Tony Massarotti

Albeit in a Subtle Tone, David Ortiz Speaks Loudly


“I told them after last year that we needed power. I suggested Nelson Cruz, but I’m sure they had their reasons not to sign him, but he’s the big reason why Baltimore is in first place.”

- David Ortiz to Nick Cafardo of the Globe in today’s editions

Well, I guess we know whom David Ortiz holds accountable for this dud of a season, eh?

But before anyone thinks this a way of poking Ortiz, of criticizing him yet again for simply (over)reacting, let’s get this out there: good for him. Among all of the notables who have performed at Fenway Park this year, from the owners to the 25th man, Ortiz is among the few to have done his job. He ranks 11th in the American League in OPS. While playing for one of the worst offenses in the game, he ranks third in both home runs and RBI. Ortiz has been part of the Boston skyline as long as the Zakim Bridge, and, well, he does have those rings to go along with a career World Series batting average of .455.

The point? Few pro athletes have the kind of organizational clout Ortiz does. The Red Sox need him more than he needs them. In the 12 years that Ortiz has been with the club, the Red Sox have almost always acquiesced to his contract demands. And in 2006, after Ortiz signed what almost immediately proved to a team-friendly deal, team officials felt so guilty about winning the negotiation that they bought him a pickup truck.

As an organization, the Red Sox sometimes act as if they are afraid of inimitable slugger.

So really, who better to poke the Sox in the ribs about effectively throwing away the 2014 season? After winning the World Series last fall, Sox administrators took a decidedly hands-off approach to the club over the winter. The Sox failed to sign anyone to more than a two-year contract. They overplayed their hand. Along the way, they alienated their best pitcher (Jon Lester) and played head games with the best prospect they have had in a generation.

And, because we live in an increasingly image-conscious age of political correctness and propriety, nobody is supposed to say anything. Thank you sir, may I have another. If Tom Brady had a fraction of the political gumption Ortiz does, maybe he wouldn’t have to go through a rebuild of the receiving corps every so often.

Occasionally, it’s OK to speak your mind, Tom.

Ortiz? Fine. Maybe he sometimes speaks too much. But he had a gut feeling about the Red Sox’ shortcomings long before anyone else did and he was right. He’ll be 39 in November and, because the Sox caved in when he spoke, he is signed through next year. Hall of Fame of no Hall of Fame – that will come down to whether voters hold that pesky 2003 test against him – Ortiz currently stands as the greatest designated hitter in history. He just doesn’t have that many more kicks at the can.

If you think the Sox lack offense now, just wait until Ortiz disappears.

Here’s what else Ortiz told Cafardo:

“People talk about power being down around the league because there are no more steroids, but the biggest thing that’s happened is the pitching in baseball has never been better. I’ve never seen anything like this. You’ve got starting pitchers on every team who throw 96-97 miles per hour and every guy in the bullpen throws 95-98. You’ve got these lefties who all look like Andrew Miller. The pitchers have gone way past the hitters.

“So you need a lineup where the hitters can do the job and be able to hit guys like this every night. It’s not easy. It’s the toughest I’ve ever seen it.’’

Is he right? Maybe yes, maybe no. The absence of steroids has indisputably had an impact on the decrease of offense in the game. But good hitting almost always has beaten good hitting. Ortiz also spent part of his interview lamenting the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury, but he should be just as worried (if not more so) about how the Sox handled the Jon Lester situation. As someone once told me, you don’t beat good pitching with good hitting.

You beat good pitching with better pitching.

At the moment, of course, the Red Sox don’t have it. Maybe that will change over the winter. Maybe the Sox will re-sign Lester, trade for Cole Hamels or sign James Shields. Maybe they will do some combination of the three. Incredibly, Sox general manager Ben Cherington opened the door earlier this week for the Sox operating without an ace at the front of their rotation at all, which seems like a rather foolish statement given the line of kings that has operated atop the Boston pitching staff since the mid-1980s.

Roger Clemens. Pedro Martinez. Curt Schilling. Josh Beckett. Lester. John Lackey.

All of those pitchers either have multiple Cy Young Awards or multiple World Series rings. Make of that what you will.

Clearly, Red Sox officials don’t like to be called out, either by the “curmudgeon(s)” John Henry cited in his most recent pen-pal correspondence or by their own players. The latter clearly rankles them more. And as subtle as Ortiz’ comments might have been, however soft the tone, rest assured that the message caught the eyes and ears of those who matter most.

OK, so Ortiz didn't exactly rattle his saber.

But it was still clutch.

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