Sports Q

Sports Q: Who was the better Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski or David Ortiz?

In the final episode of 'Who was better,' it's Captain Carl vs. Big Papi.

Carl Yastrzemski is hugged by David Ortiz
Carl Yastrzemski is hugged by David Ortiz after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before a 2013 game. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Welcome to’s Sports Q, our daily conversation, initiated by you and moderated by Chad Finn, about a compelling topic in Boston sports. Here’s how it works: You submit questions to Chad through TwitterFacebook, and email. He’ll pick one each weekday to answer, then we’ll take the discussion to the comments. Chad will stop by several times per day to navigate. But you drive the conversation. 

Who was the better Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski or David Ortiz?

And so in the final episode of our Who Was Better? series here at the Sports Q, we’ve got a doozy: Captain Carl vs. Big Papi.

I have the feeling the voting in this one will be generational, depending up on whether your fondest baseball memories are from the summer of ’67 or the fall of ’04.

I think one player has a pretty significant advantage over the other, given how the question is framed, and yet a compelling argument can be made for both.

First, as always, the tale of the tape:


Ortiz (2003-14): .290/.386/.570, 1,963 games, 2,079 hits, 483 home runs, 1,530 RBIs, .956 OPS, 148 OPS-plus, 10-time All-Star, 7-time Silver Slugger winner, 2004 ALCS MVP, 2013 World Series MVP, 17 postseason home runs, three-time World Series champion, knows whose city this is, 55.3 WAR.

Yastrzemski: .285/.379/.462, 3,309 games, 3,419 hits, 452 home runs, 1,844 RBIs, .841 OPS, 130 OPS-plus, 18-time All-Star, seven-time Gold Glove winner, 1967 MVP and Triple Crown winner, three-time batting champion, made the Impossible Dream seem possible, 96.4 WAR.

Ok .., whew. There are a few accomplishments there between the two of them, huh?

I have to admit, I’m surprised Yastrzemski’s batting average and on-base percentage were so close to Ortiz’s. Yaz played in an era of much less offense – in 1968, he won the batting title with a .301 average. Also, Papi was still a force in his final season (38 homers, league-best 1.021 OPS in ’16) while Yaz was merely above-average in ’83 at age 43 (10 homers, 106 adjusted OPS). But Ortiz did have a couple of down years by his standards back in 2008 and ’09, hitting a combined .250 over those seasons.

This is one of the cases where WAR helps clarify the full story. Yaz provided more than 40 WAR more than Ortiz over the course of their Red Sox careers. Part of that is due to the fact that Yaz was with the Red Sox nine years longer than Ortiz, but it’s also a reminder that his value wasn’t limited to just offense. Ortiz was a designated hitter whose entire contributions came at the plate. Yaz was not just one of the elite hitters of his time, but a spectacular left fielder who mastered the wall and had a knack for diving to make tremendous catches.


I’ve written before that the day Theo Epstein signed Ortiz might be the most important moment in Red Sox history. Ortiz was the Red Sox player who finally came through in October – and over and over again – in a way that Yaz, Ted Williams, Jim Rice, and any other Red Sox legend you want to name could not. He is the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history, though Yaz’s ’67 season was the greatest single clutch performance in baseball history. Yaz’s ’67 season is also tied for the third-best season of all time in terms of WAR. The two ahead of it and the one it is tied with belong to Babe Ruth.

The choice has to be Yaz, for longevity, for his hitting prowess in an era in which neither the players nor the baseballs were juiced, and for his excellence in the field as well. But if you want one player digging into the batter’s box against the Yankees with the game on the line, well, then there’s room for a real debate.

I’m going with the man they call Yaz. But what does everyone else think? Who was the better Red Sox player, Carl Yastrzemski or David Ortiz? I’ll hear you in the comments.


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