Ortiz, Red Sox still a perfect match
TAMPA, Fla. -- Can you even imagine Big Papi wearing another uniform? Isn't that pretty much the bottom line in this thing? At a time when we've become accustomed to players switching teams, it would be tough to get your mind around the notion of David Ortiz with a club other than the Boston Red Sox.
That's why a contract extension, which appears to be close, makes sense. The two sides may have wrestled over the fine print a time or two over the years, but the Red Sox and Big Papi have traveled such a long road together and accomplished so much that theirs is a bond that seems unbreakable. Ortiz will be a member of the Red Sox family forever.
It's only partly about baseball. His is an emotional bond to a city -- a bond that may be stronger than any other in professional sports. He has been right there in the middle of three World Series celebrations, joyous and proud. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, his anger and resolve spoke for an entire region.
To Red Sox Nation, he's so recognizable and so emotional, his smile so wide, his personality so large, that he seems to be in the center of everything. That's true in the home clubhouse at Fenway Park, where his voice and his presence are reassuring constants of what the Red Sox truly are.
Dustin Pedroia is the competitive fire of the Red Sox, the undisputed leader, the guy around whom so much revolves. Papi is the guy who makes others laugh, the unflappable one, the calming influence.
Sure, this is oversimplifying things. The Red Sox win for a long list of reasons. They've got tremendous ownership and a smart, creative general manager in Ben Cherington. John Farrell is the absolute right guy to manage this club because he understands and accepts that Red Sox managers will be scrutinized and second-guessed. He gets it. He's also honest, consistent and very, very competent. He's both liked and respected by his players.
And the Red Sox win because of Jon Lester and John Lackey, because of Mike Napoli and Clay Buchholz and a long list of others. At the center, though, at the heartbeat, are Ortiz and Pedroia.
This is also about production. At a time when the designated hitter position has evolved, Ortiz remains one of the few full-time productive players at that position. The Tampa Bay Rays did an offseason study in which they discovered that the position, other than in Boston, isn't even all that productive anymore.
Rather than spend another offseason searching for a DH, the Rays took a different approach and will use it to rotate their regulars for breaks from playing defense. In Boston, they still have a guy.
At 38, Ortiz is coming off a spectacular season, one in which he produced 38 doubles, 30 home runs and 76 walks as the Red Sox led the Major Leagues in runs. He has had a slow spring, but the Red Sox are confident that his 18th season will look a lot like most of the others since he signed with Boston after six years in Minnesota.
At this time last season, we didn't know if Ortiz had anything left in the tank. He'd played just 90 games in 2012, and because he was 37 years old, it was reasonable to wonder if his day had passed.
He resoundingly answered every question, and then had another spectacular postseason, hitting .353 with a .500 on-base percentage. He earned the World Series Most Valuable Player Award after hitting .688 and reaching base nine straight times at one point. In three World Series appearances, he's hitting .455 -- the highest ever for a player with at least 50 World Series plate appearances.
Those things will make you an icon in a place where they revere their baseball nine. So will iconic moments, and Ortiz delivered the single-most important one for the Red Sox on their way to winning in 2013. That came in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series when the Red Sox were four outs from an 0-2 deficit.
Ortiz slammed a two-out, bottom-of-the-eighth-inning grand slam that tied the game and will live forever in New England baseball lore. The Red Sox were on their way after that, and soon enough Ortiz was leading the celebration after the World Series, getting the biggest cheers, having the time of his life.
He's important to the Red Sox, but he understands the Red Sox are important to him, too. His 11 seasons in Boston have redefined his career, identified him, as not just a special player, but as a winner. There's no higher compliment for a player. So the Red Sox are doing the right thing and removing any uncertainty about his future. It will be in Boston. Which seems perfect.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.