybody is instantly aware. He came to the Red Sox surrounded by Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra. He welcomed Curt Schilling, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez to Boston along the way. They were all prolific players, many of them with Hall of Fame-caliber resumes. But none of them lasted as long as Ortiz, and none can call themselves three-time champions with the Boston Red Sox.
Even Ortiz himself, despite being part of the unforgettable run in 2004, admitted that this championship may still mean more to him.
“You know, winning this World Series is special. I think it might be the most special out of all the World Series that I have been part of, to be honest with you,” Ortiz said after Wednesday’s Game 6 victory, seated next to his MVP trophy. “We probably don’t have the talent that we have in ’07 and ’04, but we have guys that are capable to stay focused and do the little things. And when you win with a ballclub like that, that’s special.”
For now, Ortiz has one more year left on his contract, and after that, who knows? He may feel like he’s accomplished all that is possible in his career, or he may play for one more year in an effort to boost his numbers to build his case for the Hall of Fame. Once he does become eligible for Cooperstown, the baseball world will debate and argue whether Ortiz deserves entry, based on the murkiness and unknowns from his appearance on the 2003 list of players testing positive for a banned substance, as well as the fact that many voters won’t even consider a designated hitter for entry into their shrine of the sport.
None of that discussion or debate is really all that much fun. What is fun is watching one of the all-time greats continue to deliver clutch hit after clutch hit, and the fact is that Ortiz could retire right now on the spot, and he’d have provided more than enough moments for Boston which couldn’t even have been dreamed of when he arrived 10 years ago.
They won in 2004, and Ortiz was right in the middle of it, hitting walk-offs and lifting the Red Sox out of an impossible 3-0 hole against the Yankees. They won in 2007, and Ortiz was right in the middle of it, batting third in the lineup for baseball’s best team from wire to wire. And they won in 2013, Ortiz once again in the middle of it, cementing his legacy (if it hadn’t already been secured) as one of the most prolific postseason hitters of all time. Anyone who chooses to argue that point can be directed to his .455 batting average and 1.372 OPS in 14 World Series games … or they could just look at his hand, where three giant rings will soon crowd the space between his fingers.
No, there wasn’t a David Ortiz for a very long time in Boston, and there will never again be another. For as much as this city perpetually feels the need to talk, to stir and to question, this moment right now is one, simply, to admire and to appreciate.