The year of David Ortiz got off to a thrilling start:
GOODBYE pic.twitter.com/NM7a5GCxbT— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) April 5, 2016
This brought a long list of digital encomia through which you don’t need to wade, for I’ll sprinkle them throughout this column. It already looks like it's gonna be another great year for Ortiz, and that his swan-song season might go a bit differently than other fading stars. Need proof? Through two games, he’s already halfway to Derek Jeter’s 2014 home run tally.
It’s not just Major League Baseball that sees aging legends announce their retirements before the season, and not just an MLB trend of limping finishes that Ortiz is trying to break. Kobe Bryant famously did it this year for the Lakers, likely both to ward off the inevitable questions of whether he’d try to play again in 2017 and to genuflect in the outpouring of love and admiration he was sure to receive at road games by doing so. It worked to a T, just as it did with Jeter, despite the fact that neither of them could really still play... and maybe because of it.
Think about it this way: opposing fans had little to lose by showering them with cheers. Even if it’s been two games, I think we can safely say that Ortiz presents a dilemma to anyone who might use that line of logic against him. The dude is still good. The dude is still very good. The dude may, in fact, have caused himself headaches by announcing his retirement before the season: If he performs at any level like the one at which he’s been performing, the questions will soon start about whether or not he’ll come back.
There is precedent for an athlete changing his mind about retiring, and not just in boxing or tennis, where you see it all the time. This year alone, we saw the Baltimore Ravens’s Steve Smith Sr. announce his retirement before the season, and then go out there and absolutely terrorize the league as usual before suffering what appeared to be a career-ending injury against the Chargers on November 1. Shortly thereafter -- no doubt spurred on by his stellar play when healthy -- he announced that he’d return to Baltimore next season, retirement vow be damned, and it made sense.
It’s been two games, but it’s already possible that the same thing could happen with Ortiz, especially in the case of a freak injury that derails another productive season. In that case, just in the case of Smith, it’s hard to imagine anyone would care, just as I expect no one would have cared if Smith had stayed healthy, owned various cornerbacks through Week 17 and only then announced he was gonna do it all again. It is cool because Smith, like Ortiz, is cool and great at sports, and we like it when people are cool and great at sports.
おっと、いまからNEWS 23 で少しやるみたい。 pic.twitter.com/GgzQbk6q4h— KOJI UEHARA (@TeamUehara) April 6, 2016
There is, of course, the adage that things end badly, otherwise they wouldn’t end, but it is not entirely true. With the probable exception of Wade Boggs (with whom things ended badly for the Red Sox, but not for Boggs, who is still awesome with the Twitter account to match), Ortiz is the best left-handed Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams, who decidedly did not go quietly into that good night. You probably know he hit a home run in his final at-bat, but you may not realize that in his final year, Williams hit .316/.451/.654 across 390 PAs, which is hilariously good for a player of any age, not just a 41-year-old.
But Ortiz’s case is even stranger than Williams’s, in that Ortiz is beloved by fans and local, national and international media as a conquering hero, and might walk away from a game that still fears and reveres him. Williams, eerily like Barry Bonds after him, put up amazing numbers far past most players’ expiration dates, but was unfairly dogged by reporters and fans for never winning the big one (outside of World War II, which was pretty big, I guess). Ortiz is like no player in baseball history, and his ostensible last season is shaping up to be no different and not at all similar to anything that came before it. It’ll be inexplicable, great, well-tweeted... and I already hope we can do it again next year.
After those two games, how couldn't I?