Friday, November 18, 2016

Saying Goodbye to Number 34

It is official.  David Ortiz, the face of the franchise since 2003, has retired.

It is often forgotten now that David Ortiz was guaranteed a starting spot when he was acquired as a free agent after being non-tendered by the Twins.  He was considered to be a left-handed bat off of the bench, backing up Kevin Millar at first base and Jeremy Giambi at designated hitter.  He was not happy with his role and at one point asked to be traded.  But Giambi didn't hit and when Shea Hillenbrand was traded clearing Bill Mueller to play third, Ortiz became the designated hitter.  He ended up hitting 31 home runs and finishing fifth in the MVP vote after displaying a propensity for getting big hits.

2004 was the first amazing season from Ortiz as he hit 41 home runs, was an All Star for the first time, won his first Silver Slugger, and finished fourth in the MVP race.  The legend took hold in the postseason.  He hit a walkoff home run to win the ALDS against the Angels.  Then he had back-to-back walkoff hits in Games 4 and 5 in the ALCS against the Yankees.  It was at that point that his star power outshined Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, and Curt Schilling.

Over the next few years, he finished in the top five in the MVP race each year, was an All Star and won the Silver Slugger.  He led the league in RBIs twice, walks twice, on-base percentage, total bases and home runs once while setting a new team record for home runs in a season.  In 2008-2009 he looked past his prime, after slumping badly early in each season and looking terrible against left-handers.  Each time he came back to post respectable numbers.

Ortiz made adjustments and made a late career resurgence.  He was an All Star four seasons in a row and won a Silver Slugger twice in that period.  As the years went by, he started racking up career milestones, including his 500th home run.  Ortiz also had an amazing World Series in 2013 and won his third ring with the Red Sox.  Only Harry Hooper has more with Boston.

His final season was one for the ages as he hit .315/.401/.620 and led the league in RBIs, slugging, OPS, and doubles.  He ends his career with a slash line of .286/.380/.552 with 541 home runs (17th all-time), 1,768 RBIs and a .931 OPS.  The Red Sox announced that Ortiz's uniform number will be retired right away next season.  No one will ever wear number 34 again in Boston.

David Ortiz will be eligible for the Hall of Fame in a few years.  Two things stand in the way of his easy election.  First of all, he was almost exclusively a designated hitter.  Second, he was named on a list of players who tested positive for some sort of substance that was done in 2003, though there are some major issues with that test that may limit its impact.  But Ortiz has done a lot of great things outside the lines.  I believe that he will make it into Cooperstown.    

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