Consistent designated hitters in Major League Baseball are hard to come by. It’s a position that is usually left for the team’s best veteran hitter that could shift the momentum of a game with just one hit. For the Boston Red Sox, David Ortiz was able to do this and more.
A couple of weeks ago, right before his final series at Yankee Stadium, Ortiz wrote a letter in The Players’ Tribune thanking Yankees fans for lighting his competitive fire. He wrote, “Our rivalry with the Yankees made me who I am. The intensity of that competition is what I’m gonna miss the most when I’m done.” These two sentences stuck with me for one reason- for me, Big Papi epitomizes the Red Sox/Yankees battle.
I grew up right down the street from Shea Stadium, but my heart has always been across I-278, home of the Yankees. As a Yankees fan, it’s natural to have a level of dislike for the Boston Red Sox and its fanbase. In fact, the rivalry between the two teams is one of the greatest and most competitive in the league dating back to the days of Babe Ruth.
David Ortiz came to the organization in 2003 when the lineup needed one more strong bat to bring it all together. Boston acquired outfield Manny Ramirez two years prior in an insane deal that would keep him there for at least eight seasons. The pitching staff was stacked with future Hall of Famers such as Pedro Martinez and Tim Wakefield. But it wasn’t their time. They’d have to wait one more season to claim the prize.
The 2004 season came and the competition was heated as ever. In the American League, it came down to the Red Sox and Yankees once again, the “core four” versus Manny, David, and Pedro. As you’ll recall, the ALCS came down to the wire and, well, I’ll let the Four Days in October speak for itself. The Red Sox coasted through the World Series, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals 4-0. It was their first title since 1918 and just the beginning of Boston’s temporary stronghold on the American League. As much as I hate to admit it, they were fun to watch. Ortiz and Ramirez could turn any regular season game into a home run derby without warning. They’d go on to win one more championship together in 2007, but just like all good things, their reign as a powerful 3-4 tandem came to an end.
In 2009, the Yankees reclaimed domination and won their 27th World Series title. But it was an ’09 August summer matchup between the Red Sox and Yankees that ranks as the most intriguing and exciting game that I’ve ever watched between these two rivals. The Red Sox visited the Bronx for their first series in the new Yankee Stadium. The aces on the mound were AJ Burnett and Josh Beckett so I knew I was in for a show. This show would last much longer than others. The game remained scoreless through nine innings and remained that way until Alex Rodriguez hit a walk off home run in the bottom of the 15th inning with Derek Jeter on base. Finally, after five hours and 33 minutes, the marathon game was over. Yankees won, 2-0. The thing that drove me crazy about this game, and any other close game for that matter, is that the hero of this game easily could’ve been Ortiz. He had the power to change the entire momentum of a game and it was something that he was a professional at, compiling over 20 game-winning hits throughout his career.
When the 40-year-old DH announced his retirement earlier this season, I was in denial up until his very last at-bat. Similar to when Jeter and Kobe Bryant announced their retirements, I felt like a piece of my childhood was being taken away. I grew up to love, hate, and respect David Ortiz as 0ne of the best power hitters the game will ever see. He changed what it means to be a designated hitter and he won’t be easily replaceable by the Red Sox, or MLB period.
I say all of this to say that I won’t look at the Red Sox the same. I don’t know the team without David Ortiz and, quite frankly, part of my love (and anxiety) for the ancient rivalry will be retiring with him. Like he said himself, some players are born to be Yankees, but he was born to play against the Yankees.