By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — There’s a lot of love for David Ortiz these days. As he works through his final week of regular-season baseball and gears up for a postseason run with the Red Sox, he is everywhere. Sports Illustrated, The Players’ Tribune, Seth Myers’ late-night show, viral marketing campaigns, on-field ceremonies — he is, simply everywhere.
And because Ortiz is Ortiz, it’s almost entirely positive. A real love-fest. Folks seem to be realizing that they’re going to miss this guy playing baseball. Red Sox fan or not, there’s no denying that he’s great for the game of baseball.
Amid all of this positivity, I knew there had to be some grump, some ever-miserable curmudgeon who has been driven to the point of rage while watching Ortiz get showered with gifts and praise over the past several months.
Enter my pal, Neil Keefe.
Neil is a lifelong Yankees fan. We met in February of 2009, the day after the Steelers beat the Cardinals in the Super Bowl (and the day after the fire drill opening scene on “the Office” aired), for our first day of work together at NESN. He left there to pursue his dreams of complaining about sports in New York City. Now, he runs his own website, Keefe To The City, where he complains endlessly about the Yankees, Giants and Rangers. Anyone who follows him on Twitter knows that even his favorite teams almost never make him happy. Really, he’s not happy unless he’s unhappy. So surely the nationwide David Ortiz Farewell Party must be driving him to the breaking point.
So with a mass-mooning being planned at Yankee Stadium for Ortiz’s final visit (because the Yankees aren’t making the playoffs, in case you missed that news item), I decided to ask Neil for some perspective on what it’s like to watch this lovefest play out.
From Neil, I got more than I ever could have dreamed. Below is our conversation.
HURLEY: OK. The Yankees are terrible. The Red Sox are probably the best team in the AL. You’re going through a complicated time — frustration, anger, disbelief. What does the final appearance of David Ortiz in the Bronx do to your psyche?
Neil Keefe: I have hated David Ortiz (the baseball player for the Red Sox, not the man) for the last 14 years. But while Ortiz has hurt the Yankees numerous times in the regular season and postseason and has caused me emotional, physical and mental distress, leaving me to question things like why I like baseball or sports or what the meaning of life is, he has been the perfect Red Sox player. He has been the face of the Red Sox in their most successful run since the 1910s and with A-Rod having retired in August, Ortiz is now the last member of the 2000s era of the rivalry, and really, the last link to my childhood as a baseball fan.
For that, I will miss his presence in Yankees-Red Sox, which needs more players like Ortiz and A-Rod and fewer players like Travis Shaw and Chase Headley.
My psyche is both of happiness for him leaving and for me never having to see him play against the Yankees again and of anger that the Yankees are going to honor him. That anger started in February when Ortiz said, “You know what I want most of all?’ I would love it if the fans at Yankee Stadium gave me a standing ovation.” Honoring David Ortiz, the greatest Yankee killer of all time above names like George Brett and Ken Griffey Jr. and Bengie Molina and Delmon Young, is an embarrassing disgrace. I’m sure the Yankees feel obligated to honor him after the Red Sox did so for Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, even if Rivera’s was more of a roast than a ceremony.
The Red Sox never should have held ceremonies or given gifts to Rivera and Jeter and their fans never should have given them a standing ovation in their final games at Fenway Park. They were wrong to start this line of honoring the other team’s stars and to damage the fading rivalry a little more. What’s next in the demolition of the rivalry? Fenway Park asking Yankees fans and Red Sox fans to join hands for the singing of “Sweet Caroline” during the eighth inning, so I can yell, “BUM! BUM! BUM!” with drunk college girls in pink and camouflage Red Sox hats that don’t know who Mo Vaughn is, let alone Derek Lowe, Bill Mueller or Keith Foulke?
For nearly 20 years,
and Jeter were booed every time they stepped on the field at Fenway, were the subject of T-shirts on Brookline Ave. that would horrify your grandparents, were the main characters in nightmares for Red Sox fans and were the most hated men in Boston.
The difference between those two and Ortiz is that Rivera and Jeter were hated in Boston, but they were respected as players. The same can’t be said for Ortiz in New York.
