Let's be honest: David Ortiz is a thorn in our sides. Just this Sunday he hit two home runs off of Luis Severino, continuing a long line of success against the franchise. It was his 51st home run against the Yankees, and he now stands among some pretty well-known Red Sox who have performed well against the Yankees. Here are the best Red Sox hitters against the Yankees, by OPS (minimum 500 plate appearances):
That's insane. Of course Ted Williams is going to be at the top, because he was one of the greatest hitters ever. Next is Manny Ramirez, who was obviously great against the Yankees, but he was only in the AL East from 2001 to 2008.
Ortiz, essentially, has nearly matched Ramirez's total but for 402 more plate appearances, and lately has been in a lesser run environment. If we were to lump in Ortiz's numbers with the Twins, and put him on a leader board with the best OPS marks against the Yankees of any team, he is ranked eighth all time. That doesn't even include his postseason record against the Yankees, which I will spare myself from or I will re-open some old wounds.
As we all know, Ortiz is retiring at the end of this season. It's probably a relief to every Yankees fan on the planet, because he is still mashing home runs and making me feel as frustrated as I was over ten years ago. At the same time, though, should we really be upset?
I found it particularly striking when reading the Yankees' comments on Ortiz's career, and it's in stark contrast to anything you'll hear from a fan. One of the coolest comments was from Ivan Nova, who said,
"He texts me to see how I feel... I never thought that guy would text me to see how I feel. That’s why I’m blessed to not only have a chance to play against him but have that relationship that we have."
Andrew Miller also played with him so he has a personal relationship, and even Alex Rodriguez went as far to say that Ortiz has been great for the sport. Obviously players aren't going to trash talk other players, but some of those comments do ring true in that public perception and how other players view each other often differ.
At least from what these players have to say, Ortiz is probably well-liked among his peers. He can be a bit cranky and he beats up on the Yankees, but he has meant a lot for the Red Sox, the city, and for the local community. That seems to be universally recognized.
As a Yankees fan, though, I just love to get annoyed by him. I love to get nervous when he's up to the plate, I love to yell at my television when he hits a dinger, and I like to casually ignore every single clip of the times he has crushed my heart. That is what makes this rivalry. There are a lot of fans who just don't get what it is like to have a legitimate villain to root against. And for Yankees fans of my generation, David Ortiz was that villain. He was the leader of the bearded bums that broke the curse, and he made a ten year old cry.
I'm sure Red Sox fans felt the same way about Derek Jeter, as they should. Jeter was the foil to David Ortiz, just as we see Ortiz as the anti-Jeter. There's something about that dichotomy, something about the way each side vehemently opposed the other, that made the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry of the mid-2000's so special. I would even go as far to say that for many fans of my generation, that dichotomy was an essential part of the fandom. You had to have feelings on both.
That is what I'm going to miss about David Ortiz. I'm not going to miss him beating up on the Yankees, of course, but I am going to miss that there was someone to root against. Reggie Jackson famously said that they don't boo you if they don't care about you, and it rings true with Ortiz. Yankees fans boo Ortiz because they have a vested interest in the outcome, and they'll probably boo him again at his last game at Yankee Stadium, for old time's sake. It's one last time to have a villain to root against, because we don't know when we'll see that again.