There was a time when David Ortiz was an untouchable, unimpeachable pillar of Boston sports. As we all know now, that time has long since past. By May, 2009, when Ortiz was in the midst of a horrendous slump, the knives had come out. The media began a feeding frenzy, proclaiming the death of Big Papi, badgering Tito on benching Ortiz, and otherwise inciting sedition and insurrection among the fanbase (not that we need much encouragement).
Last year, when it became clear that Ortiz was mired in something horrible, some fans began to turn on him. Others sought to support him, cheering and encouraging him at the plate. For all that is made of Red Sox Nation's animus, we will support our superstars when they struggle (unlike certain Manhattan-based organizations). And Ortiz eventually came roaring back: after May 31, he hit .264 / .356 / .548 with 27 homeruns. The first 58 games ensured his batting average would stay low, but he provided the Sox with big hits and runs over the next 104.
This year has been different. With the memory of early 2009 still fresh in our minds, many fans had zero tolerance for another slow start. After every bad at-bat, every late swing on which Ortiz looks hopelessly outmatched, every mistake that is weakly fouled off, the ill feelings grew. Within the first week of baseball, people were calling for him to be benched, traded, or released.
Ever since it's been 2009 all over again, although there have been fewer outpourings of good will, and much more animus. And there's another important difference - it looks like the real Big Papi is coming back sooner.
In the last 14 games, Ortiz is hitting .375 / .382 / .688. Overall in May, he's hitting .359 / .381 / .769 with 5 home runs. This is a massive improvement over April's .143 / .238 / .286 line: his on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) has more than doubled from .524 to 1.150. If Ortiz can build on this hot-streak, his final numbers could be much better than 2009's. Ortiz seems healthy and looks sharper at the plate, so maybe it's time to backup the bus we've thrown him under.
Lest we forget, other Red Sox players have gone through similar year-long slumps. Mike Lowell certainly looked "done" in 2005, when he was the $9 million salary dump on the Josh Beckett deal. That year Mikey's OPS was .658, about 150 points below his career average. To the shock and delight of Red Sox nation, Lowell bounced back and provided great production from 2006-2008.
And every player slumps. I remember stretches where the mighty Manny Ramirez looked woeful at the plate (ex. May, 2005: .725 OPS). In baseball, a game where every at-bat results in failure 60-70% of the time, you can't expect any player to be perfect, let alone 'consistent.' We can hope for a player to try hisbest, and after a poor season, to bounce back from disappointment or injury and reinvent himself.
It's not like Ortiz hasn't reinvented himself before. Prior to becoming a member of the Red Sox, he toiled in the vaunted Minnesota Twins organization, struggling to hit opposite field singles instead of following his natural swing. Nowadays, with the league accustomed to batting to him, wrist injury issues, and a massive shift to fight, Ortiz has a lot to contend with. But as he showed from June onward last year, he can still punish major league pitching.
There's still a lot of baseball to be played, and Ortiz is on the wrong side of thirty. Nevertheless, it's far too early to write him off, let alone run him out of town. Let's give Papi a chance to impress us.