As he made his way to the home dugout, waiving his helmet to more than 42,000 adoring fans, he was greeted by the entire American League roster while the National Leaguers players and coaches took the opportunity to pay their own respects.
The 2016 MLB All-Star Game is the tenth and last of Ortiz’s Hall-of-Fame career, and everyone in attendance was ready to offer tribute.
Ortiz was all smiles and laughter after exiting the game. Through the chuckles, he said:
“Hopefully I don’t get bored during retirement.”
The game’s MVP, Eric Hosmer, took a moment to address the night’s brightest star:
“There aren’t many times that you get a guy like David — not only is he a leader of the Red Sox, but he’s a leader of Major League Baseball. He’s constantly giving back. He’s constantly spreading knowledge throughout the entire league. As a player — as a leader of a team — you appreciate that.”
Ortiz is well on his way to the best final season from any player, ever.
“Big Papi” is on pace to hit more than 40 home runs — the most ever by a player in their final season is 35, the number Dave Kingman reached when he finished his career as an Oakland Athletic. At 40, should he keep his current pace, Ortiz would pass Darrell Evans for the most home runs in a season by a player aged 40 or older (34).
All the while, he is slashing .332/.426/.682, leading the bigs in on-base percentage, slugging and doubles (34).
His fellow Dominican Republic product and National League starter Johnny Cueto told SFBay, through translator Erwin Higueros:
“It’s sad to see him go — it’s sad to see a great career coming to an end — but he’s one of our idols, over in the Dominican, so it’s sad to see him go but at the same time it’s great that he’s retiring with some great numbers and with his head held high.”
To examine Ortiz’s excellence, one must go back to 2003 when the Minnesota Twins released the then-26 year-old. The Boston Red Sox took a chance on a guy who was not seen as capable of playing a defensive position, and who had never — in six seasons — collected more than 75 RBIs.
And their franchise will never be the same.
In his second season with the Sox, Ortiz did what Ted Williams, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski were unable to: bringing an end to “The Curse of the Bambino” — an 86-year World Series drought for the city of Boston. For his abundance of clutch postseason hits, he earned the moniker “Senor Octubre.”
While his career .295 batting average, 17 home runs (T-7 most) and 60 RBIs (No. 5) in the postseason are noteworthy enough, his regular season measurables place him among the all-time greats. His 525 home runs rank him No. 19 — though he is capable of capturing Mike Schmidt at No. 16 spot by season’s end — and his 1,713 RBIs find him No. 23 — with top 20 likely just out of reach.
Even with a higher rung on the ladder of baseball lore within reach, BoSox knuckleballer and fellow 2016 All-Star Steven Wright said he was happy that Ortiz has decided to call it a career on his own accord:
“It sucks to see that it’s his last year, but it’s one of those things that it’s like, when’s enough? You want to go out on top, and right now he’s at the top of his game.”
If there is anything that outweighs his statistical impact Ortiz has had on the game, it is what he provides as a role model.
Wright, who called him “a better teammate than anybody could ask for,” said:
“I watched him growing up, just like we all did, and everything you hear about him is true: he’s a great teammate; he’s a great father. It’s unbelievable, I don’t think there’s a bad bone in his body.”
He has served as a mentor to countless young players who have passed through the hallowed halls of Fenway Park. And his signature is scribbled all over the 2016 Boston team, which has made an emergence having qualified for the postseason just once in the past six seasons — although they did claim the crown in 2013.
A resurgent Red Sox squad features four first-time All-Stars, each of whom raved about the veteran guidance Ortiz provides.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said that watching him work is inspiring enough as, even at 40, he displays a world-class work ethic:
“I don’t shake my head — I shake it (up and down) as in yes, like ‘keep going, big guy.’ It’s so fun to watch. It’s fun to be a part of. He’s such a professional — he’s very diligent in the way he works — I learn a lot, just from watching him.”
He was unwilling to accept credit for his team’s success rather passing them the credit for his own, saying that players like Bradley and Mookie Betts have driven his season.
An unbelievable talent in the batter’s box. An unrivaled master in the clutch. A top-notch teammate. David Ortiz would seem to be a prime candidate for a managerial position, should his retirement get boring — as he fears.
When asked if he would give the option any consideration Ortiz would not rule it out, though he once again went with a light-hearted response:
“I don’t really think I could be a good manager, because everybody — a year after they start managing — their hair starts turning grey.”