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Adam Kaufman

Are We Too Hard on David Ortiz?

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Red Sox slugger David Ortiz isn’t the type to quietly go about his business.

On the field, he pimps home runs and gripes about strikes. Off the field, he won’t hesitate to publicly insert his opinion on personnel moves, complain about the schedule, barge into a press conference looking for an RBI, call out an official scorer for a hit he felt was unjustly taken away, or blame the media for getting struck by a pitch. And, man, don’t even start on his approach to contract talks.

But, Ortiz remains one of the all-time greatest players to ever don a Red Sox uniform. He’ll tell you so.

Truth be told, his ego, bravado, and lack of modesty still does him a disservice. Ignoring that the designated hitter hardly plays the field, Ortiz is arguably the most influential player to wear the Boston jersey. A compelling case could be made he deserves to one day be enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

Generations of Sox fans owe the deepest of thanks and appreciation to Ortiz for his countless regular season and postseason heroics that have helped carry the franchise to three World Series wins in the span of a decade after 86 years of championship futility. None of his teammates can boast the same claim.

There have been snapshots, hundreds of them, dating back to when he first joined the organization as a somewhat unheralded free agent signing in 2003. Despite playing in only 128 games that year, Ortiz enjoyed his first 30-homer, 100-RBI season and finished fifth in the American League’s Most Valuable Player voting.

Four more top-five MVP ballots followed over the next four seasons, when Ortiz hit .304 with a 1.024 OPS and averaged a ridiculous 44 home runs, 135 RBI, 111 runs scored, 42 doubles, and 102 walks in 152 games per season from 2004-07. Those campaigns were bookended by Duck Boat parades and some of the most memorable long-balls and clutch hits any fan could imagine if not for the fact they actually happened. For proof, just visit the artifacts in Cooperstown or ask teams like the Yankees, Angels, and Cardinals.

Ah, yes, the Cardinals; the group Ortiz batted .688 against during the latest overpowering championship triumph. Even at the age of 37, well-deserved World Series MVP honors for the first time in his career.

In between those latest titles, Ortiz’s power never vanished but, at times, his ability to hit for average did and staying on the field became a mounting concern. Folks wondered if he was done when he batted just .238 with a .794 OPS in 150 games in 2009 as a 33-year-old. He homered 28 times and drove in 99 runs but surely appeared to be on the decline. Or so it was thought.

As it turned out, that season was merely the exception to what would have been 10 straight All-Star seasons.

How about when an Achilles injury held Ortiz to 90 games during his team’s miserable 2012 tenure and forced him out of the first 15 contests a year later? Now that’s a vague and distant memory.

Any time Ortiz is criticized or accused in relation to his health, productivity, training methods, or demeanor, he finds a way to respond, usually in an emphatic manner. What’d he call David Price, again?

So why, after all of that, do Ortiz’s critics still occasionally treat him with disdain?

For some, it is excessive trolling for calls and for clicks. For others, it’s a result of fatigue caused by oversaturation.

Many have grown tired of elements of Ortiz’s off-the-field act in recent years, usually in regard to new contract demands while he’s already under agreement. Several in the media all but challenged the well-paid star to find a better opportunity in free agency (guilty as charged) before he and the Red Sox extended their pact. It’s not a desire to see him elsewhere, but rather a hope of changing the dial from that same old song.

Leave it to Ortiz to use those moments and grumbles to enlarge the already mountain-sized chip on his shoulder, even with his team in the midst of a down-year.

Boston is 56-67, bound for last-place in the AL East for the second time in three seasons. Ortiz is well aware of his team’s struggles, stemming largely from offensive deficiencies that have resulted in the fewest number of runs scored in the league. The club waved the white flag with a yard sale at the end of July, but the DH’s efforts to make the most of the year haven’t evaporated.

Ortiz merged with exclusive company on Saturday when he joined Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski – two men who never won one ring for the Red Sox, let alone three – as the only players in history to club 400-plus home runs during their time in Boston.

As part of his 3-for-5, two-homer, six-RBI night, he raised his season totals to 28 home runs and 91 RBI – good for 19 percent of Boston’s 475 runs scored this year – while his .250 average and .841 OPS are down considerably from 2013’s Silver Slugger earning numbers.

First and foremost, though, Ortiz is counted on to deliver power and runs and once again, barring injury, he will easily surpass the 30-homer, 100-RBI thresholds.

In fact, Ortiz’s 28 homers sit him fifth in all of baseball, one ahead of emerging face of the game Mike Trout, and his 91 runs batted in lead everyone. Yes, he paces even Giancarlo Stanton. And he’s done it for the club with the seventh-fewest runs in the majors.

During a season of frustrating and troubling lows, Ortiz has been a bright spot; a reason to watch while the semi-annual race for the postseason takes a season off.

What will he do next? On the field, we can hardly wait.

There will come a time in the not too distant future, though, when Ortiz irritates some cynical fans or crotchety members of the media away from the diamond. Likely soon. That’s about as reliable as his outcries for a contract extension after an age-defying year. Again, there will be begs for him to speak more with his bat and less with his mouth, as his defenders simultaneously point to the proverbial scoreboard and reference his resume.

Ultimately, this could all be as much about us as it is him. Perhaps, in some way, Ortiz subconsciously decides to fire up his critics in an effort to rally himself. Whatever it takes, right?

Are we too hard on David Ortiz? Some might say there’s a clear divide between a gracious fan base that offers too much of a free pass, versus a segment of the media and those influenced by what they hear and read that overhypes the veteran’s grievances.

It’s Big Papi’s bleeping city; what do you suppose he thinks?

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

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