A pair of custom L.L. Bean boots was nice. A $1,000,000 donation was more than generous. A golden bat deemed the color of his heart was special. The bridge over the Mass Pike and a street leading to the Commuter Rail named in his honor will help us remember him whenever we’re near Fenway. His number 34 being retired will help us remember him whenever we’re in Fenway.
But when push comes to shove, all the gifts in the world can’t repay David Ortiz for what he has given us.
For my generation, he has helped us grow up with a Red Sox team that dominated. He has made it hard to ever imagine that for 86 years, this team was cursed from winning a World Series. With three World Series rings in the span of 12 years, he has made it feel normal to win. Along with Boston athletes such as Tom Brady, Paul Pierce, and later Zdeno Chara, Ortiz helped lead the ushering in of a winning culture filled with championship after championship for my generation to grow up with.
For the generations before mine, Ortiz was all the more satisfying. To them, he hasn’t just been a bandage to stop the bleeding of 86 years; He has been the sought-after magic to sew the hole together so well, that it would seem as if there never was even a hole. That’s just how much of a relief he was.
To old-time Red Sox fans, it has been a great way to go out; to the young like me, it has been a great way to start.
For the franchise, Ortiz was just the right type of hitter at just the right time. Look back at all the great hitters of the Red Sox’s past: Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, and Mo Vaughn, to name a few. Williams was the greatest hitter in Red Sox history, and arguably MLB history. Yaz was incredibly consistent and helped pave the way for MVPs such as Rice and Vaughn. Even though those guys were all tremendous, they lacked something Ortiz built a career off of and that was coming up big in the clutch.
Williams batted .200 in one year in the playoffs. Rice batted .225 in the postseason. Vaughn batted .226. Yaz was one of the headliners of the ’67 “dream team” — a continuously celebrated team — that lost in the World Series. Just let that settle. They were celebrated for coming in second.
That’s how bad the culture was surrounding the Red Sox.
In the postseason, Ortiz batted .295 with 17 home runs and 6o RBIs over 17 different series spanning eight years. He led the Sox to October and didn’t stop there like the previously mentioned players — and those guys didn’t even lead their teams to October.
Ortiz’s signing changed the culture of the Red Sox. For years, the team had various legends who put up incredible individual statistics: Williams with a .406 batting average in 1941 (just his third season), Roger Clemens‘ 20-strikeout game in 1986, Wade Boggs hitting .361 in 1983 (just his second season), and the list could go on-and-on.
But those guys’ records and accomplishments were purely individual and never led their teams to do anything substantial in the playoffs. Up until Ortiz, the culture was self-centered. There were plenty of MVP awards to hand out (Yaz, Rice, Vaughn, Clemens, Fred Lynn) but there was almost no postseason success.
Does Ted Williams win the ALCS MVP by bringing the Sox back from 3-0 down to beat the mighty Yankees in ’04?
Does Mo Vaughn hit that grand slam in Game 2 against the Tigers to not only win the game, but also cause a seismic momentum shift in the series?
Does Jim Rice win the ’13 World Series MVP by hitting .688 and leading his team to their third World Series in 10 years?
Not only did Ortiz’s arrival include that clutch factor missing in all of the previously mentioned players, but he also brought a large clubhouse presence that no one before him ever had. He was lighthearted, but at the same time dedicated. Because he was a designated hitter, he was a Commander-in-Chief with the way in which he strategized his at-bats. In his head, he had extensive research on each pitcher he faced. He was always smiling, but when the going got tough, that mean Papi face became a regular.
The way in which he can rally a team is uncanny. He huddled his team up during Game 4 of the 2013 World Series and gave them a pep-talk after they’d played poorly through 5 innings. Every guy on the team stopped what they were doing and took their focus off the game and locked it onto Papi.
It worked, because after a Jonny Gomes three-run home run, the Sox would go onto win the game, 4-2, tie the series, 2-2, and then ultimately never lose again, as they’d eventually win the series, 4-2.
In that same year, tragedy struck Boston in its core with the Boston Marathon bombings. To a city grieving, Big Papi’s open arms were a sighn of relief. His speech during the ceremonies prior to the first Sox game back at home was short, but sweet. He got straight to the message: this is our city and no one will ever dictate our freedom. Stay Strong.
Due to website rules of not being able to swear, I had to leave out the best part.
Ortiz rallied the entire city back to normalcy after tragedy. He has rallied entire teams back to winning after so much losing.
He goes out a legend. He goes out a hero. He goes out a friend to us all. It always felt like we knew Big Papi on a personal level and in some ways, maybe we did. Almost all of his teammates have said that he’s the same guy on the field as he is off the field: funny, loving, kind-hearted, and most importantly, caring and passionate about whatever the task is at hand. Whether that be bringing his team back from 5-1 down in a game, or bringing his team from 3-0 down in a series, or making a sick child feel well again, he always cared.
That’s why there will never be anyone quite like Big Papi.