A Papi Amongst Men

David “Big Papi” Ortiz’s career ended anticlimactically last night, at the Red Sox slugger watched from the bench as Cleveland wrapped up a 4-3 victory that swept the Red Sox out of the playoffs. After the final outs, Ortiz returned to the field one last time to salute the Fenway Faithful, who gave him a rousing cheer as he rode off into the sunset.

At its core, Ortiz’s baseball story is one of a man overcoming incredible odds to accomplished incredible things:

  • Despite early-career struggles with “injuries and inconsistency” that led the Minnesota Twins to release him in 2002, he went on to hit 541 home runs, drive in 1,768 runs, and compile a career WAR of 55.4. (And that’s just in the regular season!)
  • Despite an 86-year-long World Series drought in drought (and all the depression and cynicism that came with it), Ortiz led Boston to three World Series championships. (A lot of people will point to the epic comeback against the Yankees in 2004 as his defining moment, but I’ll always remember how he singlehandedly beat the Cardinals in 2013.) Ortiz and Tom Brady are probably the ones most responsible for transforming Boston into the sports-crazy “Titletown” it is today.
  • Despite a reported positive steroid test in 2003 (and the scorn and ostracism that usually followed), Ortiz became one of baseball’s most beloved figures, both in Boston and across the nation, and retires as a respected elder statesman in the game.
  • Despite playing in a city with a history of mistreating black superstar athletes such as Bill Russell, Ortiz became arguably the most popular person in Boston during his baseball career. He cemented his status as a Beantown icon with his emotional speech in response to the Boston Marathon bombing (dropping perhaps the most famous F-bomb in sports history in the process).

Throw in Ortiz’s work as a mentor and role model to other players and kids of all ages, and it’s clear baseball is really going to miss this guy when he’s gone. Here’s hoping MLB and Ortiz can find a way for him to stay involved in the game in the coming years.

In another five years, Ortiz will add one more item to our “list of despites”:

  • Despite being “just a DH” for most of his career, Ortiz will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. His impressive statistics and postseason heroics make his case for Cooperstown as ironclad as Derek Jeter’s.

That plaque in Cooperstown will be well-deserved. He may have tipped his cap to all of us yesterday, but we’re the ones who should be grateful.

Thanks, Papi.