Widely considered one of the top clutch hitters in major league history, David Ortiz came to international prominence helping the Boston Red Sox end their 86-year World Series drought in 2004. With a hulking physique and an outsize personality to match, Ortiz led the Red Sox to the World Series again in 2007. In the process, he established himself as one of the most powerful hitters in the American League (AL). As the first decade of the twenty-first century came to a close, however, Ortiz faced a new set of challenges. On the field, injuries had sapped much of his legendary home run power, while off the field, rumors of steroid use threatened his image as one of the popular sportsmen in the game. He eventually rebounded and led the Red Sox to another World Series victory in 2013, and he was named the World Series Most Valuable Player (MVP). Ortiz ultimately retired at the end of the 2016 season as one of the modern era's most beloved players. In 2019, Ortiz was shot at a bar in his native Dominican Republic but survived his injuries.
Became a Top Prospect
David Americo Ortiz Arias was born on November 18, 1975, in Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic. Ortiz, the oldest of parents Enrique and Angela Rosa's four children, was born with an easygoing personality that allowed him to make friends readily. Baseball was big in the household. Enrique, who went by the nickname Leo, was a baseball player himself, having played professional and semi-professional ball in the Dominican leagues for years. Ortiz's heroes were the Martinez brothers, Ramon and Pedro, local boys who had made good in the major leagues.
At Estudia Espallat High School, Ortiz excelled in basketball as well as baseball. His father encouraged him to focus on baseball and to learn English in anticipation of playing pro ball in the United States. The Seattle Mariners saw enough promise in Ortiz to sign him to a free agent contract in 1992, shortly after his seventeenth birthday. He spent one season with the Mariners' Dominican Summer League team before moving on to the club's Peoria, Arizona-based rookie league squad. Initially, Ortiz struggled with the bat, hitting only .246 that year. However, he showed flashes of skill in the field. The following year, things started to click offensively. In 1995 he batted .332 and led the Arizona League in doubles and runs batted in (RBIs).
That performance earned Ortiz a promotion to the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers of the Class A Midwest League, where he quickly established himself as one of the Mariners' top prospects. For 1996 he batted .322 with 18 home runs and 93 RBIs, earning him honors as a Midwest League All-Star. During the off-season that followed, Ortiz--who had gone by the name David Arias up to this time--was traded to the Minnesota Twins organization. From a career standpoint, the trade was good news for Ortiz. The Mariners already had established starters at both of his likely positions, first base and designated hitter, while the Twins had question marks at both positions. Ortiz started the 1997 season with the Class A Fort Myers Miracle, the Twins' Florida State league affiliate. It was there that he started going by the name David Ortiz. It didn't take long for him to make his mark: he got hits in his first 11 games with Fort Myers. In June he was promoted to the Class AA New Britain Rock Cats. Again Ortiz wasted no time destroying pitchers at his new level. After only a month in Class AA, he moved up again, this time to Salt Lake City in the AAA Pacific Coast League. While his numbers in AAA ball were not as immediately impressive as they had been at his two previous minor league stops, Ortiz was called up to the parent team in September, where he batted an impressive .327 in 15 games for the Twins. After the season, Baseball America declared Ortiz the second-best prospect in the Minnesota organization and one of the top 100 in all the majors.
Reached the Majors with the Twins
On the strength of his phenomenal 1997 performance, Ortiz started the 1998 season in the majors. Early in the year, however, he broke a bone in his wrist and was rendered inactive until late June. Once he was back in action, he quickly returned to form, batting .277 with 9 home runs and 46 RBIs in 86 games. In spite of this success, Ortiz did not become a favorite of Twins manager Tom Kelly. "Kelly often sat [Ortiz] against lefties or lifted him for a pinch hitter late in ball games, and management's list of his liabilities grew from there," wrote Jay Jaffe in Mind Game. "The Twins somehow decided that despite his power and potential, Ortiz's poor conditioning, attitude, awkwardness around first base and difficulty with lefties warranted turning over the first-base job to Doug Mientkiewicz, a slick fielder with limited offensive potential." Rather than keep the 23-year-old in the majors as a designated hitter (DH), the Twins sent Ortiz back to Salt Lake City, where he spent the 1999 season hitting 30 homers and registering 110 RBI in the minor leagues.
