“Big Papi” David Ortiz has announced that 2016 will be his 20th and final season of his MLB career. Ortiz will officially make the announcement tomorrow on his 40th birthday.
Outside of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, Ortiz is the greatest player in Boston Red Sox franchise history. Most Red Sox fans would not have fathomed such a thing when he signed as a free agent prior to the 2003 season.
Up to that point, Ortiz had a fairly undistinguished six-year tenure with the Minnesota Twins. This after originally being drafted by the Seattle Mariners as a 16-year old when he was known as David Arias.
Despite hitting a then career high 20 home runs with the Twins in 2002, Ortiz was a back up DH to Jeremy Giambi. In the first two months of the season, Ortiz only played in 31 games belting 2 HR and driving in 19 runs while hitting a respectable .272. But Ortiz began to play regularly that June. From then on, Ortiz hit 29 HR and drove in 82 runs finishing the season with 31 HR and 101 RBIs and batted .288.
Although sabermatricians dispute the notion of a clutch hitter, that is what Big Papi has been. He has 17 career walk-off hits. I personally witnessed two of them – a 12th inning home run on Easter Sunday in 2004 against the Toronto Blue Jays and other a home run against the Cleveland Indians in July 2006.
His two most famous walk off hits came on back to back nights in October 2004 in Games 4 & 5 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees – a 12th inning walk off home run (which you can see in the video posted above) and a walk-off single in the 14th. I very nearly turned the TV off in Game 5 as things were getting so tense and it was getting so late (the game ended after 2:30 a.m., but no one seemed to mind anyone being tardy for work that morning). The Red Sox would go onto win that ALCS after being down 3-0 and Big Papi was named ALCS MVP. The Red Sox would go on to win their first World Series since 1918. Needless to say, this represented a turning point in franchise history.
Of all the Red Sox greats before him, nobody could get through the immovable object that was the Yankees. Before Big Papi, the Red Sox were the franchise that came so close, but couldn’t win the big one. With Big Papi, there have been three World Series title and, if he has anything to say about it, perhaps one more. Without Big Papi, we wouldn’t be discussing the possibility of a fourth World Series title this century. Instead, Boston would be approaching a century without winning a World Series. That alone should get him into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot come 2022.
Ortiz enters the 2016 season with 2,303 hits, a .284 career batting average, 503 home runs and 1,641 RBIs. In addition to his three World Series rings, he has driven in 100 or more runs 9 times, been named to 9 AL All-Star Teams and has won six Silver Slugger Awards. It will be interesting to see what else he adds to those totals.