All stats of Sunday, May 23, 2010. Ortiz went 2-4 with a homer and RBI on Monday.
Here’s the thing about writing stuff on the internet: it can come back to bite you in the ass. So when the calendar turned May and David Ortiz, on queue, started raking like the second coming of Roy Hobbs, you knew it had the potential to haunt the flock of sportswriters-turned-morticians jostling to call Papi’s time of death. Beantown had written off their frumpy fallen star by mid-April, and anybody privy to a keyboard and monthly splits was quick to pile on.
Luckily for said sportswriters, these little bits of overzealous bluster disperse into the digital ether, never to be spoken of again.
Since SC’s never been wrong – ever – let’s use our 20/20 hindsight to call out a few people for their hastily erroneous ways. We’re all about accountability and public flogging. Let’s do this…
“As for the Red Sox? Without the security blanket [Jason] Bay was able to provide, David Ortiz’s downward spiral into irrelevance has seemed even more pronounced.” ~ Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail, April 25
“There’ve been a million unmistakable signs, like the swings and misses through mediocre fastballs, the weak ground balls to the right side, even the way opposing managers have stopped maneuvering around David Ortiz. The forensic evidence keeps bringing the Red Sox back to the same bleak conclusion: it’s time to say goodbye to Big Papi.” ~ Bob Klapisch, FoxSports.com, April 26
“The Boston Red Sox have two major problems: their catchers are helpless against opposing base-stealers and David Ortiz appears hopelessly washed up… Boston can’t afford to carry him much longer with AL East rivals New York and Tampa Bay looking strong and pulling away.” ~ Bob Matthews, Democrat and Chronicle, April 26
“Eight-figure acquisition Jason Bay was hitting so poorly, Mets fans were ready to ship him back to Boston for a Cheers beach towel and the remnants of David Ortiz.” ~ Jason Gay, The Wall Street Journal, April 30
“Ortiz looks like he can’t hit anymore… How could they have traded Lowell to Texas, then wound up with Lowell as platoon DH? And did anyone actually think Ortiz was going to reverse his decline after what we watched in the 2008 playoffs and all of last season?” ~ Dan Shaughnessy, The Boston Globe, May 9
“Bittersweet day for Bryan Holt, who is simultaneously watching another Rays victory AND the funeral of David Ortiz.” ~ Robbie Hilson, Sports Casualties, April 19
Do these guys really look that stupid? Yeah. They do. In 16 games this months, Papi’s batting .351 with 7 HR and 18 RBI. He’s slugging .754, getting on base at a near .400 clip and, most importantly, finally catching up with the fastball in. Ask Phil Hughes, who watched one of his two-seamers sail deep into Yankee Stadium’s right field bleachers last Monday. Hell, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think maybe FedEx just misplaced his March/April HGH supply with my monthly dose of Flintstones Vitamins. Since I didn’t get any Somatropin in the mail, I’m gonna assume this wasn’t the case.
Just kidding, Papi… Kind of.
As you can see, yours truly also jumped the bandwagon (via Twitter, so it really shouldn’t count) and wrote Ortiz off just like everyone else. And shame on me, because the stats suggest that I should have known better. Last season, Papi was in a similar situation – as late as June 2, he was stuck on an Ecksteinian 1 HR and 18 RBI. He hit .143 in May, striking out 26 times in 91 AB. He was already coming off two straight seasons of across-the-board decline. By any and every measure, he was no longer a productive baseball player.
Until, of course, he was.
Ortiz caught fire in June, never hit fewer than 6 home runs in any remaining month, and finished with a respectable 28-99 for a 95-win Sox team.
At 34, he’s a lot closer to the end than the beginning. His skills will go sooner rather than later, and if guys with similar builds – Cecil Fielder, Mo Vaughn, John Kruk, Tim Salmon – are any indication, they will go in a hurry.
Big Mo, with PED of choice.
Perhaps this latest resurgence is just a dead cat bounce – a final heroic burst of pride and guts before it all falls off a cliff. But to assert as much would be to ignore the larger body of evidence.
Should you retrace the last calendar year, the guy’s still swinging the stick of a power player in his prime. Ortiz has hit 35 home runs and driven in 103 over his last 143 games, a mere 505 AB. In comparison, the ’07 Big Papi posted 35 and 117 in 44 more at-bats.
Moreover, the world-beater ’04-’06 Ortiz went yard every 12.6 at-bats in a lineup that included bash brother Manny Ramirez. In a lesser order and without the, um, “extra help,” that clip has leveled off to a respectable 14.4 over the last 143 games (Ramirez is at 14.7 for his career). Now factor in that he’s been much better on the road in 2010 (1.037 OPS) than in the short-porched confines of Fenway (.667 OPS), that older sluggers are notorious for heating up with the weather, and that he’s made a concerted effort to slim down as of late (“svelte” isn’t the word, but it’s not far off).
As Biggy Smalls might say, reports of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
I originally planned to knock out a quick “Dead/Alive” segment focusing on the similarly aging likes of Alfonso Soriano, Lance Berkman and Chipper Jones, but I’d probably just end up looking more shortsighted than Billy Packer calling the ’08 title game after 13 minutes. You can’t predict these things. Not in baseball.
It’s just the nature of game – fluky, fickle, logic-defying and premised on the impossible. And that’s why we love it. On Saturday, we were four outs away from a third no-hitter in two months. Days earlier, the Mets hit an inside-the-park homer and turned a triple play in the same game. And lost. The Braves finished April on a 10-game losing streak. I wrote them off in early May. Now they’re one of the hottest teams in the league.
It’s cliche, but it’s true: expect the unexpected. Lesson learned. No more jumping the gun. Sorry, Papi.