In 2000, however, Mientkiewicz fell out of favor and was banished to the minors. Ortiz returned to Minnesota and became an everyday player, batting .282 in 130 games. However, his power was greatly diminished from what he had shown in the minors--he hit only ten homers all season--a fact he blamed on his clashes with the Twins' coaching staff, who wanted him to shorten his swing and concentrate on hitting for a higher batting average. "Something with my swing was not right in Minnesota," Ortiz told Jackie MacMullen of the Boston Globe in 2004. "I could never hit for power. Whenever I took a big swing, they'd say to me, 'Hey, hey, what are you doing?' So I said, 'You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.' But I knew I could hit for power. It was just a matter of getting the green light."
Despite not having the green light under Kelly, Ortiz's natural power did show through in subsequent seasons. In 2001 he hit 18 home runs despite missing more than two months with another wrist fracture. In 2002 he set career highs with 20 major league homers and 75 RBI, despite again losing substantial time to injury. That season, the Twins won the division for the first time in more than a decade. After the season, however, the Twins faced a quandary: the core players in their lineup--a group that included Ortiz, Mienkiewicz, center fielder Torii Hunter, and left fielder Jacque Jones--were eligible for salary arbitration and were in line to receive substantial raises. For the skinflint Twins organization, it would be impossible to give all of them raises. Minnesota elected to keep the cheaper, lighter-hitting Mientkiewicz rather than Ortiz. The Twins did not offer Ortiz a contract for the 2003 season, making the 27-year-old a free agent.
Led Red Sox to World Series
Discarded by the Twins for no return, Ortiz was hardly the hottest property on the free agent market. His injury problems, as well as the Twins' misgivings about his attitude and defense, softened the market for his services. Fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez of the Boston Red Sox, who had been something of a mentor to Ortiz, lobbied Red Sox management to sign the lefty slugger. Red Sox management listened, signing Ortiz to a one-year contract for not much more than he had been making as a Twin.
With the Red Sox, Ortiz eventually beat out a number of competitors for the role of full-time designated hitter. Through early June, Ortiz had only two homers and his playing time was sporadic; however, Red Sox hitting coach Ron Jackson encouraged him to unleash his power and swing for the fences. Paired with fellow Dominican slugger Manny Ramirez in the middle of the Red Sox lineup, Ortiz unleashed an offensive explosion. In the last 97 games of the 2003 season, he batted .293 and hit 29 home runs, helping his team to a spot in the playoffs. "Big Papi," as everyone called him, quickly became a fan favorite with New England baseball fans. In the postseason, Ortiz had several key hits, but the Red Sox came up short in the American League Championship Series against the Yankees, their archrivals.
The Red Sox rewarded Ortiz for his contribution in 2003 with a two-year contract worth more than $12 million, and in 2004 he emerged as one of the top players in the league. He was chosen to play in the Major League All-Star Game for the first time in his career. More importantly, Ortiz helped lead the team to 98 wins and another playoff berth. He recorded new personal bests in a number of categories: 41 home runs, 47 doubles, and 139 RBIs; and his batting average was a solid .301. Above all, he helped the Red Sox win their first World Series title since 1918, breaking the so-called "Curse of the Bambino"--a championship drought said to have been brought on by the Red Sox's foolish sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees before the 1920 season.
Ortiz was a central figure in both the highs and the lows of the Red Sox's historic season. On June 30, in the middle game of a vital three-game series at Yankee Stadium, his first baseman's mitt broke while he was trying to field a groundball, allowing two runs to score and costing the Red Sox their lead in the game. The Yankees would go on to sweep the series, leaving Boston reeling in second place in the AL East division. However, Ortiz would also be the key figure in one of the biggest comebacks in sports history--also against the Yankees--fewer than four months later. The Red Sox made the playoffs as the AL's Wild Card team--the team with the best record in the league that did not lead its division--and made it to the AL Championship Series (ALCS) against the Yankees. After three games in a best-of-seven series, the Red Sox were down 3-0 and on the brink of elimination. With his team's back against the wall, Ortiz batted in four runs in Boston's 6-4 extra-inning victory, including a walk-off home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning to win the game. The next game featured more walk-off heroics from Ortiz, as the DH batted in three runs, including the game-winner in the fourteenth inning, to extend the series even further. The Red Sox went on to beat their hated rivals in the final two games at Yankee Stadium, sending the Red Sox to the World Series for the first time since 1986. Ortiz was the ALCS MVP, and he set an ALCS record for most RBI by a player in a series (11).
