Yesterday afternoon, David Ortiz took a swing towards the Hall of Fame in Oakland, taking A.J. Griffin deep in the fourth inning for his 400th home run.
It’s a milestone in an improbable career, a special moment for a player who was left on the scrap heap by Minnesota 10 years ago. He rounded the bases, touched home plate, pointed to the sky and celebrated with teammates Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez, who were waiting on deck to congratulate the iconic slugger.
So why is this, a historic accomplishment for a well-loved player, the secondary story the next day in the press?
Because David Ortiz is upset with the Boston Red Sox, and it’s not hard to see why.
Without jumping into the culture of dumping on every single thing the Red Sox do, there is one tic the current administration revels in that has often left me cold.
Since 2002, the Red Sox have not been afraid when it comes to free agents. They’ve doled out large contracts to Julio Lugo, J.D. Drew, Matt Clement, John Lackey and Carl Crawford, among others, and those contracts have varied in success, to put it mildly.
They have also maintained a trend of ignoring and treating free agents within the team as cold, calculated figures. When contracts are up and these players are looking for a new deal, the Red Sox do their best impression of their cousins 30 miles south, the New England Patriots. They affix a value to the player, and they stand a hard line when it comes to moving north of that number. This method has resulted in more than a few valued players leaving — Pedro Martinez, Johnny Damon and Jason Bay are three.
As a fan, it’s been annoying. I can only imagine the frustration as a long-standing player.
Ortiz isn’t stupid. He has witnessed first hand how the organization has doted on outside players while treating those within as hard-line negotiations. He’s also been rightfully annoyed with a bloodthirsty segment of the media covering the team. And those frustrations have built up.
It’s been some time since he gave anyone in New England any kind of scoop, so it’s no surprise that his latest candid comments were made to a Spanish-language reporter for USA Today.
“If you go crazy and give contracts to whoever comes along despite not knowing how they’re going to do, then you don’t give me my due consideration, even though I do my thing every year, (expletive) that.”
I imagine that expletive was “fuck.”
“I’m going to be open to anything. My mentality is not going to be, ‘I like it here.’ It’s going to be, ‘Bring it to the table, and we’ll see what happens.’”
Loyalty only lasts as long as its demonstrated from both sides. David Ortiz has been an active member of the community since arriving in Boston in 2003. He’s made commercials, he’s been the ambassador for the region and the game and, most importantly, he’s produced consistently, save for a six-week stretch at the beginning of 2009 that seems to have clouded everything he’s done since.
For that stretch of time, coming off of a wrist injury in 2008, many have been waiting for the other shoe to drop, not unlike Jim Rice from 1988 to 1989. But, in reality, it hasn’t, and Ortiz has easily been the gold standard among designated hitters. I imagine he’d be just fine if he were a National League first baseman, too.
But it’s not enough to generate serious contract talk, at least it hasn’t been yet. And he’s noticed.
“They ended up giving me $3 million more than that (actually $2.025 million), and look at my numbers this year. Tell me if they wouldn’t have been better off. And yet they don’t hesitate to sign other guys. It was embarrassing.”
There is a lot of negativity surrounding the team, most of it unfounded, based purely in a desire for headlines and the continuing feast on the fans’ call for blood following 2011. But if this gets out of hand, and David Ortiz winds up signing with the St. Louis Cardinals or Milwaukee Brewers or someone else for 2013, it will truly be embarrassing.