Hall of Famer David Ortiz …
I’m just going to stop right there for a moment, because I love that phrase so much.
No Red Sox player brought as much joy to Red Sox fans as Big Papi.
Not Ted Williams. Not Carl Yastrzemski. Not Pedro Martinez or Wade Boggs. They’re the only other players elected to the Hall of Fame in their first year of eligibility who spent most of their careers with the Sox.
No, it was David Ortiz, who led the team that ended the infamous 86-year drought between World Series wins. It was Big Papi who always seemed to rise to the occasion. The bigger, the better.
And when days were darkest, it was Ortiz who rallied not only his team, but his entire city.
By way of full disclosure, I was raised a Red Sox fan. Born in Waltham, almost within the shadows of Fenway Park. In early April, which caused my dear mother to miss Opening Day for the first time. The story, now part of family lore, creates a vivid scene: two raucous carloads of neighbors heading out to the game, car horns blaring, leaving my mom at the back door of the apartment, newborn in her arms, sobbing uncontrollably.
For Red Sox fans of that era, Opening Day was generally the highlight of the season. After the Braves and Sox won five World Series in the 19-teens, Boston baseball hit the skids. The teams were so bad that in 1943, one journalist nominated a cab driver as the man who did the most for Boston baseball that season.
His taxi hit Braves manager Casey Stengel two days before Opening Day and kept him away from the team for two months.
When the Red Sox did manage to produce a good team, they inevitably managed to lose in excruciating fashion. A ’48 playoff game to the Indians. The last two games of the ’50 season to the Yankees, when one win would have won the pennant.
They reached the World Series in ’46, ’67, ’75, and ’86. Not only did they lose each one; they lost each one in seven games.
I believe it was Mike Barnicle who spoke for all Sox fans when he lamented, “They got my grandfather, they got my father, and now they’re comin’ after me!”
And then Big Papi arrived.
It was 2003. His six seasons in Minnesota had passed unnoticed and undistinguished. “On the teleconference the day we announced David’s signing, I said we thought he could be an impact, middle-of-the-order bat for us,” then GM Theo Epstein told Jesse Rogers of Espn.com.
“At the end of May, [manager] Grady Little started putting David in the lineup just about every day. He started hitting immediately — a .961 OPS in June — and had a monster second half. The rest is history.”
But not immediately. The Sox took the Yankees to seven games — naturally — in the 2003 ALCS, before Little left Martinez in too long, and then Aaron Boone homered.
A year later, the Yankees had the Sox down three games to none in the ALCS. Ortiz hit a walk-off homer in the 12th inning to win Game 4. He followed that with a walk-off single in the 14th inning to win Game 5. He then hit a two-run home in the first inning of Game 7 as the Sox finally beat the Yankees when it meant something.
“I played with David the longest of anyone,” Dustin Pedroia told Rogers. “His ability to slow the game down in a big moment was second to nobody. From day one, in a big moment, everything was in slow motion. He found a way to come through in moments where you dream of as a kid. He did it every single time. There is no one in the game that has done that.”
Of course, it was Ortiz whose three-run homer in the first inning started the Sox on the World Series sweep of the Cardinals, securing the Sox’ first Championship since 1918.
All Red Sox fans ever dreamed of was one single, glorious Series win. Ortiz delivered three. 2007 might have been his best season statistically, and it culminated with a Series sweep of the Rockies.
The 2013 season included the Boston Marathon bombings. When the Sox returned to Fenway, it was Ortiz taking the mic and telling the crowd that “This is our city!” Adjective deleted. That declaration and his hitting through the summer helped Boston recover. When the Sox clinched the Series with a Game 6 win at home, it touched off a massive, city-wide celebration.
And yet, for all the big moments, all the clutch hits, no occasion hit Ortiz like the phone call that he’d been elected to the Hall.
“I have so many great and wonderful times while I played,” Ortiz told The Athletic. “But this one, it’s the type of baby that you just want to hold on to it and never let go!”
Cooperstown. The perfect destination for David Ortiz, who meant so much to so many.
Big Papi. The greatest clutch hitter I ever saw swing a bat.