Big Love: An Oral History of David Ortiz

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david ortiz oral history

Photograph by Boston Globe/Getty Images

For all that he has accomplished on the lawn at fabled Fenway Park, the most iconic moment of David Ortiz’s career may have come when he was holding not a baseball bat but a microphone. In the immediate aftermath of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings, Ortiz was the face of the Red Sox and the voice of an entire region, the word “Boston” emblazoned on his chest. Ortiz was not merely a player you cheered for. He was a neighbor. He was a father and a husband. He was one of us.

“These jerseys that we’re wearing today, it doesn’t say ‘Red Sox.’ It says ‘Boston,’” Ortiz boomed, standing in the middle of Fenway the Saturday after the bombings. “We want to thank you—Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the whole police department—for the great job that you did this past week.

“This is our fucking city—and nobody is going to dictate our freedom,” Ortiz continued, his heartfelt words taking a moment to resonate before inducing wild applause. “Stay strong.”

And with that, David Ortiz cemented his place not solely in the history of the Red Sox, but in the history of Boston.

Ted Williams may forever hold the title of best Red Sox player, but over the past 14 years David Ortiz has claimed the title of most clutch—and most beloved. How did it happen? As he winds down his final season, those who’ve had a front-row seat remember the stories and the moments that turned Big Papi into a Boston legend.

Mayor Marty Walsh: You get goose bumps [listening to the marathon speech]. At that point, Mayor Tom Menino was sick and we were all in a state of shock, fear—and Big Papi made a statement about our city. He basically put a stake in the ground, and that helped in the healing process. He was speaking for a lot of people. I don’t advocate that athletes use that language, but he certainly drove his point home.

Tom Manchester, vice president of field marketing for Dunkin’ Donuts: My oldest daughter ran the marathon that year. She finished one minute before the bombs went off. So I think for me personally when he gave that speech, he could have dropped the F-bomb 10 times and it really wouldn’t have mattered to me because I was feeling that way and I think he articulated what all of New England was feeling.

Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees: No one else can speak for that team like he can. He is the face of that franchise. I wouldn’t be surprised if they put a statue outside of Fenway and have a road named after him. He deserves it. To win three championships and not just be on the roster, but be the main cog that stirs it up; if you’re a Red Sox fan, there’s going to be a huge vacancy when he leaves—a huge hole.

Dan Shaughnessy, Boston Globe columnist: He made a good representative for today’s city and today’s culture and today’s people. I’m a little prudish about that [language] in public, because, I don’t know, we tell our kids not to do it, why is it okay there? But hey, it was a great moment, a great moment for the city. Epic. Iconic. He’s speaking from the heart. And that’s what we love about David Ortiz. He speaks from the heart.

 

Truth be told, before he became Big Papi, David Ortiz was a two-time loser. Originally signed by the Seattle Mariners as a 17-year-old in November 1992, he played for four long years with the team’s Rookie and Class-A affiliates, the lowest levels of professional baseball, before Seattle finally traded him to the Minnesota Twins. “We had some [scouts] in the Midwest League and we had a couple of people recommend Ortiz,” current Twins general manager Terry Ryan told me several years ago while I was researching the book I co-authored with Ortiz, Big Papi. The Twins sent him to the Instructional League in Florida, where Minnesota coaches first heard the sound that would eventually echo throughout major league ballparks for 20 years: the crack of Papi’s bat.

Six years later, faced with both a roster crunch and a modest payroll, Ryan and the Twins chose to release Ortiz. Looking back, the decision launched a series of events that changed the history of the Red Sox.

Terry Ryan, Twins general manager: The day I released him, well, that wasn’t a good day. Ultimately it was a baseball decision. Obviously, it wasn’t a good decision, and David has gone on to heights no one expected, or I wouldn’t have done what I did. There’s not much I can say. Everyone knows what he’s done for the Red Sox. There’s no secret here and nothing to run from. We made a mistake.

