Peter Gammons: David Ortiz, The Headmaster of the Moment

David Ortiz

He spent nearly three years as David Arias in the Seattle organization until the Mariners sent him to Minnesota in 1996 in a waiver deal for Dave Hollins, then was released by the Twins in December, 2002 as David Ortiz. A month later, he was signed by Theo Epstein, who believed all he needed was a chance to hit in Fenway Park. So, ten years into his professional career, the path to Headmaster of The Moment was cleared.

Ortiz began that 2003 season splitting designated hitter time with Jeremy Giambi and Kevin Millar, but on April 27 gave Red Sox fans a glimpse of who he was when he hit a 14th inning, two run homer off current Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway in Anaheim for a 6-4 win. Come October he prolonged that 2003 season with an eighth inning double in the fifth and deciding game of the American League Division series, capping a three game run after Oakland had won the first two games of the best-of-five series. And in the historic Game Seven of the ALCS, his solo homer in the top of the seventh inning gave Boston a 5-2 lead, a run Grady Little may have figured was safe with Pedro Martinez.

In due time, in helping end the 86 year curse, Ortiz homered to finish the Division Series with the Angels.

Then after the Red Sox lost the first three games of the ALCS to the Yankees, his 12th inning homer ended Game Four. Twenty four hours later his 14th inning singled walked the Red Sox off to New York, back in the series down three games to two, and when they got to a Game Seven, before the Yankees got to the plate, he launched a first inning, two run homer that began the final unraveling of the Yankees in The Stadium.

For good measure, he began the World Series with a first inning homer off the Cardinals’ Woody Williams that put the sweep—of the Cardinals as well as The Curse—in motion.

When it was all over, there were countless moments. Dave Roberts was inducted into the Red Sox Hall of Fame, and never had a post-season at-bat. There was Bill Mueller and Derek Lowe, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and the bloody sock, and no teammate would forget Tim Wakefield going to the bench in his cleats in the Game Three rout, volunteering to pitch and saving the staff.

When the Red Sox got back to the World Series in 2007, he capped a remarkable three homer, 1.204 OPS post-season following the sweep of the Rockies.

And, finally, to freshen New England’s memory in 2013, after three years of calls for his release, he came up in the eighth inning of Game Two with the Red Sox on the verge of losing the first two games to the Tigers at home, down 5-1, bases loaded, and hit the grand slam off Joaquin Benoit on which Torii Hunter made his infamous tumble. The Red Sox then won the game 6-5, the series in six games and eventually the World Series over the Cardinals.

For some understanding of his place in New England baseball history, look at the numbers the Red Sox have retired on the right field roof in Fenway. For all the greatness of Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice, only Pedro Martinez owns a Red Sox World Series ring.

Ortiz has now won three, more than Williams, Yaz, Rice and Bobby Doerr combined; ok, Harry Hooper played for four world champions, but they didn’t dole out rings in those days. Only six players in major league baseball history have hit more post-season homers than his 17.

Only ten players in MLB history have hit more extra inning homers than Ortiz’s 12.

And, true to being the Headmaster of the Moment, only six players have hit more walkoff homers than Ortiz’s 11. Jim Thome hit 13. Five HOF guys named Foxx, Mantle, Musial, Frank Robinson and Ruth hit 10.

Ortiz has played 73 post-season games in a Red Sox uniform:.297/.421/.571, 17 homers, 57 walks. Ted Williams was hurt in 1946 and went 5-for-25 in seven games against the Cardinals. Yastrzemski was always a huge big game star; in 17 post-season games, he batted .369 with a .447 OBP, .600 slug, four homers, 11 walks, three strikeouts. Jim Rice in 18 games was .225/.313/.366 with two homers.

And not only was Ortiz The Headmaster of The Moment on the field, he understood and captured such moments in real life. With the Angels in Boston in 2004, his native Dominican Republic was devastated by a hurricane; Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero went to lunch, and when they arrived in their respective clubhouses, they began a fundraising campaign that by the time Red Sox owner John Henry and MLB and the Players Association joined in raised millions of dollars in relief funds.

Then in April, 2013, five days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the Red Sox held an emotional pregame tribute for the victims, survivors, police, and first responders, and one-by-one, Red Sox players filed up the dugout steps to the field. I was in the dugout, and as Ortiz walked towards the steps, he stopped, looked back at me, and with tears in his eyes said, “my boy is eight years old. Those people murdered an eight year old.”

He wasn’t scheduled to speak when he took his place on the field, but grabbed the microphone, and blurted out what remains New England’s battle cry to the acts of terror that had frozen a region. “This is our (—) City…” Two days later, Joe Scarborough asked me about Ortiz. “I think he won an NBC overnight poll as the most popular person in the United States,” said Scarborough.

