David Ortiz Is on Pace for a Historic Season

The soon-to-be-retired Red Sox slugger could hit more home runs than any 40-year-old in baseball history.

When David Ortiz announced last November he would retire at the end of the season, the proclamation came as a surprise to Red Sox fans. But now, after the way he’s pulverized baseballs over the last five weeks, the idea seems downright unfathomable.

On Sunday night, Ortiz became the first 40-year-old since 2013 to hit two home runs in a game, leading the Red Sox to a 5-1 victory over the New York Yankees. He passed Carl Yastrzemski for second on the all-time franchise list with 454. Ted Williams, who hit 521 home runs in a Red Sox uniform, is first.

Ortiz now has nine home runs on the season, which puts him on pace to hit 47. To give that some context, no player age 40 or older has ever belted more than 34 round trippers in a season. On his way out the door, Ortiz is shooting for a place in the history books.

After straining his Achilles in 2012, there were questions about how much longer Ortiz could hold on. He only played in 90 games that season and wasn’t healthy enough to hit until late April the following year. But Ortiz quickly proved the doubters wrong, posting one of his nine 30-home run, 100-RBI campaigns before leading the Sox to their third World Series title since 2004. Ortiz batted .688 in the Fall Classic against the St. Louis Cardinals and won MVP honors.

When Ortiz’s contract expired in 2011, it seemed as if the Red Sox were just waiting for him to decline. They signed him to a one-year deal in 2012 before modestly re-upping him for two more seasons prior to 2013. This apparent lack of faith appeared to bother Ortiz, who often complained boisterously about his contract during that time period. The Red Sox gave in to his demands in March 2014, inking him to a deal that would keep him in Boston through 2017 as long as he met certain incentives. Ironically, Ortiz is now set to walk away with a year still on the table.

It’s not hyperbolic to say Ortiz has played some of the best baseball of his career over the last 12 months. He’s hit 40 home runs over his last 123 games and is off to his best start in years. The end may never arrive for him.

During his first seven seasons in a Red Sox uniform, Ortiz averaged 37 home runs per year with a battling line of .288/.388/.578. Over the last six years, when he’s supposedly been in the twilight of his career, Ortiz has averaged 31 home runs per season and hit .288/.380/.551.

Even Barry Bonds didn’t hit with this kind of power once he turned 40. Ortiz’s retirement tour isn’t serving as a remembrance, but rather a validation of his place among the greatest sluggers of his era.