Ortiz was distraught after the Twins released him. That night, in his native Dominican Republic, he dined at an Italian restaurant called Vesuvio, where he ran into fellow countryman and Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez. Hoping his friend could join the Sox, Martinez left voice-mail messages for both Red Sox traveling secretary Jack McCormick and the team’s young general manager, Theo Epstein, urging them to sign Ortiz.

Theo Epstein, former Red Sox general manager: After I was named GM on November 25, 2002, we had a meeting with all the guys in the office to discuss the off-season. We knew we had a top-heavy offense and wanted to acquire a few more quality hitters to deepen our lineup, to make it more relentless. At that meeting, we made a list of the available first base and DH bats out there to try to get them in the right order. We discussed Ortiz because it seemed possible that Minnesota would release him. I liked his bat from my time with San Diego when I tracked the Twins’ farm system. Bill James and the numbers guys liked him, as he had been a consistent offensive performer throughout most of his pro career. Our scouts felt he was a talented hitter with some holes, but who didn’t have holes? Later in the off-season, Pedro Martinez called to recommend him and swore by his personality and character.

Tom Werner, Red Sox chairman: Credit Pedro Martinez for recommending to Larry [Lucchino], John [Henry], and me that we sign Ortiz. It was December 2002, and the Twins had surprisingly released David. We called Theo, whose initial response was unenthusiastic. But we trusted Pedro’s judgment.

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Ortiz delivers his iconic post–marathon bombings speech. / Photograph by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

Rodriguez: I was in Texas. I had long, long talks with our owner, Tom Hicks, begging him to bring over David Ortiz.

Epstein: We expressed interest to Fern Cuza, David’s agent, and stayed in touch over the next month. In early January we had Dave Jauss [a former Red Sox coach] work David out at first base. Jaussy confirmed he was just passable at first base, but we would be getting a bat-first guy who was one of the best and most clutch power bats in the Dominican League. On January 15 we claimed first baseman Kevin Millar off release waivers. I continued to talk to Fern, and Pedro kept calling to lobby for David. It finally came together on January 22—a one-year deal for $1.25 million.

 

Even after signing Ortiz, the Red Sox didn’t really know what to do with him. In his first six weeks with the team, he batted .208 with 15 strikeouts. The Red Sox had a logjam of players at the corner infield positions, and Jeremy Giambi was ahead of him as the starting DH.  

Kevin Millar, former Red Sox first baseman: We were at the end of April, and Ortiz wasn’t playing much. I was getting most of the at-bats at first base, and Giambi was getting most of the DH at-bats—he was hitting .160 or .170 but had a good eye. Well, Ortiz hit a home run late in the game—basically a game winner in Anaheim—and we all knew. By this point, Ortiz and I had been together for six or seven weeks and we understood who should be starting. Players talk. And that Jeremy thing was getting a little tired from the players’ side because of lack of production.

Epstein: David was frustrated and pretty down, though he tried not to let it seep into the clubhouse. He sent Fern Cuza to see me, and we chatted in the player parking lot at Fenway after a game. Cuza said that David loved it in Boston, but that not being in the lineup was driving him crazy. He said David wanted to be traded unless we could get him in the lineup every day. I told Fern to give me a week and we’d find a way to get David in the lineup. On May 29, we made a trade and David was in there just about every day after that. He started hitting immediately—a .961 OPS in June—but he had only four home runs through June. The guys were teasing him a lot about it, calling him Juan Pierre [then a speedy, light-hitting outfielder with the Florida Marlins].

Millar: We’re on the plane and Ortiz is like, “That’s it. I’m going to call my agent and I want to be traded.” Look, I was a guy who was always in the manager’s office. I led the league in it, because it’s up to you to protect your career. No one else is. So my whole thing was, “Walk in the front door and go in and ask.” From that point on, he hit however many homers and had so many RBI, and Jeremy Giambi didn’t play much after that. So finally he put his foot down. He had that foundation of that home run. I remember this like it was yesterday. And David started turning into Big Papi.

