“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”
Known as "Big Papi" in the Boston clubhouse, he is the de facto head of baseball's most dysfunctional family. David's ebullient leadership and torrid hitting ended the Curse of the Bambino and put championship rings on Red Sox fingers for the first time since the Wilson administration. In the process, he has given the term "father figure" a whole new meaning.
David Americo Ortiz Arias was born on November 18, 1975 in Santo Domingo, capital city of the Dominican Republic. Early in his career, some questioned the veracity of this date. However, documents have since proved David’s age to be genuine.
As a player, David’s father fell into the good-field, no-stick category. David developed differently. Tall and powerful, he was a strong athlete and a natural slugger. David started swinging from the heels as a youngster and continued to embrace this philosophy as he got
older. When David entered Estudia Espallat High School, he became a star in a second sport: basketball. Well over six feet tall as a teen, he had the size, quickness and coordination to play any position on the floor.
Back in Peoria for a second go-round in 1995, David put together a 19-game hitting streak from June to July, finishing with a .332 batting average. He also topped the Arizona League with 18 doubles and 37 RBIs. Seattle’s player development department recognized David by naming him his club’s MVP. He was also voted to the league’s All-Star team. David earned a promotion for the 1996 campaign, joining the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class-A Midwest League. There, the 20-year-old established himself as one of Seattle’s most promising young stars. In 129 games, he hit .322 with 34 doubles, two triples, 18 homers and 93 RBIs. A Midwest League All-Star, he wound up second in the circuit in extra-base hits and total bases.
That August, looking to bolster their lineup for a playoff drive, the Mariners acquired Dave Hollins from the Twins for a player to be named later. Two weeks into September, Minnesota's brass informed Seattle that they wanted David. David started the 1997 campaign with the Fort Myers Miracle of the Class-A Florida State League and opened the eyes of manager John Russell immediately. David hit safely in his first 11 games, posting a .432 average with five home runs and 22 RBIs. He stayed hot through May, as the Twins named him the organization’s Minor League Player of the Month.
Despite David’s lack of big-league experience, the Twins planned to give him a long look in spring training of 1998. David, however, landed in Kelly’s doghouse when he demonstrated a lack of intensity in the field. David spent the entire 1999 season in Salt Lake City and appeared in just a handful of September games for the Twins at the end of the year. He led the PCL with 110 RBI, and tied for first with 68 extra-base hits (35 doubles, three triples and 30 home runs). Determined to stick with the Twins, David had a new bounce in his step in 2000. David locked in finally in the second half. He batted .419 with seven homers and 18 RBIs in the three weeks following the All-Star break, and the Twins built a comfortable lead in the AL Central. Minnesota cruised to its first division title since 1991 and silenced any further discussion about contraction. David put up the best numbers of his career, including 32 doubles, 20 homers and 75 RBIs, in only 125 games. Eligible for arbitration, David was set for a pay raise from $900,000 to more than $2 million. For the cash-strapped Twins, he was a luxury they couldn’t afford. Despite numerous opportunities, David failed to convince the team that he could be counted upon for the .300-30-100 seasons they needed from a power hitter. Minnesota GM Terry Ryan shopped him around at the winter meetings but found no takers. The Twins released David in December.
Among those keeping an eye on David’s contract status was Pedro Martinez of the Red Sox. The two had become close friends over the years. In fact, David viewed Martinez as a kind of father figure. When the Boston ace lobbied Theo Epstein to sign his buddy, the GM listened, offering David a one-year deal with a base salary of $1.25 million. With few options in front of him, David agreed. David’s role in Boston was not immediately clear. Early in the 2003 campaign, David’s biggest impact was felt in the locker room. Boston’s roster was full of weirdoes and head cases, including Nomar Garciaparra, Manny Ramirez and Martinez. David managed to get along with everyone, and his teammates marveled how easily he laughed off the sniping and teasing he endured as the new kid on the block. That may have been the first step in a process that would eventually galvanize this group of misfits into a championship team.
When Little and Epstein were convinced that David could handle the everyday DH role, the Red Sox shipped Hillenbrand to Arizona for reliever Byung Hung Kim. By August, David was a permanent fixture in the lineup. He thrived as his playing time increased, was great in the clutch, and absolutely killed the rival New York Yankees. In the final 97 games of the ’03 campaign, David batted .293 with 29 homers and 82 RBIs. Though the Yanks won the division handily, he garnered support as the AL MVP. Writers noted at his impact on the Red Sox, both on the field and away from it.
Boston entered the post-season under the motto, “Cowboy up!” The Red Sox opened against the pitching-rich A’s in the ALDS and split the first four games. With only one hit and no RBIs in the series to that point, David was a non-factor. In Oakland for the decider, the club looked for a boost from Martinez, who threw seven strong innings. Little, meanwhile, stayed with David, who delivered with a two-run double in the sixth. Boston’s bullpen did the rest of the heavy lifting, as the Red Sox advanced to the ALCS against the Yankees. In Game 1, David homered in a 5-2 Boston victory. New York struck back in Game 2 behind Andy Pettite and then won two of three in Fenway Park to seize the edge in the series. The Red Sox responded by battering Pettite in Game 6 in the Bronx, setting the stage for a pressure-filled Game 7. With Martinez throwing darts and David hitting a clutch home run, Boston came within five outs of its first pennant since 1986. In typical fashion, however, the Yankees tied the game and won it on a dramatic homer by Aaron Boone in the 12th. Red Sox Nation was devastated.
