Big Papi weighs in: Mookie, Astros, more

February 20th, 2020

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The booming voice and howling laugh gave it away. David Ortiz made his grand entrance into Red Sox camp on Thursday.

Though his playing career ended four seasons ago, Big Papi’s presence still creates a buzz.

In his role as an advisor, the former slugger got right to work in the cage, surveying Andrew Benintendi’s swing and talking a lot of hitting with J.D. Martinez.

Just eight months after he was shot in the Dominican Republic and spent most of the summer at Massachusetts General Hospital, Ortiz is back to 100% in mind and body.

Full of energy, Ortiz spoke to reporters for more than 30 minutes about various Red Sox issues, and, of course, the controversy swirling around the Astros.

Here is Big Papi unplugged from his Thursday session.

Life without Mookie
In the late stages of Ortiz’s career, he played a big role in mentoring Mookie Betts and took great pride in watching the outfielder turn into a star. But he understands from a business standpoint why the Red Sox made the move and thinks they will be able to thrive without him, though he did acknowledge there could be an adjustment period.

Can the Sox win without Mookie?

“They won without me,” said Ortiz, citing Boston’s 2018 World Series championship two years after his retirement.

“So I’m not saying that Mookie isn’t a big piece of what we are here, but once that happened, you’ve got to move on,” said Ortiz. “Yes, as a player, we are a big part of a team, but we also are replaceable. I’m not saying that we’re going to replace Mookie tomorrow, but sometimes another player can show up and do things that can help you to win ballgames.”

As an example, Ortiz cited the signing of Martinez two years after he retired.

“Mookie put a big hole in our lineup, but I’m pretty sure the front office will find out at some point, they will figure out how to cover some of the hole that we’re going to have because Mookie was good [at] hitting, he was good defensively and he was good off the field,” Ortiz said. “I think -- that takes time to replace that. But this organization I know is good at that -- at replacing things and moving forward.”

Mookie, Sox both made right decision
For those who were critical of Betts for not signing an extension to stay in Boston, Ortiz stuck up for his former teammate.

“Sometimes people think that as a player, we get greedy when it comes down to contract,” Ortiz said. “But it’s only going to go around once. It doesn’t go around twice. It goes around once, and you’ve got to get what you have earned, because nobody gives you anything in this game. You’ve got to earn it.

“Mookie has earned every single dollar that he’s going to get. If I’m him, I’m not going to leave 50, 60, 70 million on the table out there just because. It is what it is. We had a good offer for him. I understand that somewhere he’s going to get more. I think the Red Sox's decision with him was perfect.”

Big Verdugo fan
A few days ago, when Alex Verdugo did his meet-and-greet with the Boston media, he noted that David Ortiz was his favorite player growing up and that he might hug him once they finally meet. And that is exactly what happened when they met on Thursday.

As it turns out, Ortiz is also a big Verdugo fan.

“I think he’s going to be good and I love his attitude. To be honest with you, he was one of the players that caught my attention,” said Ortiz. “Everybody was focused on [Cody] Bellinger, the third baseman [Justin Turner] and [Clayton] Kershaw. But he is someone who takes pressure away from the big guys.

“I see this kid banging everywhere and I’m like, ‘Man, where did he come from?’ I’m so glad we got him. Now that Mookie is not here, I think he’s going to be a really good [player] for us.”

All-in on Devers
Ortiz obviously was unable to do much last summer as he recovered from his surgery, so he watched a lot of baseball and became one of Rafael Devers’ biggest fans. Perhaps Ortiz watches the young third baseman and is reminded of his own prowess at the plate.

“True story, his first year they went to play the Marlins in his first full season, I was sitting right next to Derek Jeter,” said Ortiz. “And I asked Derek, ‘Hey, which one is the player in the lineup that scares you the most?’ And he said, ‘Devers.’ And I totally agreed with him because he was fearless. That’s when you know that a hitter is going to be dangerous. What he did last year, it was not surprising to be honest with you. I saw that coming.”

The way Ortiz looks at it, you don’t leave the room or your seat in the stadium when Devers is at the plate.

“Now, to be honest, I understand why I have people coming to me and telling me, ‘Bro, I couldn't wait for you to come to hit. I was always expecting something out of you.’ I have the same feeling about him,” Ortiz said. “I couldn’t wait for him to come to hit. Because if he gets himself out, he was fighting. He was hitting a rocket at somebody. It was a pitcher making a nasty pitch on him. It was not a giveaway at-bat at all. I saw more than 250 at-bats coming out of him [last year], and I was saying, ‘Bro, I’m telling you this guy is on another level.’”

Standing up for the Commissioner
Like everyone who follows baseball, Ortiz has been following the fallout from the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, and one thing he wanted to make clear is his belief that Commissioner Rob Manfred has been wrongly criticized.

“The Commissioner is getting so much heat about this, like it was him who made that mistake, and I don’t agree with him getting all the heat,” Ortiz said. “It’s because the reality is, not one player has come and said, ‘It was me who started this up.’ Everybody is passing the ball like when you’re playing basketball.

“All the Commissioner can do is have a team investigate what’s going on and do what we all know he knows how to do. The Commissioner, Manfred, has been legit since Day 1. And I don’t think it’s fair for everyone pitching him questions and blaming things on him. We all know he has the power to suspend people and make decisions.”

The 2018 Red Sox are also under investigation for stealing signs, and Manfred said he expects to release the result of it by the end of February.

“He’s going to do what’s best for the game. He’s not the type of guy that’s going to accept you screwing things up in the game,” Ortiz said. “No, he’s good at making decisions. But people need to chillax and let him do his job. Players need to let him do what he thinks is better for the game and stop putting him on the spot and telling him what to do. That’s what I think should happen.”

Why didn’t anyone put a stop to it?
The one thing that baffles Ortiz the most about the 2017 Astros and their trash-banging system is that nobody put a stop to it.

“I still don't know how come nobody was like, 'That is wrong.' I just don't know how no one says something about it, during, not after,” said Ortiz. “I was in the clubhouse for a long time and never anything like that came up. But now they're going to have to deal with that for a long time. It's not only a situation that involved players. You're talking about the whole franchise.”

Ortiz said he would have respected Mike Fiers if he had said something while the cheating was going on. But he doesn’t like that the Athletics righty -- who was with the 2017 Astros -- exposed the sign-stealing system in an interview with The Athletic that came out nearly two years after Houston won the World Series.

“I'm mad at this guy, the pitcher that came out talking about it, and let me tell you why,” said Ortiz. “Oh, after you make your money, after you get your ring, you decide to talk about it? Why didn't you talk about it during the season when it was going on? Why didn't you say, ‘I don't want to be no part of it?’ So you're looking like a snitch. Why do you have to talk about it after? That's my problem. Why did nobody say anything while it was going on?”