Martinez has his own version of how Ortiz became the Red Sox’s everyday designated hitter, recalling a series at Philadelphia in June when he confronted then-manager Grady Little. According to Martinez, Little wrongfully disciplined Ortiz for leaving the clubhouse before the end of a game.

Martinez (in Big Papi): Somebody complained that David left, but the game was over. The next day I got really upset. David was supposed to be in the lineup [and wasn’t]. I snapped. I said, “Grady, don’t give me any of that bullshit.” He looked at me and he said, “Hey, don’t blame me. It’s not up to me.” And I said, “Well, you’re going to play him when I pitch. You’re going to start playing him in my games.” All of a sudden, David went boom, boom, boom. And he became who he is.

Werner: It became quickly apparent that David was a star. In 2003, in about 500 plate appearances, David slugged 31 home runs and had 41 additional extra-base hits. By contrast, in 156 plate appearances, Giambi managed five home runs.

 

In 2003, the slugging tandem of Ortiz and Manny Ramirez was emerging as among the best in the sport, and the Red Sox made the postseason. That winter, heading into the 2004 season, the Sox traded for starting pitcher Curt Schilling and hired manager Terry Francona to replace Little. By then, Ortiz was starting to become in Boston what he had been in Minnesota: a clubhouse leader who preached inclusion and had an infectious, positive, fun-loving presence. After the Red Sox clinched a playoff spot at Tampa Bay in 2004, the team had a wild postgame clubhouse celebration in which teammates aggressively sprayed beer and champagne on one another. In the midst of the chaos, Ortiz donned a pair of goggles and hooked a garden hose up to a sink in the bathroom and shower area. When he strode into the center of the room threatening to go nuclear, teammates literally ran for cover—and he bellowed like a Dominican Shrek.

Torii Hunter, former Minnesota Twins teammate (in Big Papi): It started in the minor leagues. David likes to cook. Tiffany [Ortiz’s then-girlfriend and now wife] would fly into town and he’d have a cookout, but he wouldn’t invite just me. He’d invite everyone. He’d buy the meat and the vegetables and everything, and he’d pay for it all. In the minor leagues, it was tough because you didn’t have the money. But he’d always have these [events] to keep everyone together. That’s what I remember about David Ortiz. He was our leader. I respected that. That’s when I realized he’s great, he’s cool, he’s a people person.

Curt Schilling, former Red Sox starting pitcher: He broke up a fight between me and Manny once. I think it was in ’05. Manny had the day off. Seth McClung [then with Tampa Bay] was pitching against us and he threw hard and, in the first few innings, it was like he was Sandy Koufax. David struck out and came back in the clubhouse and said something like, “Shit, that motherfucker is throwing haaaard.” And I said, “No shit.” Manny and I were sitting on opposite sides of the clubhouse and I was like, “Manny is no fool. He knows when to take a day off.” And Manny got pissed. He was like, “Fuck you!” And I was like, “Go fuck yourself.” And then—and I remember this—he put his shoes on first, and then he came charging at me. After he put his shoes on. And David intercepted him about halfway there.

Millar: He’s a better person than he is a player. There’s a warmness about David Ortiz that people don’t realize. Take away the bling, the swag—I’ve never seen him say no. I can’t say that about 90 percent of my teammates. And I’ve never seen him say no to a child.

Shaughnessy: There’s so much to like. Why wouldn’t any fan love this guy more than any player ever? I understand that. How could you not? My God. He’s delivered and he’s been great with the fans. He’s great with the old ladies, the little kids, and that’s just the way he is. He’s Father Christmas, you know?

