In the polarizing Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, Yoda is assessing whether a young Anakin Skywalker should be trained as a Jedi and concludes “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering. I sense much fear in you”. There have been many Yankee killers over the years. In my lifetime, some of them came in small sizes such as Chone Figgins of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Others are Hall of Fame sluggers like Mike Piazza of the New York Mets or Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners. In the 1990s, the Mariners seemed to have a lineup of Yankee killers. Borderline Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest right handed Designated Hitter of All-Time, Edgar Martinez, may have killed the Yankees even more than Griffey. He was one of the few hitters that owned Mariano Rivera. Nevertheless, nobody pummeled the Yankees more than David Ortiz. As a Yankees fan, no opposing hitter scared me more than Big Papi. Against the Yankees in 242 regular season games, he has batted .303 with a .394 OBP, .962 OPS, 53 homeruns, and 171 RBIs. Beyond the ridiculous numbers, he seemed to get a big hit or launch a mammoth homerun in every big spot against the Yankees. As a Yankees fan, it was also frustrating that no Yankee pitcher ever found the courage to brush him off the plate at any point in his career with the Red Sox. They just allowed him to hover over the plate and bully them. I was petrified of the damage he would do to my team. That fear fed my anger and frustration over the Yankees’ failures to get him out. For this reason, I hate Ortiz. He has been the cause of a lot of suffering for me and all Yankee fans. Of course, baseball is just a game. Hate is relative. Although I hate him as a player who has tormented my team, I have the utmost respect for his accomplishments and performance on the field.
David Ortiz will go down as one of the greatest clutch hitters of All-Time, the greatest Designated Hitter of All-Time, and a savior in Boston. The Red Sox and Yankees arguably have the greatest and fiercest rivalry in all of sports. For 86 years, the Yankees dominated and beat the Red Sox like a drum. The Red Sox had not won a World Series since 1918 and lost in epic, supernatural ways (e.g. 1986 World Series against the Mets). Red Sox Nation was convinced that their franchise was cursed. Then, 2004 happened. In the 2003 ALCS, the two teams battled in an epic 7 game series. In classic, pre-2004 Red Sox fashion, they blew a late lead in the 7th game that was ended by an Aaron Boone walk-off homerun. When the Yankees jumped to a 3-0 series lead after thumping the Red Sox 19-8 in Game 3, it seemed like the Red Sox would continue to lose forever. Unfortunately, history was altered in that series. No baseball team had ever comeback from a 3-0 series deficit to win a playoff series. No baseball team has accomplished the feat since. Without a doubt, it was the biggest loss in the history of the New York Yankees. As a fan, I was completely devastated. I have some vivid memories of that historic comeback by the Red Sox. When the greatest closer of All-Time, Mariano Rivera, came in during the 9th inning of Game 4 to close out the series; I remember seeing a young boy in the stands completely crushed in the stands. I recall thinking “Sorry kid. This is the way life is”. In that inning, Rivera uncharacteristically walked Kevin Millar. As we know, Dave Roberts pinch ran, stole second base, and scored to tie the game. Roberts’s stolen base is probably the most iconic moment from that series. The Red Sox were an unstoppable buzz saw afterwards. Curt Schilling’s bloody [possibly ketchup] sock game in Game 6 is second. For me, all the other traumatic, lasting memories from that series were authored by David Ortiz. In extra innings in Game 4, he hit the walk-off homerun to send the series to a Game 5. Down 4-2 in the 8th inning in Game 5, he led off the inning with a homerun to cut the lead to 1 and the Red Sox would tie the game later in the inning. In the 14th inning of that game, he came through again with a walk-off single. In the first inning of Game 7, the Yankees threw out Johnny Damon at the plate after a Manny Ramirez single. Whatever hope the Yankees and their fans had of winning the game and preventing the biggest collapse in baseball postseason history was quickly dashed by Ortiz. He immediately parked the first pitch into the right field stands to give the Red Sox a 2-0 lead in a game they won in a route. Naturally, he was voted the MVP of the series. Without a doubt, his performance in that series is the defining moment in his career. He became a folk hero in Boston.
