This is Sunday, October 9, 2016. This might very well be the last day of David Ortiz’ professional baseball career. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Unless the Boston Red Sox win today to extend their American League Divisional Series against the Cleveland Indians, the best Red Sox hitter since Ted Williams is done.

We know the stats. Ortiz hit 541 home runs over his 20 season career. He drove in 1,768 runs, he scored 1,419. He came up clutch so often, we just assumed he’d do it every time.

Ortiz embraced the spotlight of Boston. He enjoyed being a star. He enjoyed being Big Papi.

Williams was before my time, and I was 11 when Carl Yastrzemski retired in 1983, too young to remember his best seasons and definitely too young to appreciate what I saw.

Other Red Sox stars of my life had their careers end in tatters or in other uniforms. In 1989, Jim Rice got old overnight. His eyesight diminished, and he was unable to hit with his usual authority. Pedro Martinez puttered around five seasons with the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies before retiring in 2009. Dwight Evans is the gold standard for right fielders in the last 40 years, and he should have received more Hall of Fame consideration than he got. He finished his career with one forgotten season in Baltimore.

His career started in Minnesota, but Ortiz is ours. When Ortiz gives his induction speech in Cooperstown in 2022, he’ll pay lip service to the Twins and Seattle Mariners, for whom he played in the minors, but his speech will be a sloppy love letter to Boston.

It’s long past time to end the designated hitters in the Hall of Fame debate. It’s been a recognized position for two generations. Paul Molitor played more than 1,000 games in his Hall of Fame career at DH. The same goes for Frank Thomas. Attaching a stigma to the designated hitter is ludicrous. Ortiz will get into the Hall of Fame, and, hopefully, he’ll be greeted by Edgar Martinez, who earned a spot in Cooperstown as Seattle’s DH and should be there already.

Of course, there are many who label Ortiz a drug cheat. His name appeared in what was supposed to be anonymous testing of players in 2003. Ortiz vehemently denied any PED use when reports first surfaced, and he has continued to deny use since. The testing was so slapdash, Major League Baseball can’t even tell Ortiz what triggered the alleged positive test. Even MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has said in recent weeks there were likely a number of false positives in that round of testing.

Those whispers will dog Ortiz for the rest of his life. They may even delay his Hall of Fame enshrinement a year or two, like the whispers did to Mike Piazza. Whispers will not keep Ortiz out, however.

Here’s the thing about the Steroid Era. By painting every player with the same PED tipped brush, it ignores the baseball history that came before. There was always a place in the game for big guys who hit baseballs into orbit. Ortiz is a throwback to those players. He’s more Boog Powell and Harmon Killebrew than he is Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire.

Even if he did take something, even if Ortiz holds a press conference next week and announces that yes, in 2003, with his career at a frightening crossroads, he took PEDs and has regretted it ever since, he should get a pass. Even if he admits to PED use, says he has no regrets and signs an endorsement deal with BALCO, he gets a pass.

He gets a pass not because he hit mammoth home runs in the 2004 playoffs against the New York Yankees, or hit a grand slam in 2013 against the Detroit Tigers, or hit in the clutch more often than any Red Sox ever, more than any player on any team since Babe Ruth, who probably invented clutch.

Ortiz gets a pass because of April 20, 2013, when he took the microphone before the first game at Fenway Park after the Boston Marathon bombings, and reminded us to be strong in the face of evil. This is our (bleeping) city should go on his Hall of Fame plaque, uncensored.

Ortiz gets a pass because of Maverick Schutte. In May, Ortiz and the Red Sox invited 6-year old Maverick, who has had too many heart surgeries for a 6-year old to endure, to Fenway to meet his hero. Find the video of Maverick meeting Ortiz. Look at Maverick’s eyes light up. Maverick is the most high profile fan to have this interaction with Ortiz, but he’s not alone.

That’s the stuff that overrides any shady maybe he did, maybe he didn’t PED accusations.

Ortiz is the bridge between two generations of Red Sox, from Pedro and Manny to Betts and Bogaerts. If it ends today, or if the Red Sox somehow extend the series and advance in the playoffs, Oritz’ career has been a marvelous ride. Point your hands to the sky, and say thank you.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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