David Ortiz shouldn’t even want a standing ovation from Yankees fans. He should want his final moment in front of them to be like all the other moments before. Yankees fans hating and booing David Ortiz up until he takes his last step off the Yankee Stadium field is how he should be honored.
HURLEY: That was a very deep answer. You’ve clearly been thinking about this moment in time for many moons. It’s odd to hear a Yankee fan say that Red Sox fans shouldn’t have honored and given ovations to Rivera and Jeter, because they’re just so classy. Somewhere along the line, being classy became very important, and we all had to be at our classiest, whereas for about a decade, the rivalry didn’t exactly involve many cordial exchanges.
But you’re right, in a way, as we’ve watched the rivalry slowly die, these ceremonies have served as little memorial services for a once-great rivalry that’s now become nothing. Call me old school, but Rick Porcello jawing at Chase Headley just doesn’t get my blood pumping.
I’ll ask you this: Did you read David Ortiz’s letter to Yankees fans? If so, was there anything that made you feel anything other than pure disgust and (sports) hate?
Keefe: I did read Ortiz’s letter, but aside from finding out he might love Derek Jeter more than I do, it didn’t make me hate Ortiz (the baseball player for the Red Sox) any more than I already do.
The hate doesn’t just stem from his regular-season and postseason heroics against the Yankees. It stems from how the actions over his career that have been swept under the rug and how he has been treated despite his actions.
It’s impossible for me to talk about Ortiz without talking about A-Rod. They are friends, they played for rival franchises, they were nearly teammates, their careers spanned the same seasons, they retired in the same season and they were both performance-enhancing drug users*. Ortiz used performance-enhancing drugs*. He was on the 2003 list that was never supposed to surface the same way A-Rod was. He was forced to hold a press conference at Yankee Stadium in August 2009 to address the issue and at that conference he said, “I never thought buying supplements was going to hurt somebody’s feelings. If that happened, I’m sorry about it.” But for some reason, Ortiz’s checkered past and off-the-field issues haven’t followed him around. I have never cared about performance-enhancing drug use in baseball, and I realize I’m in the minority, but if some PED users are going to be vilified for cheating then all of them should be, and Ortiz is one of them.
**Editor’s note: Neil, like everybody else on earth, doesn’t actually know what substance Ortiz put into his body to prompt that positive test in 2003. His statements should be interpreted solely as those from a man who is very mad about sports all the time.
Earlier this year, Mike Francesa called Ortiz “one of the great con men in sports,” and it was the perfect description for him. Forget about the PED use*. Before this season, Ortiz spent every offseason for the last several seasons complaining about his contract, a contract he had to sign. The best was in 2012 when he talked to USA Today about his contract and said, “It was humiliating. There’s no reason a guy like me should go through that. All I was looking for was two years, at the same salary ($12.5 million). They ended up giving me $3 million more than that (actually $2.025 million), and look at my numbers this year. Tell me if they wouldn’t have been better off. And yet they don’t hesitate to sign other guys. It was embarrassing.”
I wish I could be feel humiliated and embarrassed to make money playing baseball. And not even playing baseball; just hitting.
He referred to Boston as “[poop] hole” in 2012 during a losing season and told the media that the players needed to be left alone. In 2014, he stood on the field and gave a thumbs down to the official scorer at Fenway Park when his hit was ruled an error, and this came after he interrupted a Terry Francona press conference in 2011 to complain about an RBI scoring say, “I’m [expletive] pissed. We need to have a talk … [expletive] scorekeeper always [expletive] [expletive] up.”
But hey, it’s just Big Papi being Big Papi! The lovable slugger for the Red Sox!
HURLEY: Jeez. For someone who has never cared about PED use in baseball, you sure seem to care about PED use in baseball!
All of what you said is rooted in fact. I don’t think he’s a con man though. I think a lot of those things are part of what drives him, and when you’re on top of the game, you have to work really hard to find slights and find people doubting you. That’s at least how I’ve squared a lot of those things.
But anyway, back to you. I think it’s important that we get a good background on your own personal history with Ortiz. Obviously you’re a huge Yankees fan and always have been, and so when you dropped hundreds of dollars to attend Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS, you probably did so while envisioning one of the best days of your life taking place. Can you share how that game played out for you? And how much money did you spend on your ticket, in relation to how much money was in your bank account at the time?
