Picture this. ‘Big Papi' steps up to a microphone, gives his farewell speech, salutes the crowd and then hangs up his oversized jersey forever. Now picture him doing it for the Yankees, Rays or Angels.
I have to imagine that there would be a lot of very unhappy Red Sox fans if that scenario ever took place. In fact, I have to believe that allowing Ortiz to leave would conjure up memories of Roger Clemens being allowed to leave for Toronto, a black eye that this franchise did not recover from for many years.
That's what Sox management will be deliberating this coming off-season when it comes to the subject of David Ortiz and his request for a two-year contract extension. There are no 3,000-hit milestones to consider and there's no all-time home run record in sight. There is the simple fact that the 35-year-old Ortiz is quite possibly the biggest icon ever for a franchise that has quite a few of them.
Carl Yastrzemski, Ted Williams, ‘El Guapo' (OK, not really) and David Ortiz.
The fans despised Sox management for allowing Roger Clemens to walk away and then re-invent himself as a member of the Blue Jays and later, the Yankees. Clemens' career path in his early to mid-30's was very similar to that of Ortiz.
Both achieved iconic status with incredible playoff performances and dominating regular seasons. Both had two or three subpar seasons afterwards that could be attributed to any number of factors. Clemens was traded at the age of 34 and ... well you know the rest of that story. I have to believe Theo Epstein, Larry Lucchino and the rest of the Sox management could do without the guaranteed backlash that would accompany Ortiz leaving the team.
There's also another element here, one that is far more corporate driven. David Ortiz puts butts in the seats and money in the coffers. Since about 2003, Fenway Park has become "the place" in Boston. Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, et al all had a hand in creating that atmosphere, but Papi is the only one still playing.
The trouble was, the luster had worn off a little bit last season. There were empty seats, ratings were way down on NESN, scalpers were unable to give tickets away, and a real feeling of lethargy had crept over the fans that were in the stadium. Blame it on the injuries, ownership pricing out the average family or the scalpers who would eat their tickets before selling them at less than their perceived market value. The real reason was star power.
You can call Red Sox management a lot of things, but one thing they are not is stupid. They understand that in order to keep Fenway Park full every night and people watching on TV, they need star players on that field. When I say stars, I mean transcendent players that everyone is aware of, not just the die-hards in the city.
David Ortiz is that guy. He's one of the last connections to the 2004 team and the "Cowboy Up" era that so gripped New England on the way to that World Series title. It's not about production on the field with Ortiz anymore (though he's been good this year). It's about being able to hold on to the fans memories of that team for just a little bit longer until they can find another superstar that will captivate their paying audience.
In my view, the only real snag here is that Papi seems oddly detached from the situation. Yes, he wants to keep playing, and yes he wants to be paid well for it. But does anyone get the impression that he's not all that concerned with where he does it?
Boston is a notoriously difficult place to play for a baseball player because of all the pressure that accompanies it. And over the last few seasons as we've watched Ortiz struggle, he's lashed out at the media and criticized them for criticizing him. Perhaps playing in Fenway Park for the better part of a decade has worn him down. Would it be enough for him to leave after the year?
Let's be honest. Were we talking about any other player who was only marginally productive in the last three seasons and had been overly sensitive to criticism of his fading skill, this wouldn't even be a conversation. That player wouldn't even be given a second glance by this team.
In reality, Ortiz likely won't live up to whatever contract extension he receives. So whether it's for public relations, concessions money or any other factor, because David Ortiz delivered THE championship to the city of Boston, Larry Lucchino and company will gladly suck it up, spend as much money as it takes and allow him the opportunity to tip his hat for the final time as a member of the Sox.