With David Ortiz officially a retired baseball player (this is the first time I’ve typed that out and now I’m sad), we’re looking at the greatest moments over his storied career. “Storied” isn’t just an adjective most commonly used to describe great athletes; it’s the most apt description of Ortiz’s playing days. It really was a story in the truest sense of the words, and a reminder that the negative connotation around the word “narrative” isn’t always fair. The narrative around Ortiz’s career, and the thing we’ll remember him most for, is the ability to come through in the biggest moments. The clutchness, which I’m like 90 percent sure isn’t a word but should be.
As we look through the top moments of the career, these clutch hits are going to be the ones that are most heavily featured. This should be obvious, as these moments are large in both quantity and quality. I’m going to go in another direction, though. One of the great disservices of recent Red Sox seasons is that they wasted some great Ortiz seasons in 2014 and 2015 with truly bad ball clubs. He did manage his 500th home run in that 2015 campaign, however, and that is one of those times that I will never forget despite the fact that the home run had little to no effect on the Red Sox season. Even if it was mostly meaningless beyond hitting an arbitrary milestone, it represents so much about his career and my time watching the Red Sox in general.
We all know the Ortiz story at this point, and while I can’t speak for everyone I know I’ve sort of taken his path for granted. It’s been so long since he first came to Boston that I solely think of him as the great hitter he quickly turned into rather than acknowledging just how unlikely any of this ever was. I mean, he was straight-up released by the Twins. Do you know how hard it is to not even get claimed as a 26-year-old? Carlos Marmol is the type of player who gets cut, not David Ortiz. Now, it’s clear that this was a mistake by Minnesota and the rest of the league. Even if he wasn’t the player we know now at that point in his career, he was still an above-average hitter who averaged over 20 home runs per 162 games. That’s a guy who deserves a chance.
With that being said, I can’t stress enough how unlikely any of this is. Ortiz was never supposed to be the type of player to have a feature written about him upon his retirement, never mind a giant series of them on one website. And yet, here he was in a meaningless September game going after one of the most storied milestones in a spot defined by career achievements. You know, before he came to the Red Sox he had just 58 home runs through his age-26 season. Among every other player in baseball history with that low of a home run total at that point in their career (and there are hundreds), no one else had reached even 400 homers. And yet, he entered this game with 498. Number 499 would come in the first inning, off of Matt Moore. This set up for another plate appearance in the fifth, which you can watch below.
It’s not just how unlikely it is that Ortiz ever reached this point that makes me love this milestone homer. There’s also the fact that Don Orsillo was on the call. I know this is supposed to be about Ortiz, and it still is, but if anyone is as close to as intertwined in my Red Sox fandom as Ortiz, it’s Orsillo. The former announcer started calling Sox games in 2001 when I was just 10. There probably aren’t more than a handful of voices I’ve heard more in my life than Orsillo. I don’t need to tell anyone here how heartbreaking it was that NESN was letting him walk after the 2015 season. It’s not quite the same kind of pain of Ortiz retiring, but it’s as close as a non-player leaving can be.
When NESN’s announcement was made, it was clear that Ortiz would eventually hit his 500th, but it wasn’t a sure thing it’d happen before Orsillo left. Had the milestone come in 2016, I’m sure Dave O’Brien would’ve been fine on the call. Orsillo deserved it, though. He had called just about all of the previous 499, and the 500th is one that will be replayed for years to come. Being able to hear Orsillo’s voice in those instances makes the moment all the better.
There are so many things we’ll remember Ortiz for. The walkoffs and other huge hits in clutch situations will obviously be the number one. The speech after the Marathon bombing in 2013 will probably be number two. His general personality will be up there. Lost in all of that, though, is how unlikely and inspirational his story is. He never should’ve gotten to this point, and he sure as hell was never supposed to join the 500 home run club. On its face, it was a meaningless dinger in a blowout at the end of a lost season. What it represents makes it eminently memorable among all of Ortiz’s other moments. The fact that Orsillo narrated it just puts the cherry on top.