Keefe: The morning of Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS was a beautiful one. Even though the Yankees had lost the night before, I kept telling myself, “The Red Sox still have to win three before the Yankees win one.” I tried to hide the fact that the Yankees had no pitching left and nowhere to turn if they couldn’t win Game 5, but I knew they were going to win Game 5. So I went online in my Beacon Hill dorm room and found two tickets on eBay for an absurd amount of money. This was obviously before the secondary market became what it is today and these were the only two tickets on eBay, but I bought them and agreed to pay cash in person near Fenway Park. The price was basically all of the money I had saved up during that summer, which was going to be my spending money at school. But I justified the purchase by thinking, “I’m going to get to watch the Yankees win the pennant at Fenway Park in front of 30,000-plus devastated Red Sox fans.”
My just-turned 18-year-old self wearing my Yankees hat went to the then-Fleet Bank ATM at Park Street and took out nearly all the money to my name, put it in my coat pocket and got on a packed Green Line train headed for Kenmore Square hoping that no one would realize what the bulging brick-shaped hump in my coat pocket was. My friend was going to be late meeting me for the game, so I got off the T and called the ticket seller and he directed me to a back alley near Fenway. From there he directed me to a Ford Explorer parked by itself at the back of the alley. I was 100 percent sure that if I made it out out of that alley alive, I was either going to have no money and no tickets or no money and fake tickets.
I made it out with the tickets, waited for my friend and went into Fenway with tickets that worked just as the crowd erupted as Pedro Martinez retired the side in the top of the first. We made our way to our seats near the Pesky Pole in time to watch the Red Sox score two runs in the bottom of the first and I was officially worried.
Bernie Williams hit a home run to right field on the first pitch of the second, which calmed my worries somewhat, but the score stayed 2-1 until the sixth. With one out, Jorge Posada singled and then Ruben Sierra singled. Tony Clark struck out looking for the second out, but then Miguel Cairo was hit by a pitch to bring up Jeter. On the 1-1 pitch, he ripped a bases-clearing double to right field to give the Yankees a 4-2 lead.
The World Series was in sight. I could see it. I could feel it. I could taste it. Twelve outs away.
As the game went on and Fenway grew more somber, I realized my friend and I were the only fans wearing Yankees apparel for sections upon sections at Fenway except for this guy about 5 feet from us who was wearing a “1918” shirt and who clearly hadn’t stopped drinking since Game 4 the night before. I knew if the Yankees won, I would be in way more danger at Fenway than I had been in the alley before the game, but this guy was doing everything he could to make sure he was the first one to deal with confrontation as he unsuccessfully tried to start “1918” chants by himself with no one joining.
Joe Torre made a lot of mistakes in the series, but trusting Tom Gordon was probably his biggest one. Gordon had induced a 5-4-3 double play to end the seventh inning, but with six outs to go for the pennant, you have to go to Mariano Rivera. If you want to gamble, let Gordon go batter by batter. But when Ortiz homered to lead off the eighth, Gordon should have been out of the game. Instead, Torre let him stay in to walk Kevin Millar and give up a single to Trot Nixon. Runners on first and third with no outs and one run already in, and then Torre went to Rivera.
Rivera gets credit with a blown save in Game 5 because Jason Varitek hit a sacrifice fly to tie the game, but Rivera did his job. He retired all three hitters he faced. That game was on Gordon.
In the ninth, Sierra walked with two outs against Keith Foulke and then it happened. Tony Clark hit a ball headed our way near the Pesky Pole. It was either going to score Sierra by going over the fence or he was going to score once it bounced and hit the wall in the deep corner. It did neither. The ball bounced over the tiny fence in right field at Fenway and Sierra was forced to stop at third as the result of a ground-rule double. That was the game. That was the AL pennant. That was it.
(Editor’s note: Neil is wrong here. Gabe Kapler was obviously going to gun down Clark. Biggest misconception in sports right there. Thank you.)
