Like he’d done 499 times in a regular season Major League Baseball game before it, David Ortiz launched a mammoth home run deep into the right field bleachers in Tampa Bay’s Tropicana Field Saturday night. When it landed, David Ortiz became the 27th member of baseball’s 500-home run club, cementing his place amongst baseball’s all-time best power hitters.
This 500th home run is going to once again re-hash the “is David Ortiz a Hall-of-Famer?” argument. I’m not interested in that, because my stance hasn’t changed. David Ortiz was worthy of the Hall of Fame at 499 home runs, too.
A different debate that crawled across my Twitter feed, however, caught my attention. No one would argue that David Ortiz is the best player in Red Sox history. There are plenty of names above his on that list. Even fewer would argue that Ortiz is the most popular Red Sox player of all-time. He’s well-liked, sure, especially in Boston. But others have been more popular, especially with visiting teams and cities.
So David Ortiz isn’t the best Red Sox ever (that is, and always will be, Teddy Ballgame). He isn’t the most beloved, because he’s been far too polarizing around the league and far too vocal about his contract, not to mention that whole 2003 Mitchell Report thing, in the past. But is David Ortiz the most influential member of the Red Sox ever?
I say yes.
David Ortiz joined the Red Sox as a free agent before the 2003 season. Before then, Ortiz had put up a fine, though unspectacular, six-year run in Minnesota that included a .266/.348/.461 line with 58 home runs and 238 RBI in 455 games.
What’s he done since joining Boston. Let’s really break it down. Since 2003, Ortiz has appeared in 1786 games, good for sixth-most in team history. If he plays a full 2016, he’ll also pass Bobby Doerr and land in the top-five. Ortiz’s 1896 hits in a Red Sox uniform rank seventh. His 470 doubles rank fourth, just four behind Dwight Evans. He’s third in Red Sox history in home runs (just ten behind Carl Yastrzemski), fourth in RBI, and fourth in OPS.
What does this all mean? It means that behind Ted Williams (who was better) and Yaz (who played longer), David Ortiz is the most prolific Red Sox hitter of all-time. But I never said he was the most prolific hitter; I said he’s the most influential. Thats’s where playoff Papi comes in.
Who’s playoff Papi? Take a seat and watch, because words won’t really do it justice:
Yeah, that guy. Those four minutes tell the story better than I ever could, but they pay me to write, so let me try. Those four minutes, spanning 10 years, are why David Ortiz is the most influential Red Sox if all-time.
Did you know David Ortiz has scored the ninth-most runs in postseason history? Or that he’s tenth all-time in postseason hits? How about fifth in total bases, fourth in doubles, seventh in home runs, fifth in RBI, and has three World Series rings for a team that hadn’t won any in the 85 years prior to his showing up. He’s got an ALCS MVP, a World Series MVP (on the backs of one of the most dominant World Series performances ever), and put the team and city on his back in the wake of a tragedy to boot.
In July, Major League Baseball released its top-20 jersey sellers. Ortiz still ranks ninth, just behind the Dark Knight Matt Harvey, and ahead of Anthony Rizzo, Yadier Molina, Andrew McCutchen, and plenty of others. He isn’t Pedro-levels of beloved, but he’s pretty close when he isn’t talking about his contract.
Ted Williams was a better hitter. Pedro Martinez was more a once-in-a-generation talent. Others have been friendlier, played longer, or actually played in the field. Others have won rings (though none without Ortiz that anyone reading this can possibly remember). But no player – none – has meant more to the franchise.
In 85 years before David Ortiz signed with the Red Sox, they were a tortured, championship-less punchline. In the 13 years since, they’ve won as many rings as anyone. Their championships in 2004, 2007, and 2013 didn’t have a ton in common, but Ortiz was there – and a major reason why – for all of them. Put him in the Hall, put his number next to Pedro’s on the right field porch, and remember: there will never be another David Ortiz.