December 8, 2019

The Declining Legacy of David Ortiz

October 19, 2011 by · 4 Comments 

Somewhat lost in the mire of disappointment and greasy fingers from the epic collapse of the 2011 Red Sox is the continued demise of the legacy of David Ortiz. His career in Boston represents the highest of highs, but an ongoing pattern of lows. It has not necessarily been about the way he plays on the field, but how he conducts himself off it that has seen his image seemingly crumble with each passing year.

From the days of the magical World Series seasons of 2004 and 2007, Ortiz’s place in Boston lore has dipped precipitously. He was once well on his way to serious consideration of inclusion with the most loved Boston professional athlete of all time, including the likes of Orr, Bird, and Yaz. However, things have changed and Ortiz is spending his waning years in Boston slipping further from the graces of Red Sox fans.

When Ortiz first came to Boston in 2003 he was a chubby part-timer who looked like he was better suited to be working on a construction crew than playing baseball. However, by June of that year, the still flabby Ortiz had become such an offensive force, that he forced his way into the starting lineup and has not yet relinquished his spot.

In his nine years in Boston Ortiz has hit .289 with 320 home runs and 1028 RBI. Particularly in his first few years there he developed a reputation of being a larger-than-life personality, referred to as “Big Papi.” He spit on his gloves and enthusiastically clapped his hands before at-bats and developed a knack for delivering big hits in tight spots. His zenith was his 2007 season where he produced MVP-worthy numbers at the plate and helped the Red Sox win their second World Series in four years.

Since that time, Ortiz has stumbled through a series of behavioral missteps and embarrassments that have made it nearly impossible for him to ever be part of the pantheon of all-time Boston athletes.

In 2009 it was uncovered that Ortiz tested positive for a banned substance in 2003. This came six months after he had told reporters that he supported a one year ban for those who tested positive, adding, “I know that if I test positive by using any kind of substance, I know that I’m going to disrespect my family, the game, the fans and everybody, and I don’t want to be facing that situation.” Like many in the steroid era, his ambivalent actions branded him as a phony and seriously compromised his likability.

As Ortiz’s production declined a little with age, Ortiz has frequently been vocal about disrespect he perceived from potentially losing playing time and not being rewarded with a long term contract. His belief that his performance from past years gave him the right to play when he was struggling, or earn a hefty contract that was no longer justified, showed his prima donna personality, and also took away from his iconic stature.

In August of this year, showing another facet of his selfish side, Ortiz burst into a postgame press conference being conducted by Terry Francona, to profanely complain about an Official Scorer’s decision that had deprived him of an RBI during that day’s game. As he interrupted Francona in front of the cameras, “I’m F@^&ing pissed!” One could hardly expect such childish behavior from a rookie, much less a veteran of 15 major league seasons.

Most recently, in the aftermath of missing out on the playoffs, Ortiz went on the record with ESPN, telling them of his potential interest in playing for the rival Yankees in 2012. He told the reporter, “There’s too much drama. I have been thinking about a lot of things. I don’t know if I want to be part of this drama for next year.” With the playoffs still going on, and the Theo Epstein and Terry Francona situations still playing out, the interview Ortiz gave was an unnecessary distraction and a roundabout way of stating that he was above the issues plaguing the team. As one of the longest tenured Red Sox, he was in an excellent position to help curb some of the drama, but his interview spoke volumes about what kind of leader he is.

For someone who is so averse to drama, Ortiz seemingly is fine with creating it. At a time where the Red Sox lie in shambles, Ortiz was once again acting selfishly, trying to announce to the market about his available services, as he will be free to sign anywhere once the free agency period begins later this year. Baseball is a business and there is no problem with players making themselves the best deal possible, but there is also such a thing as doing it with class and respect.

Whenever Ortiz’s career in Boston is finished, he will have put up some great individual statistics, participated in some of the greatest moments in Red Sox history, but also leave behind a reputation for being at times selfish and petulant. This combination won’t leave his him amongst Boston’s all-time great athletes, which is a shame because at one point his membership in the elite group was his for the taking. Unfortunately it seems like Ortiz’s legacy ultimately mattered more to the fans than it did to him.

Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at historianandrew@gmail.com. You can also reach him on Twitter at @RedSoxFanNum1.

Comments

4 Responses to “The Declining Legacy of David Ortiz”
  1. Austin says:

    Interesting piece, Andrew. As an Oriole fan, I watched the Sox down the stretch quite a bit and it struck me that Ortiz, once a respected and even likeable opponent, had become a giant whiner. Called strikes that were right down the middle often brought a glare and a complaint from Ortiz. He acted entitled. In fact, a case could be made that when Kevin Gregg challenged him to run the bases and not stand at the plate to admire the flight of his fly balls,the Orioles’ competitive fuse was lit and the Birds played their best against Boston in September.

  2. @Austin – Thanks, Austin. In my opinion, he has dropped so much in his perception from the 2004-2007 days to now. It was actually interesting to see today that he won the Roberto Clemente Award. Not questioning his charitable work, but the award also reflects his contributions on the field. I guess a caught cheater can qualify.

  3. Paul Dunn says:

    Andrew,
    Another excellent column. Over the last couple of seasons there seems to have been a change of attitude in the Red Sox clubhouse. In the Army we used to call it “pull up the ladder boys, I’m on board” . I am a Yankee fan but I have always had great respect for Ortiz and the Red Sox in general. After the Yankees had signed Jason Giambi, George Steinbrenner wanted to sign Ortiz as a DH but it didn’t happen. It is hard to win in the majors with an I’m for me attitude-it is possible -but hard

    Paul

  4. Thank you for reading. I think Ortiz ends back up in Boston for another couple of years. I can’t think that there would be a huge market for him, and the Red Sox can pay more than anyone who might want him. An interesting place I could see him landing is with Toronto.

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