David Ortiz Was a Hall of Famer in Boston’s Heart Long Before Cooperstown Called

Unless you were there, living in the Greater Boston area on Friday, April 19, 2013, it’s hard to capture in words the fear and anxiety that gripped the city. This was now four days after the bombs went off at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three; a day after an MIT campus policeman had been slaughtered by the fugitive bombers before they engaged in a harrowing overnight shootout on the streets of nearby Watertown.

And now, on Friday, the city awoke to those horrendous emergency tones on TV, radio, and cellphones. Shelter in place. Stay at home. One of the bombers is still on the loose.

And so the city shuttered and speculated and prayed for a resolution. It finally came that night, and when Saturday dawned, the region desperately needed an emotional pause, something to rally around.

And then David Ortiz spoke.

For many, for most, Big Papi’s words on the field before the Boston Red Sox played its first post-bombing home game against the Kansas City Royals on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park are remembered for one mighty expletive.

“This is our F—ing city! And nobody is gonna dictate our freedom! Stay Strong!”

But it was more than that. So much more.

In thanking Mayor Menino, Governor Patrick, the Boston police, for bringing the horror to an end, David was speaking for all of Boston. Because this man from the Dominican Republic, via Minneapolis, had become not just its best baseball player and postseason hero for the past decade, but a part of the fabric of the city.

It was OUR city. His too.

Ortiz is now officially a Hall of Famer; Red Sox fans already knew that

David Ortiz was always a Hall of Famer in Boston's eyes
David Ortiz | Jim Rogash/Getty Images

David Ortiz was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday, in his first year on the ballot. In receiving 77.9% of the vote from the Baseball Writers Association of America, he joined Edgar Martinez as the only full-time designated hitters to be elected and the first to do so in his first year.

There are some who question his legitimacy as a Hall of Famer because he was a DH, or because his name was linked to a failed PED test in a 2003 MLB survey. Most look at his prodigious hitting numbers and see a lock-solid Hall of Fame career.

But neither really capture what David Ortiz meant to the city of Boston, to all Red Sox fans across New England, across the country, and around the world, making up what is commonly called “Red Sox Nation.”

He did so much more than just hit and hit well. He gave Red Sox fans, after 86 years of doubt, despair, and depression, permission to believe.

In his first year with the Red Sox in 2003, he began his legacy for coming through in the clutch in the Division Series with the game-winning double in the eighth inning of Game 4 against the Oakland A’s.

It is forgotten in the wake of subsequent events, but it was Ortiz who made it 5-2 in the eighth inning of Game 7 against the hated New York Yankees with a solo homer. It was as if he was taking on the burden of delivering the first Red Sox championship since 1918 all by himself.

He would not be denied the next year.

The four days that changed everything were all about Big Papi

The funny thing is, Ortiz’s two walk-off hits weren’t really the most important two of the comeback.

You ask most, if not all, Red Sox fans, and they will tell you, without hesitation, that coming back from 3-0 down to the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series was bigger, better, more satisfying, and certainly more exhilarating – good and bad – that the four-game World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Which, of course, sounds ridiculous when you haven’t won the damn thing for 86 years, but it’s true.

You begin with Dave Roberts’ steal in Game 4 and you end with Johnny Damon’s grand slam in Game 7, but in between, it was all Papi, all the time.

His walk-off homer at 1:21 a.m. in the 12th inning of Game 4, then his walk-off single in Game 5 22 hours later in the 14th inning, were the winning hits. But the ones that provided the hope, the belief that the greatest comeback in sports history could be real, could happen even to the forever-cursed Red Sox, were the other two.

Eighth inning again, this time Game 5. This time down 4-2. Derek Jeter had made it 4-2 in the sixth with a bases-loaded triple. Manny Ramirez had grounded into a crushing double-play in the seventh and the Yankees narrowly missed a chance to go up by three in the top of the eighth. Fenway Park was silent and resigned to their fate.

The Game 4 miracle was a mirage.

David Ortiz led off the bottom half.

The giant tarp-like billboard stationed above the new “Monster Seats” atop the left-field wall read, “Volvo: For Life.” And the ball Ortiz crushed off Tom Gordon to lead off the eighth inning smashed right into it.

There was life. 4-3.

After Ortiz walked the game off in the 14th and Curt Schilling bloody-socked the Sox into Game 7, Red Sox fans waited for the other shoe, bloody or otherwise, to drop.

Something stupid, like always happened in Game 7s or against the Yankees, or both, like the dumb third-base coach running Damon into an out at the plate in the first inning with Ortiz in the on-deck circle.

But before Red Sox Nation could fully and collectively convulse in horror, Big Papi stepped to the plate, swung at the first pitch, and his laser into the right-field seats said, “Hey, Boston, it’s ok this time. We got this. I got this.”

2-0 Red Sox.

10-3 Red Sox.

4-0 Red Sox.

Cue (for the first time) the Duck Boats.

Our city, Our Papi: Another eighth inning defines the legacy

By 2006, local and national media were asking the same question: Was David Ortiz more clutch in Boston than Larry Bird? Considering the greatest clutch hit of Ortiz’s career was still seven years away made it seem all the more surreal.

In the afternoon before Game 2 of the 2013 American League Championship Series against the Detroit Tigers, Tom Brady threw a last-second touchdown pass to beat the New Orleans Saints in Foxboro. It was apparently going to be that kind of day.

It was not apparent entering the eighth inning of Game 2. The Red Sox had become this 25-man agent of hope and mercy to the city in the wake of the bombing, starting literally hours after Ortiz’s F-Bomb heard ‘round the world.

Daniel Nava’s game-winning homer foreshadowed a magical worst-to-first season, but now it appeared to be closing down, with the Red Sox facing an 0-2 deficit and Justin Verlander ready to go in Game 3 in Detroit.

Trailing 5-1 after a Max Scherzer masterpiece through seven, the Red Sox managed to load the bases with two outs. Next up: David Ortiz.

Joaquin Benoit had never given up a homer to Ortiz. Silly Joaquin. It’s the eighth inning! Don’t you know?

The ball landed in the Red Sox bullpen, with poor Torii Hunter, Ortiz’s longtime friend from their Minnesota days, tumbling over the low wall in right and that delightful Boston cop, obliviously celebrating with his arms raised.

Grand slam. 5-5.

This was the greatest hit of David Ortiz’s career. All three of his extra-inning walk-offs in 2004 came in tie games. This was a four-run deficit that felt like 10. No slam, no title.

In the World Series victory over the St. Louis Cardinals, Ortiz hit .688 with an OPS of … (checks notes) … 1.948.

“That’s why we called him Cooperstown,” 2013 Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks said this week.

That’s why we call him Big Papi.

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