In the 20th and final year of his career, David Ortiz has won the 2016 AL Hank Aaron Award. The award is conferred every year to the best hitter in each league.
With one of the game’s all-time great sluggers set to ride off into the sunset, there was always a chance for Ortiz to receive some consideration for “lifetime-achievement” consideration so long as he made himself look like at least reasonably qualified. He wouldn’t be taking any silver sluggers down on a .800 OPS, but another season like 2014 or 2015? Sure, it could happen.
Somehow, though, at age 40, Ortiz totally earned this one. If you put aside park factors, Papi was undeniably the best overall hitter not just in the American League, but baseball. He was the only qualified player to produce a four-digit OPS, beating out second-place Mike Trout 1.021 to .991, and if wOBA tightens the gap a decent amount, Ortiz still edges out the Los Angeles star.
In fact, Ortiz was even right up there compared to his old self. He’s won this award once before back in 2005, and while the Ortiz of 11 years ago managed to reach the 40 homer mark, this year’s model had him beat in all three of average, on-base percentage, and slugging.
So many stars linger past their expiration dates in this league and fade away with ugly years, hurting their team way more than they help. With every year that passed, it seemed we were rolling the dice on that happening with Ortiz over and over again. Simply avoiding a dramatic decline would have been impressive enough. But Ortiz only got better with age until, in his final year, he was the best the game had to offer at the plate, playing a big part in carrying the Red Sox to an AL East title. A rare fitting end to one of the all-time great careers in Boston sports history.