April .143/.238/.286/ .524His slash stats for the year are .245/.311/.518, which gives him a 116 OPS+ - the third-highest mark on the Red Sox. His batting average on balls in play has skyrocketed from .206 in April to .387 in May. Overall, it is .292. It was .262 last year and .270 in 2008.
Maybe Ortiz is not yet toast. Still, he turns 35 in November and it is far from certain that the Red Sox will grab his $12.5 million option for 2011.
Two days ago, Ortiz criticized the media for declaring him dead and buried.
It's not the fans. It's not the fans that come out with that. It's the media. It's the media that's the one that thinks they've got everything figured out. You've got guys sitting down out there that have never played the game ever before, talking about how they think I'm supposed to leave, that you are done, that you can't hit any more, that you can do this or you can do that. You never hit before in your life ever. You know nothing about that. ... I'm going to be done when I've decided that I'm done, not when the media says that I'm done. I'm nobody to tell you when you're going to be done. I don't know anything about your job.He's right, to a point, though the ability to hit a major league fastball is much more of an age-dependent skill than writing a magazine article. You can do only the latter at a top professional level when you are 65 years old, for example.
Howard Bryant has a must-read article on Ortiz at ESPN.
For the first time in the eight years in Boston that turned Ortiz into a star, doubt and mortality consume him. It is mortality ... that Ortiz is painfully discovering happens to be the real price of the ticket, the actual cost of a professional athlete's golden youth. On a particularly dark day in May, Ortiz stares not only into his eventual career abyss ("I'm 34 years old, and people treat me like I'm 80," he says) ...In April, Ortiz told Bryant:
Do you understand that this is killing me? Do you know when I'm going good I cannot sleep because I'm trying to remember everything that I did right so I can repeat it the next day and the next? And that's when I'm going good. When I'm going bad, it's even worse because everybody looks to me to be the guy who comes through for this ballclub. It's like I never sleep anymore.On Thursday, Ortiz said Terry Francona lacked confidence in him earlier in the year, such as when he pinch-hit for Ortiz on April 27 at Toronto: "I was mad. I was mad. I was totally, absolutely mad. ... You have to believe in your players. Period. You chose to have me on your roster since day one. You've got to ride with me."
Bryant reports that
according to sources within the organization, [Ortiz] left the ballpark during [that] game in Toronto after Red Sox manager Terry Francona called him back for a pinch hitter, the day those sources say that Ortiz temporarily ignored Francona's order and kept walking to the plate. (Francona had no comment when asked about the incident.)It must be crushing for an athlete to realize that the end of the line is near. After decades of identifying yourself as X, suddenly you are not X. And it's never pretty to see an athlete struggle to do the things that once seemed second nature -- especially with someone as beloved and important to Red Sox history as Ortiz.
Red Sox fans bemoan the drama that surrounded various star players as their time in Boston ended -- Roger Clemens, Mo Vaughn, and Pedro Martinez, to name three that left for more lucrative free agent offers.
Why does there always have to be so much drama? I have wondered that myself, but I also have been thinking that there is almost no way Ortiz's time in Boston can come to end without getting ugly. The only exception would be if he chooses to retire while he is still a good hitter. And that seems very unlikely. Baseball players in good health do not retire after productive seasons.
Francona met with Ortiz privately before Friday night's game. Afterwards, he insisted that Ortiz did not leave Skydome early on April 27:
Somebody is reporting something that's not true. ...It's too early to say what the Red Sox will do this winter. Three weeks ago, I figured the team would decline Ortiz's option no matter what he did for the rest of the year. If he keeps hitting like he has this month, who knows? His return is also dependent on things beyond his actual on-field performance, like the progress of various minor leaguers and possible trades/signings.
My job is to believe in our players. Not one, but 25, and try to do that as consistently as I can. ... Just like I ask the players: Try to do your job the best you can. It doesn't mean you're perfect, but try to do the best you can ...
I think with any time you're in my position, you have to tell people things sometimes they don't want to hear. ... We've sat and talked and he hasn't always liked what I've told him. I think he knows that I care about him, and every player is supposed to feel that way. That's the idea.
What I do know is that the odds are very slim that the Ortiz/Boston relationship ends as smoothly as I would like. A rough break-up seems almost inevitable.