Boston retooled for the 2004 campaign. Little was replaced by Terry Francona, and the club acquired Curt Schilling to pitch at the top of the rotation and Keith Foulke to close games. The Red Sox offense was solid, but there were still some question marks. Could David produce big numbers for an entire season? Armed with a new two-year deal worth more than $12 million, David was determined to prove his MVP-like performance in '03 was no fluke. He opened the campaign swinging a hot bat and by late May was leading the AL in doubles and RBIs. The Red Sox, however, were muddling along. Despite a sizzling June by David (.365, 10 homers and 31 RBIs), Boston remained far behind the Yankees in the East and was also lagging in the Wild Card race.
At the mid-season break, David celebrated his first All-Star selection, happy for the recognition as one of baseball’s most dangerous hitters. But Boston’s poor play consumed most of his thoughts. When the season resumed in July, he attempted to fire up his teammates, erupting
on the bench after a bad call in Anaheim. It would take more than an emotional outburst to stir the Red Sox. The Red Sox caught fire and finished with 98 wins and the AL Wild Card. David and centerfielder Johnny Damon continued to hammer the ball, Mueller and Nixon returned from
injuries, and Schilling dominated on the hill. Though New York held on for the division title, the Red Sox were picked by many to stay hot and win the pennant.
The Red Sox dropped Game 1 of the ALCS against the Yankees, as Schilling was hampered by a painful ankle injury. Boston also lost Game 2, yet another demoralizing defeat for Martinez against New York. Things got even worse when the series moved up to Fenway, and the Yanks mauled the Sox 19-8. The Red Sox found themselves in a hole that no team in baseball history had ever climbed out of. Boston chased history one game at a time. The Red Sox scratched back to tie Game 4 in the ninth off Mariano Rivera, and David won the contest three innings later with his second walk-off homer of the post-season. The following night, he delivered another walk-off hit, this time a bloop single that brought home Damon with the winning run in a 5-4 victory. The series moved back to New York, and Schilling gutted out a win to force a seventh game. In the first inning of the deciding contest, David got the ball rolling when he lined a homer into the seats off Kevin Brown. With Derek Lowe spinning a gem, Boston cruised to a 10-3 win and a most remarkable pennant. David’s three homers and 11 RBIs earned him the ALCS MVP.
Some speculated that Boston would experience a letdown in the World Series. Matched against the St. Louis Cardinals, they bungled their way through the opener, surviving four errors to win 11-9. David lifted the team offensively with a home run and four RBIs. From there, Boston’s pitching took control, as Schilling, Martinez and Lowe shut down the hard-hitting Cards. Boston completed the sweep in St. Louis to capture its first title since 1918.
Those who thought David’s '04 campaign was a career year were forced to rethink that position in 2005, when he blasted 47 home runs—20 of which either tied the game or gave the Red Sox the lead. David was a run-producing machine, with 119 scored and 148 driven in, which was tops in baseball. He hit an even .300 and led the club in runs, doubles, homers, walks, RBIs and slugging. With Damon as the team’s table-setter and David and Manny scorching the ball, Boston scored a league-high 910 runs. Had the team’s bullpen held a few more leads, the Red Sox would have easily won 100 games. As it was, they took 95, the same number as the Yankees. New York was handed the division crown by virtue of a better head-to-head record.
The Red Sox tried to hold it together for 2006, but age and injuries caught up with them. They also wasted the best season of David’s career. He led the A.L. with 54 homers, 137 RBIs, 355 total bases and 119 walks—plus he had three walk-off homers and two other walk-off hits during the year. David had a particularly torrid July, belting 14 homers and winning Player of the Month honors. Still, Boston finished a distance third in the East behind the Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays with 86 wins.
As the 2007 season began, many experts were predicting another third-place finish for Boston. They had added Japanese star Daisuke Matsuzaka to the starting staff, but no one was sure what they’d get out of Wakefield, Schilling and Josh Beckett. Jon Lester, a promising lefty, was recovering from cancer, while the role of Jonathan Papelbon—the rookie reliever sensation of '06—was unclear. Outside of David and Manny, the Red Sox batting order lacked the fear factor it had in previous seasons. A quarter of the way through the season, the Red Sox were running away with the division. The team was firing on all cylinders while the rest of the East was playing sub–.500 ball. David helped make up for a slow start by Ramirez with another lusty hitting performance. He was not seeing the pitches he liked early on, so he concentrated on working the counts for walks and driving the ball the other way when pitchers caught too much of the plate.
