Four months ago I wrote a prequel to a goodbye for David Ortiz. I was at peace with this being Big Papi’s last stand; I had months to go.
This week, that fun, young, energetic season swept to a halt and Big Papi’s last day on the job came a few weeks earlier than I wanted or expected. I thought I’d have closure and was sure I could let him go. I may have underestimated his pull.
When legendary careers come to an end, there is usually a bombardment of questions about legacy. While some questions about a player’s place in history are impossibly quantifiable, others are more tangible, like those of Hall of Fame likelihood.
I came ready to defend the Papi HOF bid, armed to the teeth in facts and figures, but also with a shield of emotional adamancy. And then something funny happened. I didn’t care to fight the battle. I didn’t bother dispelling the idea that Big Papi was a steroid guy, despite the fact that those rumors came from a leaked report that had never been proven and that his highest totals for HRs and RBIs came after testing was implemented. But again, I didn’t come to fight.
Instead of war, I arrived in peace, trying to remember the best of times, a feat for David Ortiz that is harder than it sounds. How do you pick a favorite, or a most significant moment in Big Papi’s career? Three seminal moments stand out:
Everyone knows the story of the three games to none comeback, but unless you bleed for the Red Sox (not you, Curt Schilling, go back to your cave) you may forget that Ortiz’s game-winning, 12th inning home run in Game 4 came after midnight, so that when he hit the game-winning 14th inning single in Game 5, it was actually the same day. Monday October 18th, the day Big Papi murdered the Yankees. Twice.
The comeback was a team effort, but you can’t start a fire without a spark, and David Ortiz was the gun for hire. Nine days later the Red Sox were champions for the first time since 1918.
In the final World Series championship of the David Ortiz trilogy, Big Papi was otherworldly. En route to becoming MVP (duh), Big Papi batted .688 and with eight walks, reached base safely in 19 of his 25 plate appearances. Essentially for every three times he reached base, he made an out one time.
For that week, Papi was the most unstoppable player in baseball, dominating in ways I’ve never seen in any sport. Ortiz was automatic in a game where succeeding every third opportunity makes you an all-timer.
The game had no immediate impact on what would be another World Series season. And yet, one of Papi’s most memorable and powerful moments as a Sox icon is surely the moment he took the microphone (that very, VERY live mic) and spoke from his heart. In just five f&#%ing words, Ortiz brought Boston back from chaos and fear. Though the two terrorists were no longer on the loose, the pain and fear was still palpable. Ortiz’s words couldn’t undo the terror of the tragic marathon bombing, but they unified a shattered, shaky city into the strong, fearless city it had been.
How do you pick between those? Red Sox fans I have talked to haven’t found the need. Any one of those would have been enough, but three Boston miracles like this qualify him for Sainthood.
And the fact that a once-eternally-pessimistic Red Sox fan can watch a legend end his career after being pinch run for after a walk in a loss, and think about the great times, is proof enough that even though Papi may be done with the Red Sox, Boston is not done with him.