Seemingly every year, David Ortiz gets off to a slow start, and Red Sox Nation freaks out. Fans look on mournfully, remembering better days. Media members ask questions about his age, health, and tendency to hit balls into defensive shifts. Executives worry about this team’s post-Papi future.
In June, we typically find ourselves contemplating whether the end is finally near for our most beloved player, as his average sags and his demeanor sours. Then, out of nowhere, he begins hitting, and hitting, and hitting some more. The balls that were being caught suddenly fall in; the doubles off the wall begin to fly over it; and, before long, September arrives and David Ortiz is once again on pace for 30 home runs and 100 RBI. It’s like clockwork.
This year was no different. Papi hit .236 in April, .214 in May and .237 in June, as the extreme shift finally seemed to have defeated him. Moreover, Ortiz struggled with the lower strike zone many umpires seem to be deploying and, as a result, he was all too often in negative counts that left him at the mercy of pitchers.
However, just when people really began to doubt him, David Ortiz rediscovered his magic touch. In a microcosm of his career, Papi triumphed through adversity, hitting .298 in July, .352 in August and .292 thus far in September. Furthermore, his OBP has risen from .326 in the first half to .403 in the second, while his OPS soared to an unbelievable 1.111 from just .762.
In essence, David Ortiz has been swinging the bat as good as ever in the last three months. Accordingly, the slugger currently has 31 home runs and 87 RBI with 24 games remaining. In the remaining weeks, he could quite conceivably break through the 100 RBI plateau for the ninth time in his remarkable Red Sox tenure.
Thus, I find it absurd that some fans were less than delighted when Ortiz’ option vested for 2016. Sure, the DH spot would be absolutely ideal for Hanley Ramirez or Pablo Sandoval, but why would you willingly tamper with that position when you’re receiving from it perhaps the closest thing to guaranteed production as currently exists in Major League Baseball? David Ortiz has been consistently sensational in thirteen years as the Red Sox DH, averaging 33 home runs, 106 RBI and a .378 OBP per season in Boston. Aside from unfounded conjecture about advancing age, why would you even question his ability at this point?
Papi will be 40 this winter, which undoubtedly brings new challenges, but that is just one number offset by the mine of data that represents his brilliant track record of success. However you dice it, David Ortiz has been a hero for the Red Sox since 2003, and, even after all he’s done for this town, I still think he deserves more respect.
Accordingly, when Papi blasts his 500th career home run, possibly this month, there will be an outpouring of praise and support from around the nation. That’s all good and thoroughly deserved, but I feel our sentiment could be better used in more mundane moments, or moments of struggle. We have a duty to respect and admire David Ortiz’ wider body of work, and his immense fortitude in continuing to deliver against all odds for the Red Sox.
Papi has been a model of consistency. We should aim for similar uniformity in our admiration of a Boston sports legend.