On Wednesday night, the members of this show, the Drive Bunch as it were, had a staff meeting. After 2 hours of discussion on how to bring you the best sports talk possible, we stumbled into a familiar bar game “Where were you when…”As a kid, it seemed that whenever this game was played, it was with terrific lament. It would invariably circle the bases of Red Sox hardships; bring up Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, or Aaron Boone and the group discussion will generally devolve into “I was watching that game in my friend Ricky’s basement on a little black and white tv, Ricky was holding the antenna up with bailing twine and a pair of his mother’s stockings.” This is how all of these stories went (okay, maybe not all of them…sometimes the tv was color.) but all of the legendary moments of one of the greatest franchises in sports, the Boston Red Sox, exclusively ended in heartache. Until David Ortiz.
It struck me during this discussion that all of the memories now were about great triumph and for most of us, it didn’t seem like it was in that distant of a past until you think of all the ways your life has changed since 2004. Think for a moment where you were when David Ortiz career with the Red Sox started? I was a freshmen in college in the fall of 2004 and I can’t think of a better way to be introduced to such an important time in your life than with the Red Sox on their 86-year old curse busting odyssey. Since then, I’ve graduated a couple of times and struck out on my own and somewhere along the way I fear I may have become a full-fledged adult. So much has changed during the Ortiz era, high school kids have no idea that the Red Sox don’t always win World Series every couple of years. They don’t know how devastating Aaron Boone’s name is, they just know his as the mediocre broadcaster on Sunday Night Baseball. Ortiz has shifted perception and reality during his time in Boston.
By any calculation, Ortiz is in the top 3 of the all-time greatest Red Sox players, joining Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. In my mind, Williams will always be first, the greatest hitter who ever lived and the last to hit .400. Carl Yastrzemski, curator of the impossible dream and the last athlete in any sport to spend 23 years with the same team. What is Ortiz’s legacy? Without sounding too NESN-y, I know Jim hates that, he’s the greatest clutch hitter in team history and perhaps it’s greatest leader. Williams wasn’t so much a leader as he was a demigod that teammates could only strive to emulate. Yaz was the prototypical Boston sports hero, as in he was the strong silent type who was seen as a great leader by being the bedrock of the organization for so long. There was no buzz surrounding David Ortiz’s arrival in Boston, he wasn’t even one of the 5 biggest free agents the team signed in 2003. It was as much of a surprise that he became an everyday player that it was that he became Big Papi, and he hasn’t stopped surprising Red Sox fans since. You could make a case that David Ortiz might be, by all accounts the greatest teammate in Red Sox history and maybe the most important. His appeal is immeasurable, my mom owns probably a half dozen David Ortiz t-shirts, and that estimation might be low. In the most fruitful era in a century, David Ortiz is the overwhelming face of Red Sox prosperity. Whereas Williams legacy is for individual accomplishments and Yastrzemski’s most memorable moments were for coming up just short, Ortiz’s greatest legacy will be as the centerpiece on 3 World Series champions.
“There’s no crying in Baseball.” That’s what Jimmy Dugan said in A League of Their Own. From time to time, the greats in Boston sports have shed a tear of two. Bob Cousy swept a single tear from his cheek when he walked off the parquet floor for the last time, Monday night, Big Papi tried to hold it back, but the moment was just too much, saying good bye, after a season’s worth of practice at saying good bye, the last good bye is always the hardest. Seeing Ortiz, with a tear in his eye, to me said, that it meant as much to him as it did to us.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.