Red Sox

David Ortiz explained how he got the ‘Big Papi’ nickname to Stephen Colbert

David Ortiz is really good at hitting fastballs, but he’s not so good at remembering names.

Ortiz stopped by The Late Show Wednesday to promote his new book, Papi: My Story. During his appearance, Ortiz discussed his admiration for Derek Jeter, demonstrated his ability to switch his “game face” on and off, and shared the story of how he got the nickname “Big Papi.”

“I meet so many people every day, it’s hard for me to keep up with their names,” Ortiz told host Stephen Colbert. “So I just ‘Papi’ people.”

Ortiz explained that he called everyone he met “Papi,” as is custom in the Dominican Republic. Eventually everyone just started calling him “Papi” right back, until the nickname stuck. (A 2015 Boston Globe article on the same topic credited NESN analyst Jerry Remy with popularizing the nickname, though Ortiz didn’t mention him during Wednesday’s interview.)


“So ‘Big Papi’ was just because you couldn’t remember anybody’s name?” Colbert asked.

“Nobody’s name,” Ortiz said. “Not even my teammates.”

Ortiz also discussed his respect for New York Yankees great Derek Jeter, whose number was recently retired by the team.

“That guy, he’s so special,” Ortiz said. “I have photos of him in my house, just hanging all over the place.”

Finally, Ortiz showed Colbert how he could switch from the friendly, jovial late-night guest to the slugger with a fearsome glare he gave opposing pitchers throughout his 20-year MLB career.

“When you’re facing a pitcher, this is not the face you give the pitcher,” Colbert said, holding up a copy of Ortiz’s book, which features a close-up photo of the baseball player smiling. “You’ve got a mean face when you’re at that plate. Can you show me the difference between the face you show your friends and the face you show a pitcher?”

Of course, Big Papi was more than happy to oblige.