Once Rivera retired the Red Sox in the ninth, Curt Schilling, Derek Lowe and Tim Wakefield walked from the Red Sox dugout to the bullpen in case they were needed in extra innings as Fenway Park played Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” and the crowd stood up and gave an ovation that will forever rival any noise or sound I ever hear at a stadium for the rest of my life.
I spent the ninth, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th innings standing, but not breathing. I had said something during extra innings before the Yankees got out of an inning, so I kept reciting that same line over and over before each pitch thrown to the Red Sox thinking that my personal superstition would outweigh the Yankees’ shaky, awful and untrustworthy relievers not named Mariano Rivera.
The other thing I did was, before Fenway Park added their new big video screen in center field, it used to just be digital and it would read the names of both lineups and it would put a * next to which batter was up for each team, so you knew where you were in the lineup. I would count how many outs were left in the lineup before “M. RAMIREZ and D. ORTIZ” were due up. Unfortunately, I eventually ran out of times to count.
I can still see Ortiz’s single to center field land past second base and I can still see Bernie Williams charging it hoping he will throw out Johnny Damon at the plate. But he didn’t.
Fourteen innings over five hours and 49 minutes and all of my money to watch one of the worst losses in the history of the Yankees. A nice, quiet Monday.
HURLEY: That was a great story in and of itself, but it’s even greater to me when I think about you telling your grandkids about that day 60 years from now, the pain still fresh as ever in your heart.
How often do you think about the 2004 ALCS? Say, in any given year, on how many occasions do you spend at least five minutes thinking about the events of October 2004?
Keefe: That’s a good question. Maybe once a day. More when the Yankees and Red Sox are playing each other. But like I have told you many times, the Yankees should have never had a 3-0 lead in that series not to mention they needed A-Rod to single-handedly beat the Twins just to get out of the ALDS.
The Red Sox’ rotation was Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, Bronson Arroyo and Tim Wakefield. The Yankees’ rotation was Mike Mussina, Jon Lieber, Kevin Brown, Javier Vazquez and Orlando Hernandez. El Duque was probably their best starter and he only pitched once in the postseason and was unavailable for Game 7. But it’s a miracle it ever got to Game 7 in the first place.
The Yankees won Game 1 by beating up on an injured and Curt Schilling and still almost blew an eight-run lead. In Game 2, they beat Pedro Martinez 3-1 thanks to a John Olerud (!) home run and Jon Lieber pitching the best game of his life (he had a one-hitter in the eighth inning). In Game 3, they did their damage against Arroyo, Ramiro Mendoza, Curt Leskanic and Wakefield (not exactly the best of their staff). Once they lost Game 4 (El Duque started) and Game 5 (Mussina started), they were in trouble. They were going to have to rely on Lieber pitching a near-perfect game again and either Brown or Vazquez pitching well. Neither of things happened. Torre never had the team test Schilling’s mobility in Game 6 with any bunt attempts and Game 7 was over before it even started with Ortiz’s first-inning two-run home run and Damon’s second-inning grand slam.
The best team in baseball doesn’t always win the World Series. It rarely ever does. But that Red Sox team was the best team. The Yankees might have won three more games than they did in the regular season, but the Red Sox were built for the postseason while the Yankees started a trend from 2004-2008 of being built for the regular season: all offense and a shaky rotation and bullpen. The 2016 Red Sox are built exactly like the 2004 Yankees.
The only things I really think about from that season a lot are that the Yankees would have been better off losing to the Twins in the ALDS or losing one of the first three games of the ALCS. It still would have sucked to finally lose to the Red Sox in the ALCS, but it would have hurt a lot less.
I do sometimes think about what would the baseball world would be like today if Rivera didn’t walk Millar, or if Roberts had been thrown out at second, or if Torre didn’t trust Paul Quantrill to face Ortiz, or if Gordon never came in to Game 5 or was taken out after the Ortiz home run, or if Tony Clark’s ground-rule double didn’t bounce over the wall, or if Esteban Loaiza (whom the Yankees traded Jose Contreras for, whom the Red Sox desperately wanted) hadn’t been the pitcher on the mound in the 14th inning of Game 5 or if Torre had asked his hitters to test Schilling in Game 6.
