A commentary about sports, media, and interpersonal relationships encountered throughout everyday life.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Review: Big Papi

When you sit down and think about the most lovable players in the Major League today, you can't make it through the Top-Five without mentioning David Ortiz.  I just finished Big Papi: My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits (St. Martin's Press, 2007), a book co-authored by Ortiz (with Tony Massarotti) which details his journey from the make-shift fields of the Dominican Republic to the big stage of the Majors.

Every baseball fan knows about David Ortiz's rise from relative obscurity on the Minnesota Twins' bench to the clean-up spot of the World Champion Boston Red Sox, but Big Papi provides a look into the emotional roller coaster that each MLB player takes a ride on at some point in their careers.  For instance, Ortiz's first taste of Major League action came when he tried out for scouts of the then-expansion Florida Marlins in the Dominican Republic.  As Ortiz was unaccustomed to playing baseball on a regular basis (his only experience at this point, as a 16-year old, was playing with the neighborhood kids in his town), he injured his wrist and, as a result, became an unattractive option for the Marlins.  

After this immediate let-down, Ortiz was signed as a 16-year old by the Seattle Mariners.  During his time with the Mariners, Ortiz recalls seeing evidence of Seattle's willingness to rush young talent to the Majors through the arrivals of Ken Griffey Junior and Alex Rodriguez.  In some cases, the Mariners' hyped talent was traded for proven veterans rather than called-up to Seattle.  In 1996, Ortiz was one such expendable commodity as he was shipped to the Twins as a "player to be named" for Third baseman Dave Hollins.  Though Ortiz was upset to be leaving the Mariners, he recalls that he was also excited because he was "wanted."

In 1997, after not making it past Double-A with the Mariners' organization, Ortiz blew through the entire Twins' Farm System and got the call to the Majors for the first time in his career.  Once there, however, Ortiz was constantly tinkered with by coaches and managers (specifically Tom Kelly), who wanted him to go the other way and hit line drives rather than do what he does best: mash.  As much of a problem as Ortiz had with the Twins front office and management, he recalls having a great bond with his teammates.  Specifically, Tony Massarotti details his relationship with Torii Hunter, a teammate of Ortiz's both in the minor and major leagues.  

In the "Stepping Out of the Box" chapters, authored by Massarotti, the book takes a different tone.  The most comparable sports work that I can relate it to is the style that Buster Olney writes Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty.  The behind-the-scenes approach to Ortiz's years in the Minnesota Farm System, the Majors with Boston, and in the front offices of the 
Twins and Red Sox really do a great job filling in the specifics of Ortiz's (at times) vague descriptions of events and details.

One event that Ortiz does shed a great deal of light on is his release from Minnesota.  According to Ortiz, it was Pedro Martinez, formerly of the Red Sox, who convinced Theo Epstein to bring Ortiz into the Red Sox organization.  Not only did Pedro help bring Big Papi to the Sox, but he also fought with former Boston skipper Grady Little about inserting Ortiz into the line-up whenever he toed the rubber.

As Ortiz points out so many times in Big Papi, it's hard to imagine what things would have been like had he not spoken to Pedro on the night of his release.

In the end, Big Papi is a quick, easy read and is definitely something to consider during the Summer month while baseball is in the air.  After reading the book, I can't help but feel bad for David Ortiz when thinking about the two MVPs (2005 & 2006) that he lost out on virtually due to his standing as a Designated-Hitter.  The book gives an honest representation of one of the most likable guys in the game, no matter what team you pull for.


Mike Plugh said...

1. You can't win the MVP playing half the game. A DH would have to outpace the rest of the field by so much, it hardly seems reasonable to expect one to win the MVP in my book.

2. He gets a semi-racist strike in my book for saying that all Japanese look alike to him when asked about meeting Matsuzaka and Okajima in Spring Training last season. He said he couldn't tell them apart because they all look the same, or something to that effect.

3. He's a Red Sock. Fuck him.

bfadds said...

Mike, (1)the only thing is that Ortiz was carrying that team in clutch situations, whereas A-Rod (the 2005 winner) was hitting home runs and RBI when it didn't matter (hitting a solo shot in the bottom of the 9th to make the score 14-5). Morneau I will give you, that was the first time in a while that the player who deserved the award won it. As for the (2) semi-racist strike... well I've got nothing there, that's really not something I'm about to condone. Finally (3), the good old Yankee bias, hahaha.

On a random side: Is Johnny Damon turning back into a pumpkin? I successfully restrained myself from heading over to Canyon of Heroes and talking about the greatness that is JD, haha.