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Three World Series rings and an MVP ring make for a fistful of bling. / Photograph by Michael Ivins/Red Sox

Jackie MacMullan, former Globe sports columnist and current writer at ESPN: Everything in Boston is about race, you know? And I just never felt like it ever was with David. Am I wrong about that? He’s colorblind. And people were colorblind when it just came to flat-out adoring this huge Dominican hulk of a man. What a great gift to give to the Red Sox franchise, which has its own dark history, and to their fans. He made our city colorblind. I’m always appreciative of that, that he was capable of doing that with his charm and his charisma, and his willingness to give back. I still think there’s just a genuine kindness about him that has transcended color, race, gender, age, everything. And those are the best kind of superstars.

 

The 2003 season established Ortiz as a force in the Red Sox lineup, but he climbed another rung in 2004, starting to regularly deliver the clutch hits that made him the Reggie Jackson of his time, Señor Octubre.

Rodriguez: Going back to 1996, he’s had the clutch gene in him from day one. He was a clutch player in A-ball. He was a clutch player with Escogido in the Dominican Republic. Every time he came up in Minnesota, he seemed to get a big hit even though he was platooning with Doug Mientkiewicz. We’ve all been watching and we’ve all had a great seat—unfortunately for us, a little too close sometimes. The combination of him and Manny Ramirez was just prolific. It seemed like there were 10 of them. They seemed to hit every inning. I was like, “Are they up again?”

Schilling: The sabermetrics people go ape shit when you talk about clutch because there’s no way to quantify it. But it exists. As a player, I know it exists.

 

During the 2004 season, Ortiz batted .301 with 41 home runs and 139 RBI to help lead his team into the playoffs. Ahead two games to none in a best-of-five series against the Anaheim Angels, Ortiz stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the 10th inning. Facing lefty Jarrod Washburn, he parked a game-winning homer over the Green Monster and carried the Sox into the second round of the playoffs against the Yankees.

Millar: The homer against Washburn probably started setting the stage for this—I don’t know what you’d call it other than confidence, swagger. Whatever went into his soul, from that point on he turned into the biggest, greatest postseason RBI guy in the history of the game. Derek Jeter hit .308 for many years, on that stage, in the postseason. But the damage that David Ortiz did is another click better than what Derek Jeter did. And that’s saying something.

Nine days later, the Yankees were murdering the Sox, three games to none, on the brink of ending Boston’s championship dreams for the second year in a row. Down a run in the bottom of the ninth inning with nobody out, Millar drew a walk and the speedy Dave Roberts entered the game as a pinch runner. As it neared midnight at Fenway, suddenly the team’s hopes flickered back to life, the sequence of events now serving as a refrain to the greatest postseason comeback in the history of Major League Baseball.

Roberts stole second. Bill Mueller singled. The game was tied.

And the season marched on.

Werner: After our devastating loss in Game 7 of the ALCS in 2003, John [Henry] and I discussed the fact that we might not get that close to playing in the World Series for quite some time. But our 2004 team had enormous talent, both offensively and defensively. We were in our box in the ninth inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, and I was working on a statement of congratulations to the Yankees for again vanquishing us, when someone said, “Roberts just stole second base.”

With the game tied in the bottom of the 12th inning, the season hung in the balance. Ramirez singled and took a short lead at first base. At 1:22 a.m., Ortiz dug in against Yankees pitcher Paul Quantrill.

Epstein: I was sitting with the other baseball ops guys in the scout section at Fenway, about a dozen rows up behind home plate. I remember really liking the Quantrill matchup because of the sinker and David handling the low ball out over the plate well.

Schilling: It was a bad matchup for Quantrill. A guy like him, he liked to run his two-seamer back in against left-handed batters. And David just didn’t back off the plate. So the ball was going to run right to the barrel of his bat.

Epstein: Quantrill tried to jam him inside, and David did a great job bringing in his hands, which was one of the holes that he really closed up after joining the Sox. And then he homered. We went nuts, sort of pig-piling on each other briefly in the scout section before running down into the clubhouse.

Paul Quantrill, former Yankees pitcher: He’s such a good hitter in general. But Fenway made him a different hitter, especially for a pitcher like me, because he could take you over that wall in left field. When I pitched to him in the 2004 playoffs, I tried to get inside and it didn’t quite work out—at least for me.

