To say that Ortiz has been a thorn in the Yankees' side over the past decade plus is an understatement that's as big as he is. He's been more like a whale harpoon. In 224 games he's bludgeoned New York pitching for a .306/.395/.565 batting line, 47 home runs and 158 RBI. That doesn't include the postseason where Ortiz hit .333 with 6 more dingers in the 14 games of the 2003 and 2004 ALCS. He walked off with a 2-run homer in game 4 in '04 - arguably the biggest moment of his career and the spark that sent Boston on to an improbable comeback and their first World Championship in 85 years. No matter who the Yankees put on the mound to face Big Papi - future hall-of-famers, all-time greats - nothing ever seemed to work. I'm pretty sure Scott Proctor and Kyle Farnsworth still wake up late at night screaming his name in terror.
Of course, Ortiz's success hasn't been limited to games against the Yankees. Overall he has a .925 career OPS. His 503 homers are 27th all-time and he's a good bet to be in the top twenty by next year's end. It's unusual that a star player announces his retirement prior to his final season, but when it's happened over the past few years, players like Cal Ripken, Jr., Chipper Jones, Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter have gotten farewell tours from longtime (and short-time) opponents, where they were showered with gifts and accolades in pregame ceremonies. Rivera and Jeter were honored before their final games at Fenway Park. Ortiz will visit Yankee Stadium for the final time on Thursday, September 29th of next year. Should the Yankees give him the same treatment?
It will raise some eyebrows if the Yankees don't go all out to bid adieu to Ortiz as the Red Sox did for New York's retiring legends, even if their shindig for Rivera seemed to be more about honoring themselves than honoring Mo. Boston's been pretty good with this stuff in general. They even rolled out the red carpet for persona-non-grata Roger Clemens when he pretended to retire in '03. But to equate Ortiz to Jeter and Rivera should also raise some eyebrows. I hate using words like "class" to describe people I don't know, but under the sports definition of the term - doing and saying the appropriate things at the appropriate times, he's not like them. As much as MLB loves to paint Ortiz as its big cuddly teddy bear he's often been more grizzly-like. He has a habit of fighting with umpires. In a 2004 ALDS game he tossed a pair of bats in their direction after a questionable third strike call. He's been known to stand and watch home runs and stare down the pitchers who allow them.
Then there was the time he did this:
Beyond the occasional tantrum, there's that pesky steroid issue. The Yankees and their fans are certainly in no position to judge Ortiz for appearing on the 2003 list of 103 players who tested positive in the first-ever MLB test for performance enhancing drugs. That's the same list Alex Rodriguez was on which prompted his original confession in the spring of 2009. Ortiz, meanwhile, responded to his inclusion with righteous indignation. He promised to find out what he could possibly have tested positive for and let everyone know. That never happened, and nearly six years later, he was spouting the same stuff on Jeter's website - "never knowingly" this and "I'm not a cheater" that. It's obviously been a wise approach, since he's largely gotten a pass from the media and public while for most Yankees who've gotten caught - A-Rod, Clemens, Jason Giambi - PED use became their defining legacy. My view has always been that players should be remembered for what they accomplished on the field - not for what they did or didn't take or might or mightn't have got away with - and that goes for Ortiz as much as it does for anyone else. Still it would be hard to watch a Yankee Stadium ceremony honoring him knowing that A-Rod, even with his slowly regenerating public image, will probably never get that in Fenway, or anywhere else.
This would all be more convenient if Ortiz was really a bad guy. He isn't. He's known for being extremely charitable and players around the game, opponents and teammates alike, seem to like him quite a bit. If George Steinbrenner had gotten his way and Ortiz had joined the Yankees and not the Red Sox when the Twins non-tendered him in 2002, they'd be clearing a spot for him in Monument Park right about now. He's been as worthy an opponent as the Yankees have had this century - a love-to-hate villain that just never gets defeated. He'll get acknowledged when he plays his last game in opposing ballparks (how cool would it be if his parting gift from the Orioles was the remnants of that phone?) and the Yankees should probably do something, too. As for the Ripken, Rivera, Jeter infallible, do-no-wrong, ambassador for the game bon voyage bonanza, though? Ortiz just isn't on that level.