With Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield retiring after a combined 32 seasons with the Boston Red Sox, the role of Elder Statesman on Yawkey Way now falls in the hands of one David Americo Ortiz Arias.
Ortiz, 36, is entering his 10th campaign with the Sox in a role that is vastly different from his of years past. He is no longer the powerful slugger, the most clutch hitter in baseball that pitchers are deathly afraid of. He still has power, but it’s safe to assume he’s not about to hit 50 home runs any time soon. But he has other assets that could be critical to keeping the clubhouse morale afloat in case the team is on the verge of another Chicken and Beer Month.
The advantage to having Ortiz as the club’s veteran leader rather than Varitek or Wakefield is Ortiz’s celebrity status. Not to take anything away from the character or achievements of Tek and Wake, but Papi resonates more with the media and mainstream fans because of his stats, his demeanor, and his place in baseball lore. So if something were to come up in the Red Sox clubhouse that’s as small as a disagreement or as large as Fail-Tember, Ortiz can throw his weight around (no pun intended) and get his guys to knock it off. And if they don’t, he may be forced to tell the media. And if the media gets a hold of another impending Red Sox meltdown, the team will have to be extra vigilant to prevent even more ridicule than they’ve already suffered.
More hardcore Red Sox fans will tell you that Varitek and Wakefield had the demeanor and experience to stop that mess before it got out of hand the way it did. But they didn’t. I wasn’t there, so I can’t tell you if they tried or not. But I can tell you that Ortiz’s demeanor is much more visible than the quieter and more reserved catcher and knuckleballer, and if there’s something wrong, he’ll let you know. This is not to accuse Ortiz of being a diva along the lines of Alex Rodriguez or former teammate Manny Ramirez. But with Varitek and Wakefield, there wasn’t much difference in the way they presented themselves between a good game and a bad one. With Ortiz, you know when he’s happy, and you know when he’s upset.
A bruised ego is not something that heals quickly. But if you look at that smile, you know Papi’s ready start anew, and he’s got the keys to make sure the rest of the team does as well.