BOSTON -- When it comes to Hall of Fame candidates, it would be hard -- if not impossible -- to make a better last impression than Red Sox legend David Ortiz did in his final season of 2016.
Big Papi announced on his 40th birthday -- Nov. 18, 2015 -- that the following season would be his last.
The big slugger proceeded to spend his final season tormenting opponents and bashing the baseball like a man still in the middle of his prime.
Consider that Ortiz -- who is on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time -- had the most doubles (a career high of 48), homers (38), RBIs (127) and extra bases (87) for any player in history in a final season. His 1.021 OPS was tops in the American League.
He also posted the highest Offensive WAR total (5.1), OPS+ (164, min. 500 plate appearances) and total bases (333), per Baseball-Reference, of any AL/NL player in his final year before retirement. Shoeless Joe Jackson posted a 7.4 oWAR, 172 OPS+ and 336 total bases in his final 1920 season before he was banned from the game.
“I think everybody wants to do that, but I don’t think anyone retires after putting up a season like that. It felt confusing,” Ortiz said in a recent phone conversation with MLB.com.
However, there was no indecision within Ortiz about ending his career. He was done and there was no turning back.
“When you look at a guy who is about to retire, you don’t think he would retire with numbers like that,” said Ortiz. “But I was done, man. I ran out of gas.”
The top reason Ortiz decided that ’16 would be it was a nagging right Achilles that had dogged him since July of ’12.
“To be honest with you, I took care of myself better than ever that season because I knew that anything would pop when it comes to injuries,” said Ortiz. “The reason I retired after that season is because of all the pain I was getting in my Achilles. But the rest of my body was fine.”
Knowing that the end was near, Ortiz worked overtime that season just to make sure he could produce on a daily basis.
“I tell you, I worked extremely hard the last season to be able to perform. I was getting to the field at 11:30 for a 7 p.m. game," said Ortiz.
Ortiz's dedication to staying on the field paid off from the first day of the season when he ripped the first of his 38 homers of ’16 on a frigid Opening Day in Cleveland.
Ortiz left moments to remember in his final act. Take, for example, May 14 at Fenway against the Astros when he tripled with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game and then had his 23rd and final career walk-off hit – a two-out double – in the 11th. He was a single away from the cycle that day.
Eight days later, playing at home against Cleveland, Ortiz went 4-for-4 with two doubles and a homer. If not for his second double bouncing into the bullpen near the triangle area in right-center, Ortiz likely would have hit for his first career cycle.
He was a man on a mission all season. So why not continue the mission into 2017?
“The baseball game has been so incredible to me but I can’t disrespect the game just because of money,” Ortiz said. “I could have signed and been like, ‘OK, I’m going to play another year,’ and then what’s next? What happens if I don’t play and the injury doesn’t allow me to get out there. You’re not getting any younger. The reason why I actually decided to retire on top is because I was getting old, man. These other players, they could be my kids. That’s something I was a little concerned about.”
That first came to light for Ortiz when the other team would make a pitching change and players on the other team would come talk to him.
“I remember one time I was playing at Seattle [in 2015] and I hit a double. They got a new pitcher and you know how the infielders come around you to talk, I look around and everyone was like 21, 22,” Ortiz said. “I was like, ‘Oh man.’ The same thing happened to me in Tampa and Houston and that was when I was like, [forget it]. I’m done next season.”
It was a grand finale for the ages. Ortiz’s totals in homers, doubles, total bases and OPS still stand as records by any player in his forties. Flanked by emerging stars like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, Ortiz and the Red Sox won the AL East title with 93 wins.
“I was going all in that year. I was all in,” said Ortiz.