David Ortiz was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame along with six others on Sunday, taking his rightful place among the game’s greats after a career full of magical moments.
The Boston Red Sox began playing at Fenway Park in 1912. More than 60 years later, Carlton Fisk gave the park its defining image, waving a fly ball fair. It would be nearly four decades before a moment came along to rival that one: a Gold Glove outfielder falling over the short right-field fence, a “bullpen cop” with his arms raised in the air, as a band of shaggy-bearded, castoff veterans brought the city hope after it’s darkest moment.
The man who orchestrated that magic arrived in Boston a decade earlier as someone who had displayed some pop in his bat, but was otherwise having an unremarkable career. David Ortiz was once the “player to be named later” in a trade. He was released by the Minnesota Twins, the organization with which he spent his first six seasons in the big leagues, in 2002. The Red Sox signed him on just a one-year, $1.25 million deal. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ortiz, once he arrived in Boston, blossomed into “Big Papi,” a franchise icon who took his place among the other greats of the game in Cooperstown on Sunday. Ortiz hit 483 of his 541 career homers with the Red Sox, made 10 All-Star teams, and twice led the league in RBI. But even those statistics don’t fully capture what he meant to the city and the organization.
In 2004, the Red Sox were still inflicted with the “Curse of the Bambino.” They hadn’t won a World Series in 86 years. It looked like that drought would be prolonged for another year as the hated New York Yankees went up 3-0 in the ALCS. No team in MLB history had ever come back from a series deficit that steep. But the Red Sox had Ortiz, and, with the club in need of a hero, he stepped up.
Ortiz’s two-run walkoff home run into the right-field bullpen in the bottom of the 12th inning won Game 4. A day later, in the bottom of the 14th, he dumped a single into center to score the winning run in Game 5, and the biggest comeback in baseball history was on. It was Ortiz who opened the scoring in Game 7 with a two-run homer as the Red Sox knocked off the Yankees, advancing to play the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. The first runs were driven in by—who else—Ortiz, who hit a three-run homer down the right-field line. The Cardinals never held the lead in the Fall Classic. The 86-year wait was over.
2013 World Series title solidified Ortiz’s legacy in Boston
The 2004 title, and another in 2007, made Ortiz a fan favorite in Boston and throughout New England. But it would be in 2013 that he became a legend.
The 2012 Red Sox were an unmitigated disaster. They finished in last place in the division for the first time in 20 years and had their worst record since 1965. Manager Bobby Valentine was fired after just one season. John Farrell, the pitching coach for the 2007 World Series champs, was brought in, along with a host of veterans including Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and David Ross.
On April 15, the Red Sox had just completed a walkoff victory over the Tampa Bay Rays in their annual Patriot Day game to go 8-4 on the season. Less than an hour later, a bomb exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The city was rocked. It once again needed a savior, and Ortiz was it.
Five days later, before their first game back at Fenway Park, Ortiz took the microphone and addressed the crowd. “This is our f**king city,” he said. The team, and the city, never looked back.
Six months later, after dropping Game 1 of the ALCS to the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox were once again trailing 5-1 heading to the bottom of the eighth inning. Dustin Pedroia singled with two outs to load the bases, and up-stepped Ortiz representing the tying run to avoid falling down 2-0 in the series. On the first pitch he saw from Tigers reliever Joaquin Benoit, Ortiz sent the ball deep into the Boston night. Torii Hunter tried to chase it down and ran full-speed into the wall. The shot landed in the bullpen; the game was tied, the series back on. It would be the only four runs Ortiz would drive in as the Red Sox won in six games, advancing to yet again face the Cardinals in the World Series where Ortiz put on a performance for the ages.
Ortiz went 11-16 in the six-game win over the Cardinals as this band of colorful castoffs brought a title back to a beleaguered city. The World Series has been played since 1903. Ortiz’s 1.948 OPS was the second-highest in a series that went past four games, behind only Barry Bonds in 2002. Only Billy Hatcher of the Reds in 1990 had a higher batting average than Ortiz’s .688. He fulfilled his promise to the city and became a Boston legend on par with Paul Revere and Samuel Adams.
Ortiz retired in 2016, bringing three World Series titles to an organization that had none in the previous eight decades. The impact he made was reflected in the host of Red Sox fans that made the trip to Cooperstown on Sunday, by the teammates who were there to celebrate his big moment. Pedro Martinez was there as Ortiz joined him in the Hall of Fame, and so were Pedroia, Jason Varitek, and Mike Lowell. Ortiz took a moment at the end of his speech to thank the fans for everything they meant to him.
“When I think about Boston, I definitely think about 2004, 2007, and, of course, 2013. After a city was shaken by a marathon bombing, I had never seen a community bounce back and reunite like Boston,” Ortiz said. “When I think about Boston, I also think about the last game I played. Standing on that field at Fenway Park. It felt like the whole city of New England and each and every one of you was surrounding me and was showing me all your love. I will always be Boston, and I will always be there for you Boston.”
There has never been a player quite like Ortiz in the long history of the Red Sox. Ted Williams had a contentious relationship with the fans and refused to come out for a curtain call after his final home run. Carl Yastrzemski wore a Red Sox uniform for more than two decades but could never bring a title to Boston.
Ortiz wasn’t only beloved, his wide smile as familiar to Red Sox fans as his mighty swing, but he changed the course of the franchise. “The Curse” was broken. The Red Sox were champions, and it was Ortiz who led the way.