Seizing a moment unlike any in millions of New Englanders’ lives, he spoke the words they all wanted to hear. Boston Strong was born. Boston. “That’s what it says on the front of the uniform,” Ortiz shouted. He got it. That was Boston’s moment.

Six months later, as the championship Duck Boats rolled through the streets, fans chanted “this is our —- City as Ortiz went by, because it was his city, his championship triumph, HIS moment.

There is time for all the Hall of Fame debates and the discussion of what the alleged failed test when drug tests were experimental and there were no drug bans, before he goes on the ballot. We can debate Ortiz vs. Edgar Martinez, Ortiz vs. Frank Thomas.

Or what moments really mean in analytical history.

But baseball is not just numbers, it is about what touches our hearts and holds our souls and why, as Mike Barnicle once wrote, the Red Sox are a life and death matter.

This may be our (—) city, but it is a city that has experienced an extraordinary number of moments over the last 18 years thanks to Pedro Martinez and David Ortiz. Pedro? The Jagger of the Moments. David? The headmaster of the Moments. Why Santo Domingo should be the sister city of Boston, Manoguayabo the sister city of Cataumet, Ma.

Comments

  1. Respectfully, Mike Lowell was the 2007 WS MVP, Papi in 2013. Wonderful piece, Mr. Gammons.

  2. Nice piece but you fail to mention the real reason Williams never won a WS– Racism. I am old enough to have seen Pumpsie Green hit a home run and remember Mike Higgins not signing Mays or Aaron although he could have signed both.

  3. Craig Johnston says:

    Nice reference to Cataumet, Peter. Should have been Scraggy Neck Rd.

  4. David Babyq Perez says:

    No love for manny Ramirez on this piece way better numbers than ortiz Carrer and postseason if am not mistaking manny was mvp of the 2004 WS

    • Matt Potvin says:

      Manny was World series MVP but he din’t even drive in a run against the Yankees in those 7 games, Ortiz was the real 2004 playoff MVP, not to take anything away from what Manny did but Pappi hit the walkoff against the Angels to advance to the ALCS in extra innings. Hit the walkoff in Game 4 vs the yankees, hit the walkoff in Game 5 and so on. Manny was great but come October there is olny one Senor Octobre….Pappi!

  5. oscar_madison says:

    Failed drug test. No hall for you Papi!

    • What was the substance he failed for?

      • oscar_madison says:

        A performance enhancing substance banned by major league baseball.

        • Can you name it? Can you name the source? What substances were banned by MLB in 2002? Who else was on the list?

          • oscar_madison says:

            All that is irrelevant. He tested positive. He failed the test. If he’s held to the same standard as everyone else, no hall for Papi.

          • Ha Ha. So an unnamed source accuses you of something and it is taken a gospel? The accused’s version is irrelevant? What country is this?
            I would hope we would need more than that.

          • oscar_madison says:

            He admits taking the same stuff everybody else was taking at the time. I’ll take his word for it.

          • Which was what? Andro? Andro which was available over the counter in 2002. The fact is you don’t know. He admits to taking stuff that was available to the public, available to you, legally at the time.
            That report has never been made public. Why were only a few names leaked?. You think the “unnamed source” had an agenda? I think I would like some more questions answered before I smear a man who has otherwise done nothing to tarnish his image.
            It is sad that you convict a person on hearsay and rumors with no hard evidence.
            If it comes to light that in fact he was juicing then I will be first in line to condemn him, but until I see proof, not unnamed sources leaking part of an unreleased document with no follow up by ANYONE, I will continue to believe him.

          • oscar_madison says:

            Hearsay and rumours? He was named in official court documents as having failed the test. Whatever substance it might have been hardly matters. Ortiz hides behind his own ignorance by saying only it was what everybody else was taking at the time. He himself admits to being a cheater right there. Just like everybody else from that era who likes to claim ignorance, he ain’t getting in the hall. Period.

          • What court documents? That document was never released! The substance hardly matters? I guess a speeding ticket is as good as murder in your book. I hardly think that over the counter products are the same as sticking a needle in your ass.
            If I am ever accused of something I hope people like you are not in my jury of peers

          • oscar_madison says:

            Maybe it was Andro maybe it was amphetamines which have been banned since 71. He tested positive. Period. No hall for Papi.

          • You want to ban everyone for greenies? your hall is empty.

          • oscar_madison says:

            No only the ones that failed drug tests

          • Papi never failed a drug test. They didn’t test until 2006.