In the World Series, Ortiz set the tone early with three-run home run in the first inning of the first game of the series. He had four RBI overall in the Red Sox 11-9 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals. The Red Sox pitchers then took over the series, allowing the Cardinals to score only three runs in the three games that followed, as Boston swept St. Louis for its first World Series championship since 1918. Although Manny Ramirez was the World Series MVP, Ortiz was credited as the team's leader, the man who would not let the Red Sox quit when things were at their darkest. "Beyond his numbers, David is a huge clubhouse presence," teammate Gabe Kapler told Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated. "He knows exactly the right thing to say or do at the right time to fire us up and get us going again."
Snubbed for Most Valuable Player Award
Anyone who expected Ortiz to slack off after becoming a New England hero faced a rude awakening in 2005. He finished the season with a .300 batting average, a league-leading 148 RBI, and 47 home runs, the second-highest total in the league. As in the 2004 playoffs, the timing of Ortiz's offensive eruptions was impeccable: 24 times, his hits put the team ahead when they were tied or trailing in the score. During one stretch in September, Ortiz hit three game-deciding homers over a stretch of ten days. The New England media pushed hard to have Ortiz declared the league's most valuable player, an unprecedented honor for a player who only played defense ten times all season. Ultimately, Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees won the award on a close vote, with voters citing his defense at third base as a deciding factor.
Ortiz was bitterly disappointed. "I don't care anymore," he told Paul White of USA Today. "If people didn't respect what I did, that's cool with me. But then I have no respect for them and their award. MVP is all about winning games." Ortiz received the respect he craved from baseball fans, who voted him the winner of the AL's Hank Aaron Award, given to the best offensive player in the league.
Ortiz raised the level of his game again in 2006, hitting 54 home runs, which broke a 68-year-old franchise record set by Hall of Famer Jimmie Foxx. He also matched a record set by Babe Ruth in 1927 by hitting 32 of his home runs on the road. Again, the bombastic slugger led the league in homers and RBI, but Boston's pitching was sub-par, and the team failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in Ortiz's tenure. Ortiz finished in third place in the MVP voting.
Ortiz's played through injuries in 2007, particularly a knee injury that required surgery after the season. While did not come close to challenging his Red Sox home run record, he posted the highest batting average of his career (.332), led the league in on-base percentage (.445), and hit a career-high 52 doubles to go with 35 homers and 111 RBI. "It was the best season of his career, and no one noticed," the authors of Baseball Prospectus 2008 lamented. However, everyone noticed that for the first time in 12 years, the Red Sox won their division and tore through their opposition in the playoffs on their way to a second championship. Ortiz performed admirably in the playoffs, hitting .370 and starting every game despite debilitating knee problems. During the ALCS "my right knee was so swollen that I feared I wouldn't play again for the rest of the series." The Red Sox were brought to the brink of elimination in the ALCS against the Cleveland Indians, but with Ortiz's help they came back to win that series and sweep the Colorado Rockies in the World Series.
Implicated in Steroids Controversy
Playing through injuries did not work as well for Ortiz in 2008 as it did in 2007. In June, Ortiz tore a tendon sheath in his wrist, causing the slugger to miss time in the lineup and lose power when he returned. Ortiz was able to play in only 109 games all season, his lowest total since the injury-marred 2001 season. Well into 2009, it seemed that Ortiz was feeling the effects of the wrist injury. As late as June 10, his batting average was still below the dreaded "Mendoza line" (.200). However, his troubles on the field would eventually pale next to an off-field drama.
On July 30, 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz and his longtime teammate Manny Ramirez had both tested positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003. That year Major League Baseball had conducted "survey testing" for anabolic steroids and other performance-enhancers. The individual results of the survey testing were supposed to be secret; the only purpose of the testing was to determine if use of steroids in the major leagues was so widespread that regular mandatory testing was necessary (it was). However, before the tests could be destroyed, they had been seized by the U.S. Justice Department and had been mired in litigation since.
