By Dakota Randall
BU News Service
Plaques, speeches, and a relentless parade of lame gift after lame gift. As David Ortiz gets ready for his final season in a Red Sox uniform, these are some of the biggest fears for any fan not wearing a pink-colored hat.
Ever since Ortiz announced he would walk away after 20 years in the bigs, it’s seemed like a foregone conclusion that he would receive the demi-god treatment at every stop along his “farewell-tour.”
But I’m not buying it.
Sure, as the season winds down, Ortiz will get his tires pumped in every AL-East stadium. He’ll probably even get similar treatment in Minnesota, where his career began, and in cities like Miami, where there’s a strong Latin-American following.
But this idea that he’ll be mercilessly worshipped everywhere he goes has been overhyped and overblown.
Does he deserve it? It’s tough to say. As far as attention-grabbing stunts for spoiled athletes go, the “farewell tour” is still in its infancy. Fans have only really had to suffer through this act being pulled by Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter and, most recently, Kobe Bryant.
Ortiz’s career statistics certainly suggest he deserves similar treatment.
In addition to reaching the 500 home-run milestone (that really doesn’t matter anymore), Ortiz ranks in the top-10 for career playoff walks, homers and doubles. Narrow that to just the World Series, and “Big Papi” ranks in the top-five for batting-average, slugging-percentage, and on-base percentage. His .688 batting-average in the 2013 fall classic is also the second-highest ever for any single World Series.
The guy’s been a hero in Boston. He’s the primary reason Sox fans have gone from perpetually miserable to spoiled rotten. He should be celebrated by the team at the end of the year, and if the other teams in the division want to join in, go for it. But he should not and will not be worshipped everywhere he goes this season.
For all his postseason heroics and perceived big, warm personality, Ortiz is a very divisive figure in pro baseball. Most everyone agrees the guy can rake, but not everyone believes he should be mentioned in the same breath has someone like Derek Jeter.
There are three big factors working against Ortiz’s image in the greater baseball community, and against the potential success of his season-long Christmas.
Back in 2003, Ortiz supposedly tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (steroids). The results of the test were always meant to be confidential, but the New York Times released some of the names in 2009. At first, no one could find Ortiz for a comment. Now he won’t shut up about it, and it’s not doing him any favors.
Like many before and after him, Ortiz cried mystery and claimed pure ignorance about the types of vitamins and supplements he’d been using to make himself look like a total beast. I’m not someone who thinks PEDs are a big deal, but this is the type of stigma that will always follow him.
In addition to juice rumors, Ortiz’s primary role as a designated hitter has always worked against him. He takes a ton of pride in his ability to get up and hit four times a game, and has gone so far as to suggest that making him play first base really isn’t fair.
His limited use in no way detracts from his career achievements as a hitter and legendary postseason performer. But in terms of overall legacy, Ortiz will never be considered one of the truly great “baseball players” to ever live.
Finally, let’s face it, Ortiz can be kind of a prick. This may be the biggest thing working against him and the success of his “tour.” Jeter, Rivera, and Jones were almost universally loved, whether you agree or not. And while Kobe certainly has his detractors, his place among basketball’s all-time greats is so much higher than Ortiz’s that it negates many of the issues people have with him as a person.
In Rivera’s case, he played even less than Ortiz. Like David, his role was limited, and his postseason success really elevated his career legacy. But everyone loved the guy. Even the most vile Red Sox fans have to admit they liked Rivera.
Ortiz pouts, he freaks out, he complains to the umpire at least twice a game. He also, especially in the eyes of some other fans, can give a general feeling that he’s above the game. He pimps his home run trots, and acts like everything needs to cross his desk before it happens.
The guy’s an acquired taste. Like most hometown athletes, local fans find plenty of reasons to love him, while everyone else looks for any reason to hate him. I can easily foresee a situation where in some cities he actually gets booed during his pregame ceremony.
If this tour does proceed as expected, we could jump the shark pretty quickly.
What’s he going to get in Seattle, a Nirvana vinyl? A bag of weed in Colorado? LeBron’s favorite mirror in Cleveland? The only gift I wouldn’t roll my eyes at, is if the Oriole’s presented Ortiz with what’s left of the dugout phone he annihilated in 2013.
So strap yourselves in, but loosen your seat-belts a little. Like every post-2004 Red Sox season, this summer is sure to have its fair share of insufferable moments, with Ortiz right in the middle of all of them. Just temper your expectations, because Big Papi certainly should.