On Saturday against the Rays, Red Sox legend David Ortiz went deep off of Matt Moore twice, giving him career home runs number 499 and 500. It was a special moment for Big Papi, even coming away from Fenway Park, but it should be far from the final dinger-related milestone for the Red Sox designated hitter. He's four homers shy of tying Eddie Murray for 26th all-time, and with another 22 career shots, would enter the top-20.
Ortiz is also 10 homers shy of tying Carl Yastrzemski for the second-most in Red Sox history -- yes, Ortiz spent six years with the Twins, but only hit 58 of his 500 career blasts there. He has 442 with the Sox, and is behind only Yaz's 452 and Ted Williams' 521 on their all-time list. Barring a career-ending catastrophe of some kind, Papi should overtake Yaz sometime in early 2016, but his chances of becoming Boston's all-time dinger king are much, much slimmer.
They do exist, though, and that's thanks to Ortiz's late-career production. In 2009, it looked like the dominant portion of Ortiz's career was coming to a close, as he had a good, but not great, season at the plate. In the six seasons since, he's hit a combined .289/.381/.551 with 183 homers, good for a 150 OPS+. In 2013, he had the sixth-greatest OPS+ ever for a 37-year-old. In 2014, despite some wrist problems, Ortiz finished with a 142 OPS+, the eighth-best ever for a 38-year-old. While the 2015 season isn't over, his 142 mark as a 39-year-old is the third-best ever, behind only Barry Bonds (who led the league at 263 in 2004) and Williams (179).
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This run could end at any moment -- many believed it was ending during the first two months and change of 2015, in which Ortiz batted just .219/.297/.372. Since June 11, though, he's looked as good as he ever has at the plate, batting .314/.404/.686 with 28 homers in his last 78 games. He's only striking out 16 percent of the time despite the fact he's not getting any younger, and while you can't guarantee this will continue for years or even for another year, the evidence is certainly leaning towards more dingers than for the end of them.
With all that being said, Ortiz is still 79 home runs shy of catching Williams, and needs 80 to pass him on the Red Sox-specific list. He could certainly put up another 30-plus homers in 2016, which would in turn likely guarantee his option with Boston for 2017, but beyond that, what does he have left in the tank?
History gives us some hints, but not all of them. The most homers ever hit by a 40-year-old is Darrell Evans' 34 in 1987, in a high year for offense -- he's also the only player in an age-40 season to hit at least 30. Ted Williams and Raul Ibanez (yes, Raul Ibanez) went deep 29 times at 41, with Bonds at 26 and Evans dropping to 22. Let's say Ortiz sets new marks for both ages in 2016 and 2017, topping each by one -- that would give him 65, still 15 short of passing Teddy. Even if he's great, this one might be out of reach.
The possibility exists, though, especially since Ortiz has some of 2015 left to go. He's hit a home run every 2.8 games since June 11, and is on a 58-homer pace in that stretch. With 20 games left in 2015 -- not that Ortiz will appear in all of them -- he could send another four or five or hey, maybe even six balls over the wall. If this surge carries over into 2016 for a long enough time, then maybe Williams won't seem quite as far away after all.
This is still a whole lot of maybes and ifs, though, and the safe money is on Ortiz finishing his career shy of Williams' Red Sox totals while leapfrogging him (and then some) on the Major League Baseball list. Of course, the safe money has also been on Ortiz's career finally, irreversibly slowing down for years now, and he's managed to clean house betting on himself each and every time. Maybe we should just do what we always do with Ortiz, and sit back and enjoy the show while we can.