The Sox were still alive in the title hunt, and Ortiz was just getting started. The very next day, Game 5 had lasted a record-setting five hours and 49 minutes when Ortiz walked up to the plate in the 14th inning. With the score tied, Johnny Damon stood at second base and Esteban Loaiza looked down from the mound.

Epstein: By that time, he was coming through so often for us it seemed as if the whole ballpark was just waiting for his turn in the order to come around. It was an awful lot of responsibility for someone, a surreal amount really. And then David finally muscled a jam shot into center field to bring Damon home for the victory.

Millar: The at-bat off Loaiza was probably one of the greatest at-bats in Red Sox history. It ended up being a broken bat, base hit, walk-off knock. That was a 10-pitch at-bat. He put us on his back for two games—we were down three games to none—and said, “You know what, guys, I got this.” David Ortiz turned into Big Papi that year.

Epstein: We pig-piled again and made that sprint through the stands down to the clubhouse. I remember being a little carried away by the euphoria of the moment, telling the writers it was one of the best baseball games ever played or something like that. We were all on an Ortiz-fueled high. He had put us on his back and single-handedly delivered us back to New York. I remember seeing him later in the clubhouse and he was drained by the emotional burden of the whole thing…he looked in a quiet moment like a guy who knew he could use a little bit of help the next two games.

Werner: October 18, 2004, could be the greatest single day in club history because Ortiz won Game 4 with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning after 1 a.m. that night, and then, on the same calendar day, in Game 5 Ortiz hit a 14th-inning walk-off single off Esteban Loaiza!

david ortiz oral history bobblehead

Photograph by Toan Trinh

The Sox battled back to tie the series at three games apiece, winning Game 6 in New York behind Schilling in what forever became known as “The Bloody Sock Game.” The next night, in the first inning of Game 7, Damon was on second base when Ramirez whistled a single past Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter into left field. After Damon was thrown out at the plate and dejectedly returned to the dugout, Ortiz stepped up and homered once again—propelling the Red Sox to victory and earning him the series MVP. Then came a World Series matchup against the St. Louis Cardinals, which brought the Sox their first championship in 86 years.

Schilling: Johnny got thrown out at the plate. And it was like, “Oh, crap.” Then David hit the next pitch out and we were up, 2–0. And it was like, “Okay, everything’s going to be fine.” I always felt like that hit won us the World Series.

Rodriguez: I think that was the birth of Big Papi. When you think about what he did against us, I think we both felt that whoever won that series was going to be world champs. I think we felt that in our hearts. It was a pick-your-poison situation. They had us cornered because if it wasn’t Big Papi, it was going to be Manny. We were forced constantly to pitch to Big Papi—and he made us pay every time.

 

Over the following years, Ortiz’s legend grew—he set a Boston record in 2006 with 54 home runs and helped the Sox win a second World Series title in 2007—nearly as fast as his popularity. From public events with the mayor and his own charity golf tournament to a line of hot sauces and salsa to serving as spokesman for Vitaminwater, JetBlue, and Dunkin’ Donuts, Big Papi and his infectious smile were everywhere.

Tom Manchester, of Dunkin’ Donuts: He’s got a very high level of appeal that cuts across a lot of different demographics. He’s not only relevant to hard-core baseball lovers, he is also relevant to casual fans. He cuts across ethnicities. He cuts across age groups and genders. So old guys like me love him. Young females like my two daughters in their twenties love him.

Rob Gronkowski, Patriots tight end and Dunkin’ spokesman: Doing the Dunkin’ Donuts commercials with him and just listening to him sing in his Dominican Republic–type voice, his accent, it was just awesome.

Still, Ortiz’s career in Boston was not all good. In 2009, the New York Times identified him as one of more than 100 major leaguers who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs during 2003.

