David Ortiz has become synonymous with the Boston Red Sox, World Series championships and late inning heroics all the way up from third base to Huntington. Bill Simmons, The Sportsguy, recently wrote an article about Big Papi and how likely it is that his career has come to an end. Bill Simmons was my inspiration to start SportsFan4 (as you can tell from the name) and I read his articles every chance I get.
We've seen players as beloved as Ortiz fall off before. He's declined so much this year that it hurts to watch him play, just as much as it would have hurt to see him leave. Earlier this year, Curt Schilling retired from the Boston Red Sox, but that didn't hurt nearly as much as it does watching Ortiz slowly fall apart at the plate with the rest of the 2009 season ahead of us. Bill Simmons speaks from the heart about Big Papi and it is obvious that he feels just like I do when it comes to letting go of a player that has done so much for a city and it's fans over a five year span.
Did Big Papi Juice?
In Bill Simmons' article about David Ortiz, The Sportsguy really hit home in a few areas, but I also disagreed with him in others. Much like every other Bostonian, Simmons also heard the rumors:
The steroid whispers started quickly. By late April, every conversation I had with a Sox fan seemed to include a "We need to mail Papi some HGH" joke. It was an easy leap for a couple of reasons: First, his power numbers leapt like Obama's Q rating from 2003 to 2007. Second, he's Dominican, and more than a few of his brethren -- Sammy Sosa, Miguel Tejada, Guillermo Mota -- have been in the center of PED controversies. Third, they sell steroids over the counter in the DR like they're Bubblicious. And fourth, baseball has reached a depressing point in which power hitters are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
Simmons goes on to say that he feels David Ortiz was not a cheater and did not use performance enhancing drugs. The Sportsguy's opinion was that, "Maybe Papi was older than he claimed". It kills me inside more than anything in the world to say this, but I disagree with Bill Simmons on his first point. Although there is no substantial evidence, or any evidence at all, that David Ortiz has ever used PED's I have a gut feeling that he did.
Look at the career that David Ortiz had all the way back to Minnesota. He transformed into the best power hitter in the game after he came to Boston and now has suddenly declined at the plate. He is displaying all of the signs and symptoms of other players that have used PED's. In his six years with the Minnesota Twins, David Ortiz hit a total of 56 home runs in 455 games. After arriving in Boston, Big Papi hit 72 home runs in his first two seasons (178 games) with the Red Sox. From 2003-2006, Ortiz's home run numbers continued to increase every year, 31,41,47 and then 54 all during the steroid era of baseball. It hurts to have these thoughts about the man that played such a big role in ending the curse and winning the Red Sox two World Series championships, but I have no alternative to go to about his drastic drop in power numbers.
Keeping The Faith
Where I agree with Bill Simmons is later in his article where he talks about the fan loyalty that David Ortiz has accrued over the past seven years in Boston.
It's been a sports experience unlike anything I can remember. Red Sox fans refuse to turn against Ortiz. They just can't. They owe him too much for 2004 and 2007. It's like turning on Santa Claus or happy hour. Every Ortiz appearance is greeted with supportive cheers, every Ortiz failure is greeted with awkward silence. The fans are suffering just like he is. I cannot remember another Boston athlete stinking this long, and this fragrantly, without getting dumped on.
David Ortiz was the catalyst in the 2004 comeback against the New York Yankees after being down 0-3 in the ALCS. No team had ever come back to win a series after being down three games. With the faith of Big Papi giving all of Fenway's faithful a reason to Believe, the Red Sox went on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2004 World Series. On top of that, Boston went to the World Series again in 2007 and swept Colorado, all on the broad shoulders of David Ortiz. Whether Ortiz was using PED's or not during any of his seasons with the Red Sox, it would all be forgiven by myself and many others who wouldn't care if he did, simply because our prayers were answered by this angel of a man with the biggest smile in baseball.
I do believe that age and possible past use of performance enhancing drugs are two major factors in Big Papi's recent decline, but something that Bill Simmons did not mention is David's injured wrist from the 2008 season. Last year Ortiz missed 45 games (June 1-July 23) due to an injury involving a tendon sheath in his wrist and since his return has only hit 11 total home runs going back to July 27, 2008 against the Yankees. For a guy who can hit 11 home runs in one month of the season, only hitting 11 in a matter of five months of baseball after returning from that injury shows that it played a major role in his lack of power. A reader, Jason Thomas, asked me what I thought about Big Papi's slump and my response to his e-mail was:
I think it's because of his wrist and not taking care of it properly last season with enough rehab and off time. In the back of my mind i think about the possible steroid aspect of it, but I won't believe that he used steroids until the proof is out there. I have my thoughts on it, but I never injected him with anything and never heard from anyone else who did either.
We are getting ridiculous with all the accusations and I even did for a bit myself, but now I'm at the point where I say they aren't using any type of PED's until the proof is on the table, although I still desire to have my own judgements on players and the use of PED's.
Although I state that players are rightfully innocent until proven guilty, this is one of those times where my judgment outweighs waiting around to see if David Ortiz ever tests positive for PED's. With David Ortiz now batting sixth in the order, Bill Simmons summed things up in the exact way that I feel by saying:
Barring a miraculous return of bat speed, he'll be benched or released soon. It'll hurt, and I'm going to feel bad. I already do.
No matter what the outcome is when all is said and done between David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox, Big Papi will go down in my book of history as an MVP, a Hall of Fame inductee and one of the best pure hitters in the game with a great big happy smile. Whether he did or did not use performance enhancing drugs means nothing to me, David Ortiz is a hero in Boston and I will forever be gracious to him for bringing home two World Series Championships while making baseball important and worth while for this Red Sox fan again.