Fate has been quite cruel to the Boston Red Sox in the past. Yet when it came to the BoSox landing slugger like David Ortiz, fate was quite generous.
Shortly after the Minnesota Twins released Ortiz following the 2002 season, he was having dinner in a restaurant in his native Dominican Republic when he ran into Red Sox star hurler Pedro Martinez. As soon as Martinez learned of Ortiz’s availability, he called the team’s management and began lobbying for the slugger. One thing led to another, and the Red Sox wound up signing the man who fans would eventually call, “Big Papi”.
Ortiz became the most beloved Boston baseball player of his era, a DH known for his effervescent personality and his ability to deliver in the clutch. He was a key figure in 2004 when the Red Sox ended more than 80 years of frustration, winning the franchise’s first World Series title since 1918 and reversing “The Curse of the Bambino” that according to New England legend, Babe Ruth placed on the club when the Sox traded him to the New York Yankees.
The 6-foot-4, 230 pound Ortiz is a gregarious man, with a loud voice and an ever-present smile who likes to joke with teammates and seems to enjoy bantering with the media. His sometimes awkward English-as-a-second-language syntax seems to only add to his charm. Baseball-crazy fans in Boston have come to revere him as an icon.
Ortiz is more than just charm, however. Since coming to Boston, he’s lived up to the slugger potential that seemed to evade him in Minnesota. Playing in 128 games in 2003, Ortiz delivered his first 30-plus home run, and 100-RBI season, two plateaus he reached in each of his first five seasons in Boston. He also showed a flair for the dramatic – in his first four seasons, he had 15 walkoff hits, including 10 homers.
He was even better in 2004, hitting .301, knocking out 44 home runs and plating 139. Ortiz and Manny Ramirez both batted .300 with 40 homers and 100 RBI, a feat not accomplished by teammates on an American League club since Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig of the Yankees in 1931.
In the playoffs, he became “Senor Octubre” thanks to several clutch performances. In the ALDS, Ortiz eliminated the Anaheim Angels with a homer in the bottom of the 10th inning of Game 3. Against the Yankees in ALCS, Ortiz kept hope alive, blasting a game-winning homer in the bottom of the 12th inning in Game 4 as the Red Sox took their first step at coming back from a 3-0 deficit. In Game 5, he hit a walkoff RBI single in the 14th. No player had ever collected more than two walkoff hits in postseason play during an entire career. Ortiz did it three times in one postseason. In Game 7, Ortiz hit a two-run homer to get the scoring started as the Red Sox won 10-3 and capped an unprecedented comeback. The momentum carried into the World Series as Ortiz went yard in his first at-bat and the Red Sox never looked back, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals.
Nothing could top the 2004 season for the Red Sox, but Big Papi bettered his season stats the next year. He hit .300 with 47 round-trippers and drove in 148 runs. He drew 102 walks, topping the century mark in free passes for the first time. In 2006, Ortiz ripped 54 homers, leading the league and setting a record for the Red Sox organization. He also drove in 137 runs, which was tops in the junior circuit.
Both 2005 and 2006 were MVP caliber seasons for Ortiz, but the voters didn’t see it that way. He finished second in the American League MVP voting behind the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez in 2005, and third in 2006. Being a designated hitter and a only a part-time position player hurt Ortiz in the eyes of voters.
Ortiz may not be an MVP, but he has established himself as one of the game’s premier hitters. The big question in the Twin Cities is how come the Minnesota Twins couldn’t see his potential? Actually, it wasn’t that they didn’t see it -- they just couldn’t afford to wait to see if it materialized. After a 2002 season in which the Twins went to the American League Championship Series, Ortiz was eligible for arbitration. He was coming off a year in which he hit .272, drove in 75 runs and blasted 20 homers. His expected price tag would be around $2 million – more than the cash-strapped Twins could afford at the time, especially for a guy they were uncertain would become a force. Twins GM Terry Ryan tried shopping Ortiz but couldn’t find any takers. In December 2002, the Twins let him go.
Who knows? Perhaps some day there will be a, “Curse of Big Papi.”
Ortiz on the web
Boston Red Sox official page
Boston Red Sox page; contains short bio, career stats, and links to recent video highlights.
Rotoworld.com: David Ortiz page
Roto World page; contains career stats, and updates on impact as a fantasy player.
YouTube: Ortiz single beats Yanks
Fan video of Ortiz’s game-ending single in Game 5 of the 2004 ALCS.
Flickr: Ortiz photos
Numerous photos of Boston’s No. 34.
Latest on Ortiz
Ortiz’s power numbers were down in 2007, but he still managed a respectable 35 home runs and 117 RBI. He did post a career-high for batting average, hitting .332 as he helped the Red Sox win their first division title since 1995.
News and Commentary
ESPN Page 2: It's time Big Papi gets his trophy
Columnist Scoop Jackson argues Ortiz should be 2006 MVP.
Boston Magazine: The Papi Monologues
Ortiz gives his thoughts his nickname, the Yankees, and how he looks on TV.
Sports Illustrated: My Sportsman Choice: David Ortiz
Rick Reilly riffs on how Ortiz deserves the award because he brought so much joy.
Boston Globe: Ortiz is loved far, wide
The newspaper takes a look at what makes Ortiz lovable – beside his great hitting.
“Everybody has something to prove each year. Everybody has a responsibility in this game. Even the batboy.”
On his manner
“I'm an easy person to get along with. Even when I struggle, I have the same attitude.”
“What happened to me should teach everybody that you should never give up on anybody.”
On his hitting approach
"“I'm not thinking home run, I just want to put a good swing on the ball. When you go looking for home runs, you get off of your swing. So you don't think of homers when you go up to the plate.”