Werner: A lot has been written about the 2009 New York Times report, which identified players who allegedly had tested positive in 2003 for performance-enhancing drugs—test results, incidentally, which were supposed to be confidential. I just want to say that there are a lot of uncertainties regarding that list. There are more names on the list [104] than the number of positive tests [96], and the lawyers who leaked that list never identified which drugs were detected in which players.

Epstein: I just remember the shock all around, and then meeting together, trying to figure out how to protect him publicly and manage the crisis that day so he could get just a little bit of time and space to respond the right way. He was so surprised and so disoriented by the report. We just had to get through that day so he could determine what had happened and how to respond.

MacMullan: I remember being at the park during the whole steroid flap. He was mad at everybody. He was swinging the bat [aggressively]. And he was giving me this interview and he was doing it in front of all the beat writers. He knew what he was doing. And he was so angry. But then he went out for batting practice and there was this little kid who was clearly disabled. And he was yelling Ortiz’s name. And here’s this guy who two minutes earlier was swinging his bat as hard as he could to take someone’s head off, and he stopped, and he waved to the kid, and the next thing you know he’s in the stands with the kid. So I think that’s why he resonates with people.

Werner: I have always believed that David never bought or used steroids, and he has vigorously denied doing so whenever asked. One reporter, Dan Shaughnessy, of the Boston Globe, even tied Ortiz’s alleged use to the fact he was from the Dominican Republic, an over-the-top example of stereotyping. The fact is that since the implementation of a drug program by MLB in 2004—called the strongest in all of sports by outside experts—Ortiz has been tested more than 50 times, and we have been informed that he has never tested positive.

In addition to the allegations of steroid use, Ortiz suffered a wrist injury and endured his worst season for the Sox in 2009—batting a lowly .238—which strained his relationship with the organization, particularly with manager Terry Francona. At one point, there was media speculation that the team was ready to dump the All-Star.

Francona: By then, he was more of a veteran presence. I’d been with him for several years. The relationships had become cemented. We went through some tough times later, and thankfully we had something to fall back on.

Epstein: That was a very uncomfortable time for all involved, most of all for David, of course. David wants to perform and help his team win so badly—and takes it so personally—that it’s hard on him in those rare stretches when he’s not hitting. Whether people were treating him differently or not during that stretch, he felt they were and I know that bothered him, as it would anyone.

Francona: I believed David would come out of it, but it was hard. It was hard for me. I always prided myself on being loyal.

Epstein: Of course, we had internal discussions about the longer-term future and strategizing about different scenarios, but we were never close to making a move. I think there’s a tendency to take a performer like that for granted, and it rattles your view of everything during a slump like that. It was a huge relief when he started to hit and things were back to normal.

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The ball Ortiz smashed over the fence for his astounding 2,000th career hit. / Photograph by Toan Trinh

In 2012, the Red Sox were in a tailspin and finished dead last in the American League East. The team had fired Francona and let Epstein walk away the year before, and put the team in the hands of manager Bobby Valentine and Henry’s confidant, Larry Lucchino. So in 2013, the Sox had modest expectations and a new identity. But then the team went on an improbable run into the playoffs, where they faced the Detroit Tigers for another chance at a championship ring. After dropping Game 1 of the ALCS, the Red Sox trailed the Tigers 5–1 in the eighth inning of Game 2. Then Ortiz stepped to the plate with the bases loaded. What came next was perhaps the most memorable hit of his career, a game-tying grand slam against Joaquin Benoit that launched the Sox to a 6–5 victory and altered the course of the series.

Jim Leyland, former Tigers manager: Well, I think you know that you’ve got a real dangerous guy approaching the plate in a big situation, and you know he’s had a lot of big hits in big moments. So I went with my best reliever. I think Ortiz had mild success against Benoit—not a lot, nothing major. And Benoit had the best chance. But you know, when David steps up there, he’s been through a lot of big situations, been very successful. So you know there was a possibility he could come up with a big hit. I wasn’t thinking home run, that’s for sure. I figured if he gets a base hit, okay, it’s not the end of the world. If he drives in a couple of runs, it’s not the end of the world.

