Derek Gentile | David Ortiz not the best Red Sox player ever, but still great

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PITTSFIELD — Earlier this week, David Ortiz, the longtime designated hitter for the Boston Red Sox, played his last game in a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians in game three of the American League Divisional Series.

Ortiz has had a legendary career and has won numerous awards, which he rightly deserved.

But, come on. He's not the greatest player in Red Sox history.

The quibble is not with his service as a DH. That is now a legitimate position in Major League Baseball. Relief pitchers only pitch an inning a game and they usually only appear in about three-fifths of the games during a season, and those are the good pitchers.

No, Ortiz was great. But Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice and possibly Tris Speaker were just better.

Williams stands so far above Big Papi that comparisons are silly. Two MVPs, six batting titles, two (!) triple crowns. And, ah, that 1941 season when he hit .406 with an on-base percentage of .533.

For Yaz, the perception is that 1967 was his only standout year, and that triple crown year was pretty special. But he won the batting title in 1963 and 1968, as well, and he was one of the best defensive outfielders of his era.

I'm not going to go into Rice and Speaker, because you can look up those stats if you wish. And I understand completely why many people believe David Ortiz is the best Sox player of all time.

In 2004, the Boston Red Sox trailed the New York Yankees 3-0 in the American League Championship Series. A Globe columnist had already written them off. We all know the rest of the story: Boston won the next four games to eliminate New York, and then swept St. Louis in the World Series, winning its first title in 86 years.

Ortiz was MVP of that ALCS. There is no doubt in my mind and in the mind of, I assume, every Red Sox fan still alive, that that ALCS series was the most important playoff series in Boston Red Sox history. It reversed a litany of losing and frustration.

But Williams and Yaz and Rice were victims of a Red Sox management team, led by owner Thomas Yawkey, that was racist and cheap. Not when it cam to paying players on the big club. But especially when it came to cultivating a farm system to groom younger players.

And no, there was never a "curse." There was, however, a management team that passed on both Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays because they "weren't our kind of ballplayers." That, and the truncated playoff system throughout Williams' career and in part of Yastrzemski's, reduced their chances in the spotlight.

The expanded playoff system in modern major league baseball gave Ortiz more opportunities to shine. And he did. If there is one thing we can credit to David Ortiz, it's that along with Pedro Martinez, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling and Terry Francona, he changed the dialogue for the team and its fans.

It's difficult for thirtysomethings and those younger to understand the feeling of frustration for Sox fans. In particularly in the 70s and 80s, watching the Yankees sign a parade of free agents to make them better. A realization that the game plan most years was to hope the team was in striking position in September, and then get hot enough to win in the playoffs.

Not surprisingly, that never happened.

Ortiz and his teammates successfully changed that formula. And to be sure, he is the lone thread running through that run of three World Series championships. Only Boston's Harry Hooper and Larry Gardner (1912, 1914, 1915 and 1918) have won more rings as Red Sox.

So, Sox Nation says, "thank you, Papi," and good luck in your retirement.

Contact Derek Gentile at 413-496-6251


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