Ortiz the most important Red Sox player of all

January 26th, 2022

This isn’t about the ones who didn’t get in. This is about the one who did. This is about David Ortiz, the Babe Ruth of the Boston Red Sox.

On the night when it was announced that Ortiz had made the Hall of Fame, it became all the days and nights for Red Sox fans as Big Papi really was becoming their Babe, when he was becoming the most popular and most important Red Sox player of them all. They loved Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski before him. Not like they loved Ortiz, who won them their first World Series since The Babe left them for the Yankees, and then won them two more after that.

So this was the night against the Tigers, Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series, a Sunday night, when it was 5-1 for the Tigers in the eighth inning, when the Tigers were about to go ahead of the Sox two games to none; when Ortiz hit the grand slam off Joaquin Benoit into the Red Sox's bullpen to tie the game. Torii Hunter’s legs ended up straight in the air after he dove into the 'pen thinking he could catch the ball, and so did the arms of a Boston policeman named Steve Horgan, who became part of the moment forever.

“Because I’m a Sox fan, I just raised my arms,” Horgan said later.

He raised his arms for his team and for the man who changed everything at Fenway Park once he got there from the Minnesota Twins.

Williams hit more home runs as a Red Sox player than Ortiz did, 521 to 483. Ortiz’s home runs mattered more. Yastrzemski hit 44 in 1967, the Impossible Dream year, when he won the Triple Crown and made the Red Sox matter again, carrying them all the way to Game 7 of the World Series against the Cardinals. Ortiz would hit 54 in 2006.

Red Sox fans know that, and they know that in the ’13 World Series against the Cardinals, the same team that had beaten the Sox in seven in ’67, Ortiz was as unstoppable an offensive force as any World Series had ever seen. Ortiz hit .688 in that Series, had 11 hits and eight walks in six games, had an OPS of 1.948 and a slugging percentage of 1.188. He knocked in six runs, scored seven and hit a couple of homers. In a World Series the Sox might not have made without that grand slam against the Tigers.

He did all that at the end of the “Boston Strong” season at Fenway, the ’13 Sox spending the season honoring the memory of the lives lost because of the Boston Marathon bombing. And at the end, Ortiz looked like the strongest man in the world.

Of course in April of that year, when the Red Sox came back to Fenway to play their first home game after the bombing, it was Ortiz who had the microphone before the game, shouting “This is our [bleeping] city.” The crowd cheered, because it was him. It was Big Papi, and in the moment they forgave him for the language and embraced the sentiment. And wanted to embrace him.

That game against the Royals would end with Daniel Nava hitting the home run that ultimately would win the game for the Red Sox. Don Orsillo, the Red Sox television play-by-play man at the time, yelled, “Boston, this is for you!” as the ball cleared the fence in right. But Red Sox fans remember Ortiz as well as they remember the call, even on a day when he didn’t win the game with swagger and another swing of the bat.

So it was that day all over again, on the night when Red Sox fans learned that Ortiz -- the greatest clutch hitter in postseason history -- had made the Hall on his first try, despite being a DH, and despite the fact that he was reported to have failed a drug test, on what was supposed to be an anonymous survey in 2003, about which Commissioner Rob Manfred has said this:

“Even if your name was on that [anonymous] list, it’s entirely possible that you were not a positive. I don’t think anyone understands very well what that list was.”

When the announcement about the Hall was made, it was once again the Boston Strong day at Fenway, and it was the end of the long October night in 2004, against the Yankees, the Red Sox down three games to none, when Ortiz’s 12th-inning home run off Paul Quantrill pushed that ALCS to a Game 5. The next night, an even longer game, it was Ortiz who knocked in Johnny Damon with the winning run in the bottom of the 14th. The Red Sox were going back to Yankee Stadium, where they would finish off the greatest comeback in the history of pro sports in this country.

“That hit,” Ortiz would say later about the Game 4 walk-off homer, “it put me on the map.”

And put him on the road to Cooperstown. There were voters who didn’t vote for him because of that survey test in ’03. Maybe Red Sox fans wouldn’t have voted him into the Hall by acclimation. But close enough. Williams only played in one World Series. Yastrzemski played in two. The Red Sox won three after Big Papi got to town. Ruth left after 1918, and seemed to take the World Series with him to New York. Big Papi, The Babe of Fenway Park, brought it back.