Monday night at Fenway Park, the career of Boston Red Sox icon David Ortiz came to an end when the BoSox lost to the Cleveland Indians in Game 3 of the American League Division Series (CLE 4, BOS 3). Cleveland swept the best-of-five series.
Ortiz, who will turn 41 next month, announced his plans to retire after the season back in spring training. He has been on a season-long farewell tour, receiving gifts from the other clubs as he went through town. Even the rival New York Yankees had a farewell ceremony for Ortiz.
Big Papi retires as arguably the greatest designated hitter in baseball history and inarguably one of the most popular players in recent memory. Back in 2004 he helped the Red Sox end their 86-year World Series drought, and Ortiz then went on to help the club to two more titles in 2007 and 2013.
Now that his career has come to a close, let's look back at how David Ortiz went from scrap heap pickup to the beloved Big Papi.
The David Arias Years
Ortiz grew up in the Dominican Republic and he signed with the Seattle Mariners as an international free agent in November 1992, at age 17. His full name is David Americo Ortiz Arias, and the Mariners listed him on their official roster as David Arias after he signed.
On Sept. 13, 1996, after four seasons in the Mariners' organization, Ortiz was traded to the Minnesota Twins as the player to be named later in the deal that sent Dave Hollins to Seattle in August. He was in Single-A at the time and had just hit .322./.390/.511 with 18 home runs in 129 games for the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers. Ortiz informed the Twins he preferred David Ortiz to David Arias after the trade.
Ortiz made his major-league debut less than a year after the trade, on Sept. 2, 1997, and he would go on to spend parts of six seasons with the Twins. Despite a .272/.339/.500 batting line with 20 homers in 125 games in 2002, the Twins non-tendered Ortiz after the season because they felt he was too one-dimensional. They simply released him, basically.
Former Twins GM Terry Ryan would later tell MLB.com's Rhett Bollinger non-tendering Ortiz was one of the biggest mistakes of his career and "just a bad error in judgment of a guy's talent."
Jan. 22, 2003
The non-tender deadline is Dec. 2 each year, and it wasn't until the date you see above, Jan. 22, 2003, that Ortiz found another job after being let go by Minnesota. The Red Sox signed Ortiz to a one-year contract worth $1.25 million. The plan was to give him platoon at-bats at first base and DH. Obviously he forced his way into much more playing time.
Ortiz hit 31 home runs in his first season with the Red Sox and finished fifth in the MVP voting. While he has obviously been extremely productive his entire time in Boston, his first five years with the BoSox were his peak. From 2003-07, Ortiz put up these numbers:
Batting Average: .302 (17th in MLB)
On-Base Percentage: .402 (7th)
Slugging Percentage: .612 (3rd)
OPS: 1.014 (3rd)
OPS+: 156 (3rd)
Doubles: 207 (3rd)
Home Runs: 208 (3rd)
Runs Batted In: 642 (1st)
Ortiz finished fifth, fourth, second, third, and fourth in the AL MVP voting from 2003-07. He went from non-tendered player to one of the three or four most devastating hitters in baseball in just a year. Incredible. Ortiz and Manny Ramirez formed one of the most devastating 3-4 lineup combinations we've seen in a long time, and even after Manny was traded away in 2008, Big Papi kept on mashing.
It is not hyperbole to call Ortiz signing with the Red Sox one of the best and most impactful free-agent signings in baseball history. Boston added more than a productive hitter. Big Papi is one of the most important players is Red Sox history given all he's done these last 14 years. He changed the culture from one of constant disappointment to one of perennial contention and championship expectations.
It's hard to believe Ortiz started his career with a meager .276/.276/.379 batting line in his first nine postseason games, all with the Twins in 2002. Things have gone much better with the Red Sox.
From 2003-15, Ortiz hit .297/.421/.571 with 17 home runs and 56 RBI in 73 playoff games. That includes 2004 ALCS and 2013 World Series MVP honors. Ortiz's walk-off home run in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS started the Red Sox's historic comeback against the Yankees.
Ortiz then hit .353/.500/.706 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 16 postseason games in 2013. That includes going 11 for 16 (.688) with two doubles, two home runs and six runs batted in during the World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals eventually smartened up and walked Ortiz four times in the decisive Game 6.
Few players have had as much impact in clutch situations in David Ortiz. It's almost hard to believe. He seems to live for those situations. Big Papi was a great hitter who stepped up in the biggest situations. It was truly amazing to watch.
Throw it all together, and Ortiz is retiring with over 500 home runs and nearly 2,500 hits in parts of 20 big league seasons. Along with Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas, Big Papi is one of the greatest designated hitters the game has ever seen. Here are his career stats.
Does all of that plus his postseason exploits make Ortiz Hall of Fame worthy? That's for the voters to decide down the line.
Hall of Fame eligibility
Now that his career is over, Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time in 2021. Voters are currently steering clear of players with performance-enhancing drug ties -- Ortiz was one of several players who failed a test as part of the league's screening in 2003, though commissioner Rob Manfred recently acknowledged the test results may have been unreliable -- and designated hitters. Thomas broke through. Martinez has not.
No one asked me, but I do think Ortiz will get into the Hall of Fame when the time comes. First ballot too. The numbers are obviously great, even by DH standards, and his place in Red Sox history is too great to ignore. You can't tell the story of baseball and skip over Big Papi. He's too important a figure in recent history. That figures to land him in Cooperstown one day.