Monday, July 28, 2014

David Ortiz defies objectivity

There is a segment of the baseball writing world that can write dispassionately about baseball players. They focus on the cold, hard facts of performance. Beat writers are paid to be objective. Objectivity, in fact, is a journalistic must.  Not being a journalist but trying always to be fair, being objective about David Ortiz is impossible.
There probably isn't a player besides Ortiz (Jeter maybe?) that stirs up such passion from his own fans and those who are not fans of the Red Sox. Write any article about Ortiz and Red Sox fans are going to comment viciously and the return volleys will be just as pointed. To criticize Ortiz in any way is to provoke an entire fan base who worship the guy. To extol his accomplishments provokes anyone who isn't a Red Sox fan.
Take the latest story about Chris Archer taking aim at Ortiz for the dramatic bat flip Ortiz exhibited with the slugger's latest three-run homer. Archer wasn't pleased and in a very articulate interview, explained why he was unhappy with what Ortiz did. As reported on, the comments show you what I mean. Dueling Red Sox fans and those not sparred endlessly to the point of nausea.
I thought to respond to what Archer said, but could not find an objective way to do so. I have long respected David Ortiz's ability to rise to the moment and change a baseball game.  The man has a .946 career OPS in high leverage situations. You can't argue with those kinds of numbers. But I cannot respond as such without admitting that I have never liked the guy.
And then I have to face the music because I have long stated that all those unwritten rules about showing emotion on the field are bogus. So what if a player celebrates? So what if a players bring a little flair to what they do. Remember Rickey Henderson snatching fly balls out of the sky? Ichiro has that flair in right field. Fist pumps by pitchers should not be a bad thing. Traditionalists do not believe that any emotion should show or any showmanship should be allowed. I don't agree.
Examining my thoughts fully, Ortiz falls under the showman category. When he flips his bat, it is no different than when Puig does so or others. The main difference is the entire persona Ortiz seems to inhabit on the field.
While Archer should probably get over the bat flip thing (fans rightly pointed out the time Archer kissed his arm after a big strikeout), he does have a point about the world revolving around Ortiz.
Ortiz and his on-field persona remind me a lot of Pedro Martinez when Pedro was king of pitchers. Martinez was in your face. He did not mind exhibiting that he was in charge, that he was going to dominate you. If you were not a Red Sox fan, it was hard to like.
The difference was that Pedro threw a hundred pitches. He was out there battling a juiced up offensive world for a hundred pitches and was nearly untouchable. He was the matador and was center stage. Ortiz has one skill: He can hit and he can hit important hits at important times. Pretty cool skills, no doubt, but not in the same category as Martinez as matador.
David Ortiz is not the only guy who flips the bat. But there are other things that add up after a while. Pitchers are not allowed to crowd him. Official scorers are not supposed to score against him. Umpires are not supposed to call a close pitch against him. And there is body language that tells you infield shifts are unseemly to him.
When was the last major event hosted by the Boston Red Sox that wasn't taken over by David Ortiz? The one-hundred year anniversary of Fenway was dominated by him. The post Marathon terrorist ceremony was dominated by him. The World Series ring presentation was dominated by him.
You could say the same thing being true at Yankee Stadium by Derek Jeter. The difference is that Jeter is the captain of the team. Ortiz is not.
All players have egos...big ones. They have been pumped up as special since they were kids in Little League. But it is obvious that Ortiz has the crowning achievement of egos. Those are strong words, I realize, and will provoke anger from Red Sox fans. I wish it wasn't so because many of my friends are such fans and I respect them and the Red Sox. But there are times when Ortiz is insufferable. Forgive me for saying it.
In the patriotic fervor following the Marathon bombing, what Ortiz said was cheered and fist pumped. I found it appalling. Call me old-fashioned, but polite speech should still be the norm and a stadium full of kids should not be given that kind of role model. There is enough of that kind of talk in their own playgrounds. Such a profane statement was pure Ortiz bravado at its worst and he did not care that such a statement would be cringe-worthy to at least 40 to 45% of people watching.
No one can deny what David Ortiz has done with his solitary baseball skill of knocking the stitches off a baseball. No one can deny or take away a career full of major accomplishments in big moments that propelled his team to improbable victories. He doesn't have to field and he doesn't have to run. He just has to hit and no one can deny that he has done that extremely well for his career.
But that doesn't mean that, for those outside of Red Sox Nation, we have to like him. His is a persona that defies objectivity. You either love him or you hate him. Red Sox Nation loves him with an almost bunker-like mentality and it is hard to blame them. Three championships in ten years is hard to argue or not be grateful about.
What I am saying (poorly) is that this gratitude should not always come at the expense of blindness to the fact that his persona and his demeanor are disrespectful and egocentric and does get old for many of those that witness it. Chris Archer was wrong. And yet, in some ways, he was right.

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