The second most defining moment in his career occurred in 2013. Early in the season, the city of Boston was devastated by a terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon that maimed a lot of innocent bystanders and killed 3 people. After the tragedy, the city remained “Boston Strong”. Addressing Bostonians at Fenway Park, David Ortiz defiantly declared “This is our fucking city”. The Red Sox would go on to win the 2013 World Series, the third championship in Ortiz’s tenure with Boston. Naturally, he played another significant part. In the ALCS, the Tigers won Game 1 and took a 4 run lead into the 8th inning. Of course, Ortiz had other plans and hit a game tying Grand Slam off stud setup man Joaquin Benoit as the Red Sox went on to win the series in 6 games then also won the World Series in 6 games against the St. Louis Cardinals. In the World Series, Ortiz hit .688 and won MVP honors. Of course, Ortiz had many other clutch hits in the playoffs. In the postseason, he has batted .283 with a .402 OBP, .939 OPS, 17 homeruns, and 60 RBIs in 82 games. He did not only get big hits. He delivered constantly with big homeruns. In addition, he performed in many more pressure situations during the regular season. Regardless, the 2004 and 2013 postseasons will be the moments fans think of first when remembering his career. For 86 years, the Red Sox won nothing. In Ortiz’s 14 seasons with the team, they have won 3 World Series and hunting for a fourth. In my opinion, Ted Williams is still the greatest Red Sock of All-Time [excluding Babe Ruth who is the greatest player of All-Time who they traded in his prime]. Nevertheless, a lot of the younger generation of Red Sox fans rank Ortiz as the greatest Red Sock. He saved them from another generation of losing. In a city with a glorious championship history, he ranks in its pantheon with Tom Brady [football], Bobby Orr [hockey], Bill Russell [basketball], and Larry Bird [basketball]. Listening to the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, in an interview with WFAN sports talk host Mike Francesa; Simmons noted that Ortiz ranks second only to Brady in Boston. It is not difficult to see why.
Ortiz is also highly respected and loved by the other players in the league. Nevertheless, he is not a perfect player. He could be selfish at times. For example, he would lobby and try to bully official scorers to change errors into hits for him. He also does not escape the steroid suspicions. In 2003, baseball conducted an anonymous test to gauge whether steroid use was rampant in the sport. Alex Rodriguez’s name was famously the only name leaked from the anonymous list. When confronted about it, he fessed up. Later, Ortiz’s name was also apparently leaked. When he was asked about it by reporters, he got mad and intimidated them. Shockingly, they dropped the story. It is a testament to his stature in Boston and the sport that he got a complete pass by simply getting mad when no other high profile player, who was accused of cheating, could escape suspicion and scandal. It helps his case that he never failed an official test. While I cannot obviously accuse him of cheating without hard evidence, it would also not shock me if he did. Before he joined the Red Sox, he was a failed prospect. In 2003, the Red Sox had a glut of first basemen and DHs. Ortiz did not even get regular playing time until the middle of the season. There were talks of the Red Sox releasing or trading him. Of course, they are lucky they did not. The rest is history. Since he had a sudden jump in performance during his career, he does not escape suspicion that he took performance enhancing drugs. His partner in the middle of the Red Sox order, Manny Ramirez, tested positive when he later played on the Dodgers. For these reasons, it would not shock me if Ortiz took something at some point. On the other hand, he could have just been a late bloomer. Personally, I would not care. From my perspective, steroid use was rampant in the sport. The players who transcended the sport in that era should still go into the Hall of Fame. I would put Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, and Manny Ramirez in the Hall of Fame. Of course, it is not up to me. The baseball writers have taken a righteous stance. However, they were complicit in the era since they did not do enough to investigate the problem and expose the issues earlier. Consequently, I do not like that accomplices are not acting as judge and jury on who should be punished. Regardless, I totally expect Ortiz to get a pass again and get elected into the Hall of Fame.
Without a doubt, Ortiz performed brilliantly on the baseball field. Even as a Yankee fan who hates David Ortiz, I can appreciate and respect the career he had. Naturally, I will not miss him at all. He cannot retire soon enough. However, I am willing to fulfill his request to applaud his greatness but just once.