Often larger than life, Papi's had incredible run
Has a nickname fit a player better than Big Papi does David Ortiz? He's had a career that lived up to it.
Ortiz was certainly the Big Daddy against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series, with the walk-off homer against Paul Quantrill in the 12th inning of Game 4 and the walk-off single against Esteban Loaiza in the 14th the next night. He cemented his legacy by breaking Jimmie Foxx's franchise record with 54 home runs two years later, and he has just adding new floors to it since then.
Now we learn that Ortiz even knows when to walk away.
Ortiz will retire after the 2016 season, leaving a $10 million club option in his contract for '17. This comes as at least a little bit of a surprise.
Never mind that Ortiz turns 40 today. He loves to be the center of attention and remains extremely productive, delivering 37 home runs, 108 RBIs (his most since 2007) and a .913 OPS for the Red Sox last season. Ortiz is a strong candidate to win the Edgar Martinez Award (baseball's top DH) for the eighth time, as he produced at about the same level as Kendrys Morales, Edwin Encarnacion and Prince Fielder.
While Ortiz dropped hints last season that he might not play much longer, it was hard to take them seriously. After all, this is a player who lost weight and rededicated himself to conditioning after three consecutive down years in 2008-10, when he was on the verge of turning 35.
Ortiz's success in recent seasons wasn't as easy as he often made it look. It never is for an aging player.
Never sell Ortiz short. As both the Mariners and the Twins well know.
Seattle first signed Ortiz in 1992, when he was 16. He says he so impressed the Mariners' scout in batting practice that he was immediately offered a contract, before he even went into the field to catch and throw. But Seattle made him the player to be named later in a 1996 trade for Dave Hollins, and Ortiz reached the big leagues as a 21-year-old with Minnesota.
Ortiz has said he didn't mesh with Twins manager Tom Kelly. He also suffered through wrist and knee injuries, and he wound up hitting .266 with 58 home runs in 455 big league games over six seasons in Minnesota, then still based in the Metrodome.
Terry Ryan, the Twins' GM, went to the 2002 Winter Meetings looking to trade Ortiz, who was due for a big raise in arbitration coming off a career-best 20 homers and 75 RBIs.
Ryan decided that the Twins could fill their DH slot with younger, less-expensive options (Minnesota did get 19 homers and 96 RBIs out of the DH slot on the way to winning a second-straight AL Central title in '03), and he worked the Opryland lobby hard. But Ryan wound up releasing Ortiz on the morning of the Rule 5 Draft, clearing a roster space to select future .141 career hitter Jose Morban.
I remember talking to a forlorn Ryan the afternoon he cut Ortiz loose.
"I did everything I could to trade him,'' he said. "I would have taken a bag of balls, but nobody was offering it.''
Here's what nobody saw coming.
The player who had two names -- Ortiz went by David Arias after being signed but told the Twins he preferred Ortiz, his father's last name, over Arias, his mother's maiden name -- would also have two careers. Signing him to a one-year, $1.25 million contract would prove to be the smartest move Theo Epstein made, but nobody could see the Red Sox were getting someone who would play a huge role in winning World Series championships in 2004, '07 and '13.
Ortiz has gone from released player to strong Hall of Fame candidate over the past 13 seasons, playing in nine All-Star Games, hitting 445 of his 503 career home runs and generating 47.8 WAR. He was always a combination of style and substance, a swashbuckler long before he called out the Boston Marathon terrorists at Fenway Park in 2013.
Pitchers never want to face Big Papi. They really don't want anything to do with him in October.
Ortiz has played in 82 postseason games, hitting 17 homers and driving in 60 runs. He drove in 19 runs in the Red Sox's curse-busting run in 2004 (only David Freese has driven in more in a single postseason, with 21 RBIs in 2011) and absolutely wore out the Cardinals in the 2013 World Series (reached base in 19 of 24 plate appearances, with two home runs, six runs scored and seven RBIs).
Ortiz's reported decision to retire after 2016 -- unconfirmed by Ortiz and the team -- would be well timed for the Red Sox.
It could save Dave Dombrowski a tricky decision on the club option -- especially if Ortiz slips next season -- and will make it easier for the Sox to use Hanley Ramirez, who is signed through 2018, and Pablo Sandoval, signed through '19. One could be traded this offseason, but they're owed a combined $145 million, complicating matters.
Ortiz makes a convincing case for himself in every walk of his life, but never more so than when he's in the batter's box -- the higher the stakes, the better. He'll be missed when he goes. But not by AL pitchers.