For a player with a reputation for candor and openness with the press, Ortiz's reaction to the New York Times story was perplexing. In a statement to the media, he claimed to be "blindsided" by the news, and said that he was making inquiries to get "to the bottom" of the story. He also assured his fans that, "You know me--I will not hide and I will not make excuses." However, Ortiz then refused to comment on the story for more than a week, until a press conference was held at Yankee Stadium. At that conference, Ortiz denied that he'd ever knowingly purchased or taken steroids, and he suggested that the positive test was either a government mistake or the result of tainted over-the-counter nutritional supplements he had purchased legally. He pointed out that in six years of mandatory testing, he had never failed drug test. Ortiz also had to admit that despite the surprise he claimed when first confronted by the New York Times report, he had been notified in 2004 that his name was on the government's list of players they claimed had failed drug tests.
Regardless of whether fans believed his denials, Ortiz's reputation was damaged by the scandal. Coming into the 2010 season, Ortiz was at a crossroads, the likes of which he had not faced since the Twins cut him loose after the 2002 season. He was in the last guaranteed year of his contract with Boston and coming off his worst season since joining the Red Sox in 2003. His future and his legacy depended on whether, at the age of 34, he could hit well enough to make the doubters believe in him again.
Ortiz's performances continued to slump throughout most of the 2010 season. The consensus of baseball's top commenters was that he was washed up and past his prime. Ortiz took it hard, growing visibly distraught during games. However, Ortiz was determined for that not to be the end of his career. Slowly, even though most of the fans appeared to have lost their faith in his ability, he recovered from his several year slump. Soon, in his mid-thirties, Ortiz was playing the best he'd ever played. "I'm going to be done when I've decided that I'm done," he stated on the Big Show radio show on WEEI as reported in the New Yorker.
Several periods of booms and busts followed this declaration until Ortiz's 2013 season, during which he triumphantly led the Boston Red Sox to victory in the World Series. In addition to admirable stats during the 2013 season, Ortiz played just as well during the post-season, batting .688 with two home runs against the Cardinals. He was named the 2013 World Series MVP soon afterward.
While the Red Sox failed to make the playoffs in either the 2014 or 2015 season, Ortiz continued to be a strong performer. In 2014 he hit 35 home runs and had 104 RBIs while batting .263. Ortiz subsequently put up similar numbers in 2015, hitting 37 home runs and racking up 108 RBIs en route to a .273 batting average.
Retirement Season and Beyond
Shortly after wrapping up his 2015 season, Ortiz announced that he intended to play only one more year before retiring. As a result the 2016 became something of a farewell tour for the veteran player. Even at forty years old, Ortiz had one of the best seasons of his entire career, batting .314 and hitting 38 home runs and 127 RBIs. While the Red Sox finally managed to make their playoff return, they were quickly knocked out by the Cleveland Indians in the divisional round. With his team's elimination, Ortiz's all-star career came to a close. The Red Sox subsequently retired his jersey number the following year.
After stepping away from the playing field, Ortiz found a new home in the broadcast booth. In 2017 he joined the FOX Sports MLB broadcast team and immediately became a favor of baseball fans across the country. In early 2018 Ortiz also became the star of his own reality television program. The show, called Big Papi Needs a Job, followed Ortiz as he searched for a new career in the wake of his MLB retirement.
In 2019, Ortiz was shot at point-blank range by a gunman in a Dominican Republic bar. The Red Sox legend was transported via air ambulance from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, to Boston for treatment. Ortiz was treated with surgery for damage to his gallbladder, liver, and intestines. After surgery, Ortiz stabilized and continued the recovery process. Police in the Dominican Republic say Ortiz was shot in a case of mistaken identity. They said a man agreed to pay a group of hit men $30,000 to target another man at the bar. Instead, Ortiz was shot.
Born David Americo Ortiz Arias on November 18, 1975, in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic; married Tiffany Ortiz; children: Yessica, Alexandra, and D'Angelo. Addresses: Web site--davidortiz.com.
Seattle Mariners, free agent, 1992; Mariners' Peoria, AZ Rookie League team, 1994-95; Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (Mariners' Class A affiliate), 1996; Fort Myers (Minnesota Twins Class A affiliate), 1997; New Britain (Twins Class AA affiliate), 1997; Salt Lake City (Twins AAA affiliate), 1997-99; Minnesota Twins major league club, parts of 1997, 1998 and 1999, and full seasons 2000-02; Boston Red Sox, 2003-2016.
American League All-Star Team, 2004-2008, 2010-2013; Most Valuable Player, American League Championship Series, 2004; Hank Aaron Award, 2005, 2016; World Series Most Valuable Player, 2013.
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