Instead of genuflecting to the guy who single-handedly dropkicked their organization into Loserville 12 years ago with an over-the-top, disingenuous pre-game ceremony, what the New York Yankees should’ve done last night was re-activate The Rocket and let him fire whatever’s left of his fastball right between the 3 and the 4 on the back of David Ortiz’s jersey, because that’s about as much “respect” and “honor” Big Papi deserves in the Bronx.
Forget the self-aggrandizing, the bombast, the me-first attitude – this is a guy who once emasculated a scorekeeper for causing him to lose an RBI by scoring one of his hits as an error – and the short fuse used to disassemble dugout phones and remember Ortiz all but accused the Yankees of leaking the results of his failed steroid test to The New York Times. The Yankees either forgot, or simply don’t care, so they dug Mariano Rivera out of the mothballs last night and presented Ortiz with an oil painting in which the mythological slugger bears a striking resemblance to Babe Ruth, which, for nostalgia purposes alone, should make any Yankee fan barf up his Reggie Bar.
Ortiz’s love for New York, which he expressed in a heartfelt letter published on Derek Jeter’s website, The Players Tribune, is understandable. Were it not for the Yankees, who spent more than a decade allowing him to pound their pitching staff missionary style without so much as a brush-back pitch, Ortiz would be Rafael Palmeiro, minus his ability to play the field and contribute defensively, which actually makes him less of a player (oh, and they’re both guilty as sin of using performance-enhancing drugs, no matter how many times they wag their fingers).
Likewise, the superfluous love for Jeter on his farewell tour two years is equally understandable. Jeter was more than a great baseball player. He was a brand. He was the most recognizable icon on a franchise synonymous throughout the world with excellence both on the field and on the stock exchange, a money-making conglomerate rich in history and tradition. Ortiz is simply a great baseball player, and if every great player were to get a year-long farewell tour, Jeff Bagwell and Fred McGriff should’ve gotten showered with gifts, too, because they were just as good if you really want to break this down statistically.
The irony in all this is Bagwel, a guy who’s been black-balled from the Hall of Fame because most voters just assume he couldn’t have been that good without the use of PEDs despite the fact he never failed a drug test or has been linked to anyone carrying bags of dirty needles. Ortiz has, and yet here we are carrying him onto the field on a golden throne like Apollo Creed’s ring walk in the original Rocky.
Come to think of it, maybe he does deserve our respect, if not for his physical gifts, but for being perhaps the only player in the history of the game who has not only escaped the backlash of having his name appear on a list of steroid cheats, but one who predictably broke down late in his career like most drug users do and then suddenly found the fountain of youth at the age of 38 without anyone batting an eyelash. As the 40-year-old Ortiz heads into his final postseason next week, he sports a league-leading .622 slugging percentage and 1.023 OPS. To put up those kind of numbers at that age and not have Major League Baseball illegal purchase documents to drag your name through the mud the way it did to A-Rod provides an aura of invincibility no other player has enjoyed. Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens – none of them were afforded that same luxury.
Speaking of A-Rod, the Yankees did less for him on the night of his final game in the Bronx than they did for Ortiz, who has tormented the franchise for more than a decade dating back to his postseason heroics in 2004, which are the only reason he’s even being considered for a spot in Cooperstown (again, great player, not historic). Assuming he gets in, he should wear a Yankees hat during his induction since they essentially built the legend of Big Papi we’ve come to know and loathe today.
Were it not for A-Rod and his postseason heroics in 2009, the Yankees would still be stuck in neutral bemoaning their 2004 choke job as the one that got away and perhaps the one that reversed the course of baseball history, sort of like that Seinfeld episode where George becomes Elaine and Elaine becomes an unemployed, mom-living loser like George. In this skewed, alternate realty, the guy who made A-Rod’s monster playoff numbers a necessity is cherished in New York more than the player who actually wore the pinstripes for the simple fact Bud Selig chose to go after him while sweeping Ortiz’s transgressions under the rug.
Beyond the obvious steroid use, which the Boston media – the same Boston media that, except for one brave soul, is too scared to ask Bill Belichick tough questions – will likely delete from the obit, Ortiz is otherwise a surly, whiny, self-promoter known for bumping umpires, throwing bats onto the field, smashing dugout phones and complaining about being underpaid at $14.5 million per year. He’s the anti-Jeter, yet teams are bending over backwards to canonize Ortiz based simply off the myth of the cuddly, loveable, gentle giant perpetuated by fanboy bloggers and talk-show hosts.
Even Jeter’s farewell was a bit much at times. Ortiz’s is downright nauseating.
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