May 11, 2009. David Ortiz entered a Red Sox off day nursing a .224 batting average, a .666 OPS and 142 consecutive plate appearances without a home run. In the electronic pages of ESPN.com, Howard Bryant wrote
“The walls are closing in on David Ortiz. He can feel it, the cold breeze of doubt whistling through each swing and miss, vexing and constant, a pebble scratching hard on the bottom of his foot: a .224 batting average and, even more glaring, no home runs in 116 at-bats from the most feared left-handed power hitter this town has seen since Mo Vaughn and, before that, Carl Yastrzemski.”
On May 15th, Ortiz went hitless in seven at-bats as the Red Sox lost an extra-inning game to the Los Angeles Angels. After the game, he told reporters, “just put down Papi stinks.” On May 16, with Ortiz’s OPS down to .618, Rocco Baldelli was Boston’s designated hitter. Big Papi was on the bench.
And David Ortiz was never heard from again.
April 20, 2010. Big Papi hit his way back into Boston’s heart in the second half of 2009. He hit 27 home runs from June on and posted a .264/.356/.548 slash line — not vintage Ortiz, but hardly done like dinner.
And yet, here we were again. Ortiz held a .158 average and .528 OPS through his first 10 games. Mike Lowell pinch hit for Ortiz after an 0-for-3 took his line down to .146/.222/.268. Mike Lowell started April 21 at DH and homered as part of a 2-for-4 game. The next day, in the electronic pages of ESPN Boston, Gordon Edes wrote:
“The signs are there, for all to see, as clearly as the home run Mike Lowell hit Wednesday night into the Monster seats, the words suggesting otherwise now ringing hollow. For the better part of seven seasons, the heart, soul and sinew of the Red Sox has run through a locker at the far end of the clubhouse, the row closest to the trainer’s room, the one where David Ortiz hangs up his clothes.
That epoch is accelerating toward an inglorious end, one that Ortiz feels powerless to avoid.”
Ortiz was benched again that night, and he recorded just two hits in five games over the rest of April. He finished the month with a dreadful .143/.238/.286 line and just one home run.
And David Ortiz was never heard from again.
March 5th, 2013. Vintage Big Papi returned for the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Ortiz hit .312/.405/.576 over 236 games with 52 home runs, easily earning two All-Star bids and, in 2011, his first silver Slugger since 2007.
Ortiz was likely to repeat in 2012 until his season came to a premature end. On July 16th, he injured his Achilles tendon in one of baseball’s most banal activities, rounding the bases following a teammate’s home run. He attempted a comeback, but lasted just one game in August before he was back on the disabled list.
Opening Day wasn’t believed to be in question. But then his offseason workouts were delayed by the injury. And then he was unable to even run the bases when he reported to camp in Feburary.
In the Boston Herald, Gerry Callahan wrote:
“You can fight the ravages of time and gravity, and you might buy yourself a few months, maybe a year. You’ve got a lot of heart, no question about it. You might be able to battle through the pain for a while, but here’s the sad truth: That thing you’ve got in your heel, that partial Achilles tear that has been nagging at you for half a year now? That is a real bad sign. That, sadly, has ended the athletic careers of more aging weekend warriors than bad knees or bad marriages.
David Ortiz is not attempting to play Old Man Basketball at the Y. He wants to continue to be the best designated hitter in the big leagues, and there is some question as to which athletic endeavor is more demanding. But Ortiz is already an endangered species in Major League Baseball: a large, slow-footed, 37-year-old slugger who is expected to produce as if he were in his prime. Do you see a lot of those around these days? In this era of HGH testing, they are as rare as outfielders who can throw or pitchers who can go the distance.”
Four days later, Ortiz was sent to the doctor for an MRI on both of his ailing heels. The next day, the club announced the MRI revealed inflammation. The injury he sustained to his right Achilles is known as “tendinopathy.” According to Dr. Jeff Jockel of Tufts Medical Center, the injury has two parts. “Early
on you have a lot inflammation. Typically what happens is the consistency and quality of the tendon itself changes over time. Kind of a degeneration,” Jockel told Even Drellich of MassLive.com.
On March 31, David Ortiz was placed on the disabled list. And he was never heard from again.
April 25th, 2013.