In 2008, Ortiz started slowly after suffering a wrist injury which caused him to miss several weeks. He played in a total of 109 games and finished the season with 23 home runs and 89 RBIs while batting .264. In 2009 Ortiz struggled early in the season, hitting only .206 with no home runs and 30 strikeouts in his first 34 games. In May, he finally hit his first home run of the season, ending a career-high 178 homerless at-bat streak. He finished the season with 28 home runs and 99 RBIs with a .238 average. In 2012 Ortiz suffered a season-ending injury to his right Achilles tendon. He finished the season with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs while batting .318 in 90 games.
Still nursing the injury to his tendon, Ortiz was sidelined in the beginning of 2013. But once again, when he became healthy, he was a major factor in helping lead the 2013 Red Sox to their eighth World Series championship. During the regular season, he hit 30 home runs, had 103 RBIs and batted .309. He finished in the top 10 in all 3 categories in the American League. In the postseason, Ortiz had 5 home runs and 13 RBIs while batting .353. In Game 2 of the American League Division Series against the Tampa Bay Rays, he hit 2 home runs off of Rays' ace pitcher David Price. In Game 2 of the American League Championship Series vs the Detroit Tigers, Ortiz hit a dramatic, game-tying grand slam off of reliever Joaquin Benoit in the bottom of the 8th inning, helping propel the Red Sox to victory. In the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Ortiz hit home runs in both games 1 and 2, had 6 RBIs and batted .688 as the Red Sox won the series 4–2. As a result of his performance, Ortiz was awarded the World Series Most Valuable Player award
He has established himself as one of baseball’s special players. Supportive of his teammates, giving to the fans, and involved in numerous charities, he is an MVP even before he takes the field. His clutch hitting and looming presence in the middle of the Boston lineup gives the team a left-handed threat it has lacked since Mo Vaughn was in his prime. David has already secured his spot in Red Sox lore. Forever to be remembered by Boston fans, he delivered what Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Wade Boggs and Nomar Garciaparra could not—and has done more to excise the “Curse of the Bambino” than anyone living or dead.
On March 23, 2014 he signed a one-year, $16 Million contract extension for the 2015 season. The extension also included two team option years to potentially keep him under contract with the Red Sox through the 2017 season. He had 35 home runs, 104 RBIs and a .263 average, placing in the top 10 in the American League in both home runs and RBIs in 2014.
In 2015, he hit 37 home runs and had 108 RBIs while batting .273. He finished in the top 10 in the American League in both home runs and RBIs for the eighth time in his career. In a ceremony at the 2015 All Star Game, he was selected as one of the "Franchise Four" of the Boston Red Sox. The selection of the "Franchise Four" (the greatest four players of all time for every MLB team) was determined by online voting by fans on the MLB.com website. Along with Ortiz, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Pedro Martinez were selected as the four greatest players in Boston Red Sox history. On September 12th, in a game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, Ortiz hit his 500th career home run off of Rays pitcher Matt Moore. He became only the 27th player in MLB history to reach that milestone.
Ortiz announced he'd retire after the 2016 season. Could Ortiz, who mashed 37 home runs in 2015 and finished with no indication of a decline, put in the best final season by a hitter in the last 50 years? Yes, he did.
No one had topped Ted Williams' 1960 farewell season in the 56 years since. Williams batted .316/.451/.645, slugged 29 home runs, drove in 72 runs and finished with 4.8 offensive WAR. Not even Barry Bonds, who accumulated 4.3 WAR in 2007, could match that. Enter Big Papi. He matched his Red Sox predecessor in offensive production.
He batted .315. His slugging percentage and 1.021 OPS led the American League, as did his 48 doubles. He walked (80 BBs) nearly as often as he struck out (86 Ks), a feat he only accomplished once in his career. It all added up to 4.8 WAR, tying him with Williams.
But beyond WAR, Ortiz had set the high-water marks for the two things he did best: Mash dingers and drive in runs. Before 2016, Dave Kingman's 35 home runs in 1986 were the most in a final season. Ortiz passed that with his 38 home runs. And Albert Belle's 103 RBIs in 2000 were the most in a final season, but had 127 to lead the American League.
In fact, the only two players since 1901 to have greater WAR in their final seasons were Shoeless Joe Jackson and Happy Felsch in 1920, whose farewells were not the same as Ortiz's. It's fair to argue that David had the best season by a retiring player, at least at the plate, ever.
But the thing is, Ortiz's 2016 didn't even need the "final season" qualifier. He won the "Hank Aaron Award" for the Most Outstanding Player in the American League, and broke the records for the most home runs (38), RBIs (127), doubles (48), and extra-base hits (87) in a final season. Only during his three-year tear from 2005-07 did he post higher WAR, his 161 OPS+ is tied for the third best of his career and he'd done this all as a 40 year old, leading the Red Sox into the postseason.
David Ortiz probably had the greatest final season in the past 50 years, and quite possibly MLB history. But in 2016 the Red Sox folded at the end of the season and were swept in the ALDS. After the final out, the fans chanted for Big Papi to come out of the dugout one last time. He finally materialized, emotionally doffing his cap and tapped his heart.