Rodriguez: We’re all fans, right? You think, “At some point, the magic has to stop with this guy,” but then he just keeps outdoing himself. It’s a great inspiration. It’s really amazing.

Leyland: To be honest with you, when he first hit it, I didn’t think it was a home run. I really didn’t. I saw [right fielder] Torii Hunter going back and I thought Torii was going to catch it.

Schilling: The grand slam in ’13—that’s unprecedented. I was at home watching. When he came up, I knew they wouldn’t get him out. And then when he hit it, I was like, “No fucking way.” And it wasn’t because I didn’t believe he could do it. It was more like, “This guy is incredible.”

Werner: We will never know if we could have won any World Series rings without David’s remarkable contributions. All he has done in World Series play is have a batting average of .455, an on-base percentage of .576, and an OPS of 1.372—which rank number one in history for players with a minimum of 50 plate appearances. We were right to give him that plaque 11 years ago [commemorating Ortiz as the greatest clutch hitter in Red Sox history], and he continues to demonstrate Hall of Fame leadership both on and off the field.

 

david ortiz oral history baseball bat

Photograph by Toan Trinh

Last November, Ortiz announced that he will retire at the end of this season. During the first half of his final season, Ortiz is leading the majors in doubles and slugging percentage. Who knows how much magic he’s been saving for another championship run before he walks off the field and into the clubhouse for the final time?

Leyland: I remember the Boston Strong thing when he spoke and everything. So it’s been a nice marriage there for him, obviously. What an unbelievable career. I must say that I am a little bit shocked that he’s still doing what he’s doing now. I think it’s unbelievable.

Shaughnessy: It really boils down to this: It’s Ted Williams always and forever in my view. And I know Ted Williams didn’t win three championships and all that. First of all, numerically, it’s a joke. Just look at all the numbers. Five years of military service and all that. And if you read about Ted or know people who lived it, he was the largest figure in New England in the 20th century, except for John F. Kennedy. Ted Williams. The numbers of trees that were killed in his name and everything he did, he was the largest figure for, like, 22 years. And it just doesn’t go away.

But I think the argument for me now is, Ortiz, he’s number two—because of the number of championships, because of his career path and the clutch hits, his personality, the love of the fans. It really comes down to the Yaz thing in my view. Yaz was here for 23 years, but Yaz was almost a tragic figure. And David’s not. Yaz has admitted to me that he thinks David is bigger and the second-best Red Sox hitter ever. I don’t see where else you could go with it now.

Johnny Damon, former Red Sox outfielder: Any time you have a guy like David Ortiz who just seems to thrive in that postseason pressure—he wants to be the man in those spots and he’s made a hell of a career doing it. In the history of baseball, people are going to remember David Ortiz, and I know Yankees fans are going to be happy he’s not around.

Bud Selig, former baseball commissioner: There are some players who represent the game in any generation. I was proud of the fact that during my commissionership, we had somebody like Derek Jeter, who was really one of the faces of the game. And I’d say the same about David Ortiz.

Walsh: As far as what he’s meant to the city, it’s more than his career on the field. He’s become an iconic symbol for the city of Boston. When you watch his interaction with people—and I’m not just talking about mayors and movie stars—he interacts with real, everyday people, even if it’s just flipping a ball over the protective screen at Fenway Park.

Werner: David called John Henry and informed him that he had made the decision to retire after this season. When I spoke to David directly after that, I just said it was a privilege to have been a Boston Red Sox fan during this period and to have been lucky enough to have had a front-row seat for these many years.

— Extra —

The Big Papi Fan Club

Mark Wahlberg, Casey Affleck, and more talk David Ortiz.

— Plus —

Big Papi on Big Papi

David Ortiz, in his own words.

Source URL: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2016/07/24/david-ortiz-big-papi-oral-history/