It didn’t take a Pedro tweet to unearth the feelings of deep yearning we all have for David Ortiz. We would all like to see Papi in the middle of the order for the Red Sox, hitting 30 home runs and providing the type of mental presence that this lineup so sorely lacks.
But when Pedro unleashed his own #PedroBomb last Monday night, our ears perked up.
Big Papi is working out, and I know he is in baseball shape, and the @RedSox could use a bit of his bat.— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) June 6, 2017
The offense has been inconsistent all year, particularly as it pertains to power — currently third to last in baseball with 58 home runs and 26th in baseball in ISO. As we look over our shoulder enviously at the mammoth bombs and run production from Aaron Judge and the Yankees, it’s tough to not wonder what Ortiz could bring to the lineup. And while it seems likely some regression back to the mean will occur, this roster simply isn’t built to hit 200+ bombs. Ortiz represents a potential elixir to one of the few major flaws on this roster; one that, health permitting, should be a major contender in the American League playoff picture.
Last we saw of Ortiz, he was riding off on his retirement tour off the most productive final season in major league history. He finished the year with the highest on-base-plus slugging (OPS) in the MLB, at 1.021, and notched 38 home runs on the best offense in baseball. Setting aside the *ahem* inflated production totals from a few years in the mid-2000s, last season might have been the most productive of his career.
All that being said, and I expect to be in the minority here: I do not want David Ortiz to return to the Red Sox as a player.
I want to remember him for 2004. I want to remember him for hitting .688 in the 2013 World Series. I want to remember him for “This is our F*&$%ing city.” I want to remember him for the buzz he brought to any stadium when he came up. I want to remember him for the 2013 grand slam. I want to remember him for the walk-off bombs and the bat flips. I want to remember the most clutch hitter in baseball history. Most importantly, I want to remember the hitter who left baseball by his own choice — on the ultimate metaphorical bat flip — not the decision of anyone else.
Last season was magical, truly one of the coolest things I’ve been able to witness as a Red Sox fan. That is how David Ortiz should be remembered — it’s only fitting that he has the baseball version of most emphatic mic drop possible. He consistently repeated throughout last season that his feet were a problem, and he was constantly being treated just to play through the pain.
It would be unfair — and irresponsible — to Ortiz to bring him back, make him ramp up into baseball shape, and expect him to produce at anything close to his 2016 level. The wheels were starting to fall off last season, and he still mustered a legendary season. Expecting him to save this offense at 41 years old and newly rusted would be audacious and potentially disastrous.
This would also cause a few schematic issues. Hanley would likely play more first base, a sight nobody — mostly Hanley himself — wants to see. Moreland’s playing time would take a hit and Sam Travis would be further buried into the Pawtucket abyss. While these are minor concerns if he turned out to be the Papi of old, they all have implications on the team dynamic this year and beyond. In addition, Ortiz would take time before he was game-ready, and even then what exactly is the patience level with a 41-year-old unretired slugger with bad feet?
To be clear, if he announced his triumphant return tomorrow, I would certainly be excited to welcome him back. No matter how skeptical I am that he could actually produce, he would immediately add a mental hurdle in the lineup for any opposing pitcher. His presence alone cannot be underestimated.
But with Ortiz we accomplished something that so rarely happens in sports. The player left on his own terms, atop the throne of his sport, on the same team with which his career blossomed. It was the warmest of endings, and shouldn’t be undone to possibly throw a band-aid on the larger, long-term offensive issues.
Let it be known, this doesn’t seem likely — Pedro quickly walked back the tease with a clarification:
I didn't say David is making a come back, I said David is in baseball shape because he works out, and the team could use a swing or two.— Pedro Martinez (@45PedroMartinez) June 6, 2017
As I sit here watching highlights of Papi launching homers in Yankee Stadium or hitting that damn catwalk in Tropicana, my heart longs for a return. But my head knows best — a return for Ortiz would more likely provide unnecessary struggles for a beloved hero, and only prolong the question that really needs to be addressed: What is the long-term solution? Kicking that can down the road does us no good, particularly in the (likely) scenario Ortiz doesn’t produce.
Because I could never end any post about Papi on such a sour note, here is a 21-minute highlight video that you and I will watch to pass the next few years until he is enshrined in Cooperstown: