Well, isn’t this just a Louisville Slugger to the gut.
Here we are, crowding around the hot stove, waiting eagerly to say hello to Craig Kimbrel and any incoming 2016 Red Sox that Dave Dombrowski will soon acquire, when word comes down that instead we should be bracing ourselves for a not-so-long goodbye.
David Ortiz, the most important player in the history of the Red Sox, plans on retiring after the 2016 season, according to a report from trusted Fox Sports baseball reporter Ken Rosenthal.
Perhaps the news in itself shouldn’t stagger. Ortiz does turn 40 years old on Wednesday, and his contract expires after the 2016 season, though the Red Sox do hold a club option for 2017. His age — and maybe those creaky Achilles’ tendons — guaranteed that his career was always going to end sometime in the next couple of years.
But for those of us who still aren’t over Larry Bird retiring 23 years ago, it’s not easy news to swallow. Next thing you’re going to tell me is that Tom Brady will not play until he’s 45.
I suppose we have seen harbingers of what Ortiz’s professional demise in recent seasons. In 2009, he didn’t hit his first home run until May 20 and was hitting .185 on June 1. In 2010, he was hitting .149 on May 4. Even last year, he started relatively slow. But he always got hot and bounced back. That was especially the case last season — he delivered a 1.017 OPS and 31 homers from June 1 on.
Ortiz has been, and presumably still will be in what figures to be his final season, one of the most productive hitters in the American League. Overall last season, he hit .273 with a .913 OPS and 37 homers — including the 500th of his 19-year career.
Maybe he’s intent on achieving yet another goal that is out of reach for so many athletes: Maybe he’s intent on going out on his terms.
Even if it’s an inevitability we knew would come, the Red Sox sans Big Papi is a concept not easily visualized right now. He’s been here 13 years, delivered 462 homers (445 in the regular season, 17 in the postseason), been an active participant in three parades, and gave new meaning to the phrase “rally cry’’ with his raw, perfect words about our [expletive] city.
If you disputed my earlier assertion — which I’ve written many times in the past with utter conviction — that he is the most important (and charismatic, and clutch) player in franchise history, please answer me these questions:
How many World Series titles would the Red Sox have won without him?
How long might the drought be had the Minnesota Twins had a bleeping clue about what they had?
There are some conclusions that can be drawn regarding how history might be different without him.
In 2004, the Red Sox don’t even get to the World Series without his winning hits in extra innings in games 4 and 5 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, the seminal series when it all began to shift our way, hallelujah and at last.
In the 2007 AL Division Series against the Angels, he had a 2.418 OPS, which I’m not sure is even mathematically possible.
In 2013, he hit .688 in the World Series and famously rallied the troops during an impromptu dugout meeting during a series-evening Game 4 win in St. Louis. Dustin Pedroia may be perceived as the current captain. Jason Varitek was the captain. But Big Papi? He’s the boss.
NESN and/or MLB Network could fill a sizable block of its winter programming schedule just by showing full-game replays of Ortiz’s most clutch performances through the seasons.
Now, we’ve apparently got just one more year to watch him create lasting memories in real time.
I hope he does have one more sensational season of long home runs and longer home run trots in him.
I hope he does fatten up his stats a little more to boost his Hall of Fame candidacy. (He’s assured of one vote here if he’s still on the ballot in 2025.)
I hope he does get to go out on his own terms, with a retirement tour that is less serious and saccharine than the kind the Yankees have recently produced.
I hope the ultimate farewell comes deep into October, on the brightest stage, the moment seized by him once more time for all the old times.
Because barring any successful attempts to convince him to stick around longer (“Say it ain’t so, Papi!’’), punctuating David Ortiz’s marvelous career with a parade seems like the perfect final scene to one hell of a movie, one more unforgettable walk-off for the master of them.
Which Red Sox are in the Hall of Fame?