An interesting side factor in the announcement that the Boston Red Sox will retire David Ortiz number 34 next season is that this will mark the tenth number of a former Red Sox player to be retired and sixth since the start of this century. (Not accounting the number 42 for Jackie Robinson) The Red Sox had not retired a number since 1989 when they had only four numbers retired. They added Carlton Fisk in 2000 and waited another eight years before adding Johnny Pesky. Now they will add another 4 within just eight years as the Red Sox management show a willingness to break the “rules” and honor true Red Sox greats.
The original rules state that Red Sox players must have played 10 years in Boston, made the hall of fame and finish their career in Boston. They’ve broken the third rule several times now by adding players like Carlton Fisk, Pedro Martinez and Wade Boggs. On the other hand only Johnny Pesky has been retired without being inducted into the Hall of Fame and his retirement had much to do with his constant presence and efforts after retirement as anything he did on the field.
This will be the first player in Red Sox history who has been retired so quickly and before even allowing the Hall of Fame to vote on his potential induction. That said there is no player in my time in Boston who has more epitomized this town and loved this city the way Ortiz has. There has also never been a player to have so many memorable plays in big situations. Ted Williams maybe the greatest Red Sox player of all time, but without the trophies and walk offs it’s tough to say who will be remembered longer in Red Sox lore.
To say that seems crazy, but think about what Ortiz has done here. Sure he had some great teams and that’s how you win, but his timing for amazing theatrics is what made him a star here. Even before the 54 home run season in 2006 he was a mammoth star and perhaps for not playing DH he might have even walked during one of those tough off seasons when he demanded more respect. It’s tough to imagine that and thankfully it never came to pass.
Every time Red Sox management paid him more than market value for an aging DH we often said perhaps it’s time David? Then he reminded us why he’s still here. After all those seasons with poor April’s and average May’s we wondered why he stuck around. How naive we were and now we look at the greatest offensive season by a 40 year old since Barry Bonds in 2004 and Ted Williams in 1958 (based on wRC+) and we wonder how he could ever leave us. I thought way back in the spring maybe this great start would make him think again, but Ortiz has stuck by his request to walk away and he should be commended for doing so.
In the end I’m still not sure Ortiz gets the votes needed to make the Hall of Fame, but that doesn’t matter in the end. The American League decided in in 1973 to not have pitchers bat and create a position for hitters to take their spot in the lineup. Only two players dedicated in most of their career to that spot have reached levels demanding a spot in the Hall of Fame and so far Edgar Martinez isn’t even close. Ortiz probably has less of a shot in terms of pure numbers and his induction will require his post season heroics to get that call.
All of that brings us back though to the Boston Red Sox who decided that passing time was not required to show our recognition. Waiting and following rules were not required. The Boston Red Sox will enter the playoffs and hope to send David Ortiz home with one more ring, but regardless of that there will be a celebration this spring at Fenway Park and it will be when 34 is revealed on the right field facade.