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He's not the Sportsman of the Year, but David Ortiz deserves endless accolades

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  December 16, 2013 02:53 PM

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I'll tell you who the Sportsman of the Year ought to be: Milan Lucic, for not pounding that beer-muscled Vancouver moron all the way to Saskatchewan and beyond.

I say that facetiously, of course, while saluting Looch's discipline in turning the other cheek when he'd already apparently been punched in one a couple of times.

At the very least, we'll award him an honorable mention nod as Boston Athlete of the Year, which we'll get to right after we try one more time, in puzzled vain, to figure out why Sports Illustrated made such an uninspired choice for its annual Sportsman of the Year.

The write-up on the SI website began this way: It came as little surprise that Peyton Manning was named Sports Illustrated’s 2013 Sportsman of the Year...

Um ... it did? I mean, sure, he's an all-time NFL legend, and he'll probably set a new passing record or two in the next couple of weeks, and he even almost won a playoff game back in January, and is he is a sportsman in the sense that he has been a gracious loser eight times in the first round of the playoffs during his career.

It's quite thoughtful that he lets so many others win the biggest games and trophies. Still, I don't know, I was kind of surprised. That doesn't sound like a Sportsman of the Year. It sounds like a guy who will probably start at quarterback for the AFC in the Pro Bowl.

Ubiquitous SI football writer Peter King made the announcement on NBC Sunday night, a perfectly suspicious bit of synergy. Here's how he explained it:

“At first, when I knew we were considering Manning, I thought: good choice. Lifetime-achievement-award choice,” explained King on his offshoot website TheMMQB.com. “But if you isolate this year, you’re looking at a player two years removed from four neck procedures that would have prompted many 35-year-old legends to choose retirement."

I suppose that's a reason, though that logic become tangled when you remember just who we're talking about. If Peyton Manning loves football, lives for football, to the degree that we've been told he does, he'd have signed off on becoming the recipient of the world's first full-neck transplant before ever considering retirement.

There's a hint of disingenuousness there to suggest he's worthy of this because others would have walked away. And if cynicism is your default mode, the website Kissing Suzy Kolber-- which hilariously and sometimes viciously skewers King weekly -- has the take that you might find most agreeable:

[Why was Manning the Sportsman of the Year?] Because it was done with PK’s property in mind. If it’s an NFL player on the cover, it gives SI a nice plug for their magazine on the most-watched show on television. Plus it’s an opportunity to plug TheMMQB, a site SI has poured a bunch of money into over the past year. It’s a disgusting, cynical, business-driven decision and Peter King is a weaselly [expletive] to guilelessly try to distance himself from it.

Like I said ... hilarious and vicious. I'm not sure I agree with all of KSK's take, at least not to such a cynical degree, but conversely, I'm sure SI has no regrets about the small controversy it has caused and the buzz it has generated. In that sense, their choice of Manning served a valuable purpose for their brand.

If SI wanted to give a lifetime achievement award to an all-time great who had overcome serious injury to return to superb form, the honor should have gone not to Manning, but to Mariano Rivera.

The graceful, gracious Yankees closer concluded his singularly brilliant career at age 43 with another outstanding season, not to mention the most enjoyable and classy athlete's farewell tour I can recall.

And he did it after returning from a knee injury that -- how do we put this? -- would have prompted many 43-year-old legends to choose retirement.

Rivera would have been my choice. David Ortiz would have been New England's choice, perhaps unanimously, and based on the criteria, he probably should have been the choice. But I understand why he wasn't -- it was a matter of publishing logistics more than anything else, I suspect.

The definitive piece on Ortiz, accompanied by an extraordinary cover ...


... ran in the November 11 edition of SI after the Red Sox won the World Series. Tom Verducci's story was typically exceptional, and it would have been redundant to pay similar homage less than two months later. (Verducci did make the case for Ortiz as Sportsman of the Year just a couple of weeks ago on the SI website.)

Ortiz's pitch-perfect "this is our [expletive] city" speech mattered to a city trying to heal. And his performance on the field, particularly during the World Series, when the Cardinals finally realized they should just stop pitching to him, is one of the main reasons the Red Sox have their third World Series title in 10 years.

Sportsman of the Year? He would have been the perfect choice considering ... well, considering everything.

With due respect to Tom Brady, Zdeno Chara, roughly a dozen other Red Sox, and yes, The Peaceful Looch, our choice for Boston Athlete of the Year is David Ortiz, and it was so obvious that it was no choice at all.

We have no cover story to offer him, no cash prize, new car, or even a plaque. Just our endless gratitude for being so wonderful in the biggest moments, whether that meant hitting another home run during our jubilant October, or finding the perfect words for our aching city back in April.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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