          • oscar_madison says:

            The Boston Globe ran a story March 27, 2015 with the headline: “Failed drug test still shadows David Ortiz.” Guess they just made all that up?

          • They weren’t officially testing in 02 remember? Hey guess what, Mantle took greenies before they were testing for those, should we pull him out of the hall?
            Also you should probably read the whole story and not just headlines because you know the press would NEVER try sensationalize anything

          • oscar_madison says:

            I read the part where it said: “Ortiz became one of four players who were exposed as having failed the 2003 screening.” Bob Hohler from the Boston Globe wrote that. Find me anything as concrete as that published by a reputable newspaper about anyone in the hall and yes, they should be removed. Ortiz goes on to admit he tested positive even. A bit more than just hearsay.

          • Failed for what? What were they testing for? Why were only 4 names released? Who is providing the info? The whole thing is cloudy. The test was a trail run. You don’t know what they were testing for or what would trip a positive. Benadryl? HGH? weed? The FACT is YOU don’t know!!!
            You are letting a man behind a curtain tell you what to think. I won’t do it. I don’t make a habit of adopting other people theories.
            where we differ you think a speeding ticket is equivalent to murder…all crimes deserve the same punishment. That and until the whole report is released with all names and what that were testing for and what the results were…..I put no stock in it.
            Good Bye

          • oscar_madison says:

            You keep coming up with more questions to try and steer the conversation away from the simple facts. He failed a drug test, everyone knows it, he even acknowledges it. I don’t need to know what they were testing for and who else was on the list. The fact is he tested positive. If he’s held to the same standards as everyone else of that era, he will not get in the hall. It’s just that simple. Keep concocting rationalizations all you want. It doesn’t bother me one bit if you choose to forgive his cheating. The people that will ultimately vote him into the hall or not will not be as forgiving.

          • The questions remain the same. If my kid gets kicked off the team for drinking a beer I look at it differently than I do if they get caught shooting heroin. I also look at it differently if the accuser stands up to own the comment than hiding behind “anonymous”
            You choose to blindly put all under one roof.

          • oscar_madison says:

            I am going by David Ortiz’s own admission. You can choose to ignore that if it fits your fantasy better and keep saying it’s one anonymous person’s accusation. You are ignoring the facts to give him a free pass. The one simple point I continue to make-based on facts not fantasies-is the baseball writers aren’t going to go so easy on him.

          • He admitted to taking over the counter products. Even he says he was never told what caused the flag. Yes it seems weak but with out the test results who are we to believe?
            If he failed for “over the counter products” then I don’t give a rats ass about the failed test. I didn’t care that McGuire had Andro in his locker way back when because I could walk down the street and get the same thing.
            If he failed for an illegal substance then I have a problem, again with out the test results how do I know? I don’t
            MLB has never commented on the results except to say that 5% did throw a flag and they used that to get better drug testing…which in the end is a good thing.
            I have no fantasies and I applaud the current MLB drug program.
            I my opinion there are not enough “facts” to support ruining a mans reputation .
            As for the press, except for Rick Reilly, they did squat for years during the steroid area, mostly for fear of being driven out of the “boys club” I give them credit for looking out for themselves and nothing more.

          • All I know is, when you put all the numbers, the writers saying this and that, the era, the rumors, true or not…. after all the BS, when you get down to the actual baseball of it, the same game that has been played for over a century, you have David Ortiz, and he is without a doubt the most clutch hitter I have ever seen or heard of. Hall or no Hall, I don’t need the validation to know what I saw was true greatness… And I will leave it at that.

        • @ oscar_madison You are a moron.

    • you seem like a rabid terrier that can’t let go of anything. Chill out and get a life…

      • oscar_madison says:

        A week and a half later you decide to chime in with that? Please. It wasn’t me perpetuating this argument. I made one consistent point over and over based on the facts of the case. The other participant was the person unable to let anything go, bringing up fantasy scenario after fantasy scenario to excuse Ortiz’s cheating. And after all that is said and done the fact still remains: Failed drug test. No hall for Papi!

    • Right on Oscar. David Ortiz never attended a charity event without a host of cameras to let the world know what he was up to. Smiling all the while he was a cheater. Compare that to a guy like the Red Sox shortstop John Valentin who incidentally was displaced by another known cheater. He dedicated so much of his life to help cancer patients, and there was never a camera around.

  6. David Courtemanche says:

    The failed test is bogus as that was supposed to be anonymous. Manny kept getting caught, not Ortiz.

  7. Hudson Valley Slim says:

    Nice tribute to a great man. Papi has made us all smile in Boston many times. And before we close the book, there’s one more race to be run by the big guy….