I was 10 years old during the 2003 season. Like any young sports fan from the Boston area, I was crazy about the Red Sox. I watched games with my dad. My Nomar Garciaparra player shirt was the coolest thing since Ash Ketchum. Fenway Park was a temple.
Then David Ortiz won my heart, and my baseball fandom reached new heights. He was a hulking presence with laser focus at the plate, but a mile-wide smile that always caught the NESN camera’s attention. He was a superhero; he made miracles happen. He got every clutch hit in every big moment. He batted left-handed (like me!). The Red Sox were good. Really good. And Ortiz was a major reason why.
But 2003 was only the beginning. He spent the next 13 years smashing home runs and winning improbable titles (particularly 2004 and 2013), and making more and more miracles happen. He won over countless fans, and became the face of one of baseball’s most important franchises.
Ortiz is a superhero; he makes miracles happen.
Ortiz has accounted for almost all of my baseball-watching life. That’s what makes today – this season, really – so weird. Today marks the beginning of the end. The start of the farewell tour. Ortiz’s final Opening Day. Never again will a Red Sox game one lineup card bear Big Papi’s name.
This season will be as much about nostalgia as it is about the team’s future under the guidance of Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts. But there’s also plenty to look forward to with regards to Ortiz’s 2016 campaign. There are important dates to mark on the schedule, records to be had and plenty of good baseball left in the tank at 40 years old – if last season is any indication.
Before 4 p.m. hits and all eyes are on David Price, let’s look forward to what should be an unforgettable season for Ortiz and the Red Sox.
April 4 – Ortiz’s last Opening Day. The first of the final 162.
April 11 – The Red Sox host the Orioles in Ortiz’s final home opener. The Sox are 10-3 in home openers in the Ortiz era.
June 12 – Ortiz’s final game in Minnesota. Although this isn’t the same ballpark the Twins played in when Ortiz was all but an afterthought there for parts of six seasons, it still holds significance. It’s the last chance for Minnesotans to gripe about what could’ve been, especially since Ortiz has batted .323/.404/.638 for his career against his former club.
July 12 – The 2016 All-Star Game at Petco Park in San Diego. Ortiz hasn’t been an All-Star since 2013, but it seems unlikely he’d be left out this season. Derek Jeter posted a .236 TAv and -2.0 WARP in 2014 and ran away with the shortstop votes. So yeah, count on it. And don’t be surprised if anything short of a complete disaster earns him a sentimental All-Star Game MVP.
Sept. 7 – Ortiz’s final interleague game. Not only is it his final interleague game – assuming the Red Sox aren’t in the World Series – it’s also on the road, meaning it may be our last chance to see Ortiz play first base. You all know you don’t want to miss that.
Sept. 29 – Ortiz’s final game at Yankee Stadium. He’s given Yankees fans plenty of nightmares over the years, but it’s safe to say he’ll be sent off nicely in his final game in the Bronx. And they’ll just be really really happy he’s gone.
Oct. 2 – Hub Bids Papi Adieu. Let’s assume here the Red Sox miss the postseason. They’ll play the Blue Jays in Ortiz’s final major-league game, fittingly at Fenway Park. This will be arguably Boston’s biggest regular-season finale since 1983, when Carl Yastrzemski said his final goodbyes in front of the home crowd. Safe to say it’ll be all kinds of emotional.
Ortiz has three World Series rings, a World Series MVP and has hit over 500 career home runs. There’s not much left for him to achieve. However, he can still leave his mark on the record books.
Career home runs
Ortiz’s 503 home runs put him 27th on the all-time list. He could realistically jump as high as No. 17, as he’s just 34 homers away from passing Mickey Mantle’s mark of 536. Mike Schmidt’s 548 career home runs seems a little out of Ortiz’s range.
Ortiz could also make his way up the RBI charts. His 1,641 RBI put him 30th all-time. He’s likely to pass Frank Thomas, who had 1,704 career RBI, for No. 22 on that list. The best-case scenario would be Ortiz passing Honus Wagner’s 1,732 RBI for 21st all-time.
Ortiz will likely finish his career with over 600 doubles. That would put him ahead of Barry Bonds and perhaps Cal Ripken for No. 13 all-time. Ortiz sits at 18th all-time with 584 career doubles. Bonds had 601 and Ripken 603. Ortiz’s best hope would be to pass Paul Molitor and Paul Waner, who are tied for No. 11 with 605 doubles. He needs 40 doubles to tie Hank Aaron’s mark of 624 career doubles, but he hasn’t reached the 40 mark in a season since 2011.
Red Sox home runs
Ortiz is just eight home runs away from passing Yastrzemski for second in career home runs with the Red Sox. Ortiz has hit 445 Red Sox home runs in about half as many plate appearances with the team.
Red Sox RBI
Runs batted in is a stat that carries only so much weight these days, but it’d still be a nice feat for Ortz to finish his career third in RBI with the Red Sox. He’s just 49 RBI away from passing Jim Rice’s mark of 1,451, which could be accomplished by midseason.
Red Sox hits
Ortiz will give Bobby Doerr quite a chase for No. 6 in Red Sox hits. His 1,910 hits with the team leave him just 133 knocks away from passing the former second baseman. Ortiz hasn’t collected fewer than 130 hits in a season since 2012, when he played in just 90 games.
Red Sox doubles
Recent years tell us this is a reach, but it’s at least worth noting that Ortiz is 50 doubles away from passing Ted Williams’ career mark of 525 with the Red Sox, good for second in team history. Ortiz has only doubled 50 or more times once in a season, and that was back in 2007.
How good will he be?
Every time it seems age has caught up with him, Ortiz finds a way to defy the odds. Just take last season for example. He hit .236 in April, .214 in May and had a .231/.326/.435 slash line at the midway point of the season. He looked done. Instead, he spent the final three months of the season on a tear, hitting 24 home runs and slashing .325/.401/.701 in the second half. He finished the season with 37 home runs, a .304 TAv and a .280 ISO – good for sixth in baseball.
This season figures to be just as good for Ortiz. PECOTA projects another 30 homers, a .299 TAv and a 2.8 WARP. Numbers even close to that may make him the Red Sox’s best hitter once again this season. But what PECOTA can’t take into account is Ortiz’s age. Yes, Ortiz has given Father Time his best shot, but 40 is a big number. Very few major leaguers make it to this point. Far fewer excel so late in their careers.
Alex Skillin took a more in-depth look at age 40 seasons for Over the Monster in January. In short, the fourth decade is not a kind one to power hitters. And as great as Ortiz has continued to be late in his career, he’s not immune to aging. Only one player in major-league history has hit 30 or more home runs in a season in their 40s. That was Darrell Evans, who hit 34 homers during his age 40 season in 1987. Even Barry Bonds couldn’t reach that mark. Perhaps the best age 40 season of all-time belonged to Willie Mays, who posted a .337 TAv and 6.0 WARP in 1971. Mays, of course, belongs in a category all his own. What Ortiz can do remains to be seen.
There’s no telling what this season will hold for the Red Sox, but it should be a special one for Ortiz and those who have watched him play over the last 13 years. He could pick up where he left off last season and make his way up the all-time and team record books, or he could experience the kind of dip expected for power hitters in their 40s. Either way, enjoy the ride. This is the last we’ll see of a true great. And it begins this afternoon in Cleveland.
Photo by Winslow Towson/USA Today Sports Images