This piece was originally read over “Don’t Know What You’ve Got, til It’s Gone” by Cinderella on The Drive in the feature segment, “A Sterling Moment.”
The Minnesota Twins were one of the great franchises in baseball during the 1980’s. Led by Kirby Puckett and Bert Blyleven, they won the 1987 World Series. 4 years later, Kirby Puckett hit a walk off home run in game 6 vs Atlanta to force what is perhaps the greatest game 7 in World Series history. This is the one where Jack Morris out dueled John Smoltz to bring another championship to the Metrodome’s inflated rafters. The Twinkies were on top of the World and everything was going their way. In 1996, they made the greatest trade they never knew they made. To complete a trade with Seattle, where the Twins sent Dave Hollins to the Mariners for a player to be named later. When that player was named, he was named David Arias, or as we know him, Big Papi David Ortiz.
Ortiz would only play in 110 games the next 3 seasons with the Twins, hitting 10 home runs (he hit 9 in 1998 alone) but then a progression started as Ortiz turned 24. His home run totals went from 10 to 18 and peaking at 20 in 2002. It wasn’t enough for the Twins, they had Matt LeCroy and darn it he needed to be the DH! (By the way, LeCroy is a career .260 hitter, who bashed 60 home runs in his 8 years in Majors, all in Minnesota, or if you’re counting 461 less than Ortiz would hit over the next 14 seasons.
In 2002, Christmas came early in New England. We didn’t know it at the time either, we should celebrate it on December 16th because that’s the date the Minnesota Twins, released David Americo, Arias, Ortiz.
On January 22, 2003, Theo Epstein made it official by inking Ortiz, and do you know what this gift cost the Red Sox? $1,250,000. Currently there are only 4 MLB players that make $1,250,000 per year, one of them is Red Sox reliever Robbie Ross! Tied for 443rd highest paid player in baseball. (FYI, Ortiz Currently makes $16m, and is the 55th highest paid player)
Ortiz was signed in Theo’s legendary 2003 shopping spree where he brought it a bunch of guys and waited to see who emerged. Hard to believe now, but David was brought in to BACK UP JEREMY GIAMBI AS DESIGNATED HITTER. Like a sweater that your grandmother knit out of yarn made from the wool of a sick sheep, we didn’t know what we had. But guess what? A cold day came and we were glad to have that warm sweater. That cold day in Anaheim of all places and that game was April 27th, 2003. Ortiz, who had pinch hit for Giambi in the 8th inning, came to bat in the top of the 14th of this Sunday night baseball game, and hit a 2-0 pitch for a 2-run home run and never looked back. Giambi would go on to play only 50 games that season before being released in November.
We all know the rest, 3 world series championships, 2013 world series MVP, 9-time all-star, 519 career home runs, certainly a hall of famer and an untold number of incredible moments. Don’t’ feel bad Minnesota, there have been other sports legends that were released by teams only to go on to greatness.
- In 1954, the Brooklyn Dodgers left a right fielder from Puerto Rico unprotected in the Rule 5 draft, his name was Roberto Clemente. Clemente would get exactly 3,000 hits in his career, win 2-world series in Pittsburgh and eventually be enshrined in Cooperstown.
- In 1955, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a Louisville quarterback in the 9th round of the draft and cut him before the season began. The Baltimore Colts would sign Johnny Unitas the next year and go on to win 3 NFL Championships, a Super Bowl and go down as one of the greatest signal callers in NFL history.
- Sometimes the fates align and save teams from themselves. Red Auerbach didn’t want to draft the “Local yokel” from Holy Cross and he didn’t, something called the Tri-City Blackhawks did in 1950. But when the Blackhawks folded before the season even began player dispersal was left to 3 teams, drawing 3 names out of a hat. (THAT’S HOW PLAYERS TRANSACTIONS WERE DECIDED IN 1950!) Auerbach drew last, and was stuck with Bob Cousy. Couz only won 6 titles in Boston.
Thankfully the Twins didn’t know what they had, and this weekend as he leaves Minnesota once again, David Ortiz is gone.
Sterling Pingree (@SterlingPingree on Twitter) is a co-host on The Drive, weekdays at 4pm on 92.9fm The Ticket. Stream The Drive at www.DriveShowMaine.com and follow The Drive on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.