If any of those things happens, maybe the Red Sox don’t win the ALCS. Maybe they blow the team up and don’t win in 2007 and maybe don’t become the luckiest championship team in sports history in 2013. Maybe we’re sitting here right now with the Red Sox’ last championship having been 98 years ago in 1918. How glorious that would be.
HURLEY: Man. You might never get over this. Too bad.
Anyway, when Jeter played his last game, the Red Sox honored him by having an Aretha Franklin impersonator sing “Respect,” by letting Joe Kelly (Joe Kelly!) take a selfie with him, and by … giving him a pair of rain boots! Even the Farewell Jeter ceremony had a paid sponsor!
So what do you think the Yankees should give Ortiz to make up for what the Red Sox forced Jeter to go through?
Keefe: Remember when Joe Kelly said he was going to win the Cy Young? Or when the Red Sox wore the “He’s the ace” shirts and then finished in last place?
The Yankees should give David Ortiz nothing for himself, but give him a check for a boatload of money to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. Because while I hate David Ortiz the baseball player for the Red Sox, giving David Ortiz the man a monetary gift for his charity is a good thing to do and the Yankees are usually good about that.
I have been hoping the whole David Ortiz ceremony at Yankee Stadium would be like in “Parks and Recreation” when the mayor of Partridge, Minn., invites Ben Wyatt back to give him the key to the city when it’s really a ploy to embarrass him for the Ice Town disaster. Unfortunately, this ceremony is really going to happen. I don’t want to hear some cheesy speech from Randy Levine or Lonn Trost about how Ortiz destroyed the Yankees for 14 years and is a good ambassador to the game.
There’s nothing funny about what he did to the Yankees for 14 years and I’m pretty sure the reasons I wrote about earlier are enough to show he isn’t a good ambassador to the game.
The Yankees should play a montage of all the times he struck out against them on the big screen. Then they should play the clip of him interrupting Terry Francona’s press conference to go on an expletive-filled tirade about the official scorer screwing him. Then they should play his 2009 press conference from Yankee Stadium where he talked about his PED use (before the Yankees swept the Red Sox in four games to win the division on their way to winning the World Series). Then they should give him one of those giant checks with a lot of zeros on the end of it to the David Ortiz Children’s Fund. Then everyone in Yankee Stadium should boo him. That’s how I would draw it up.
HURLEY: This is great. All it takes is a simple question about Ortiz, and you become unhinged. This is my favorite conversation of all time. I never want it to end.
I’m not sure if you’re going to the Stadium to say ta-ta to your friend David or not, but if you are, or if you theoretically were, is there any circumstance where you’d stand and applaud him for all that he’s contributed to the sport and the rivalry?
If not, is there any scenario where you’d stand and give him a polite, brief clap?
Keefe: There is no circumstance or scenario in which I would ever clap for David Ortiz on a baseball field.
HURLEY: I assume you won’t be mooning him (feel free to correct me if I’m misguided on that), so I’ll move on to one last question.
I think in Boston, fans were happy to give proper send-offs to legends like Mariano and Jeter … but I don’t think any Red Sox fans felt sad that the final seasons of those players ended in non-playoff years. (Congrats to Jeets for that meaningless walk-off hit though, very cool, very cool.) So, with Ortiz having an MVP-like season and the Red Sox about to enter the playoffs with the possibility of having home-field advantage throughout, is there even 0.1 percent of your ice-cold soul that thinks it might be nice to see him end his career with another World Series victory?
Keefe: That’s the most offensive question I have ever been asked.
There is no chance I would ever think it would be nice for the Red Sox to win the World Series. Since the Yankees aren’t going to make the postseason, the only thing I care about this postseason is making sure the Red Sox are eliminated. But they don’t really need me to root against them to lose. They have David Price, Rick Porcello and Eduardo Rodriguez as their playoff rotation.
I want David Ortiz to go 0-for-12 in the ALDS and the Red Sox eliminated in three games. That would be the perfect sendoff to his career.
HURLEY: OK, Neil. That’s what I figured. Thank you for all your time, and I’m sorry for all of the trouble David Ortiz has beset upon your life. I’d say that it will get better soon, but based on all you said, I’m not so sure about that. Enjoy the playoffs! There’s only one October!