Ortiz, Red Sox will be fine despite outburst
It has been a season-long drive through the mountains, from Smuggler's Notch to the Connecticut River plain, breakdowns and stalled drives with the drama of a reality show.
"It's the drama that wears you down," David Ortiz said.
In some ways, this has been a banner season for Ortiz, who returned to the Red Sox on a one-year contract and has stated his case for why he was disappointed not to get a multi-year deal. He leads the American League in extra-base hits. He has been intentionally walked more than any AL player. His OPS against left-handed pitching (.996) is the highest of any AL left-handed batter. He is among the leaders in homers, OPS and slugging percentage -- and he has been so disciplined, he has only one more strikeout than walk.
But that "drama," as he puts it, around the Red Sox and the transition to Bobby Valentine "has worn me out. We're not Congress. We're baseball players. Just go play. But there's so much that goes with this place. It's becoming the same hole it was before I got here. I hear players on teams saying they see what goes on here and don't want any part of it. If that's the case, I'm not sure I want to be here after this season."
Now, Tiffany and David Ortiz do want to remain in Boston. They are major parts of the fiber of the community, and everywhere he goes, he is Big Papi. But life with the Red Sox is a Wagnerian opera, and while Ortiz railed about the misanthropy of the media, he has never stopped trying to get his teammates to stop worrying about extraneous issues and "do what we do -- play baseball."
Earlier in the season, Ortiz bristled when several outlets suggested the team's problems stemmed from the loss of veterans Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield.
"I've spent a decade trying to get guys to play it right," Ortiz said at the time, and, in fact, he'd called a clubhouse meeting and singled out several players, including some pitchers who he felt had become overly negative about the media.
Then this week, when Ortiz went off in an impromptu clubhouse press gathering, he stirred things again.
Privately, he said, "I'm tired of all the stuff that goes with this team, but I'm tired of players complaining about the manager, the media ... everything. Let's just play and be accountable."
"David is about the most stand-up guy I've ever been around," said Valentine.
The transition to Valentine has had its moments, good and bad. Players on this team were spoiled by Francona, who never said the wrong thing about them. Francona swallowed his pride when Manny Ramirez pulled stunts that might have gotten him suspended elsewhere. Tito dealt with players struggling with the ends of careers -- even Mike Lowell, who, in his last season, was so upset at his lack of playing time that he asked for a trade. Theo Epstein actually had a trade in place with Toronto for Edwin Encarnacion, but Lowell thought about it, utilized his no-trade provision and decided to end his career in Boston, where he will always be an iconic figure.
Valentine has had to deal with a similar situation with Kevin Youklis, who is now thought to be on the trading block because of the emergence of Will Middlebrooks. While the team has used the disabled list 18 times (five more than any other team ), Valentine has managed without Jacoby Ellsbury, Andrew Bailey and Carl Crawford, and with his three top starters -- John Beckett, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz -- combining for a 4.75 ERA.
Valentine's approach has rattled some, and it has led to a number of stories about player-manager divisions and suggestions that his relationship with some holdover coaches has been distant, although the same could be said about some coaches' relationship with Francona the final two months of the 2011 season.
Hence, there are a lot of complex factors involved in the transition to Valentine's managerial style, which this week seemed to turn a corner. Middlebrooks, Ryan Kalish and Daniel Nava breathed life into the on-field performance. Jared Saltalamacchia, Mike Aviles and Dustin Pedroia played their hearts out. Alfredo Aceves and Scott Atchison became bullpen lynchpins, while Felix Doubront emerged as one of the league's best young left-handed starters.
All along, Ortiz, like Pedroia, has remained the soul of the franchise. Oh, he occasionally goes off on umpires and the media, but his focus has been affixed on winning. If and when they get Ellsbury, Crawford, Bailey and Daniel Bard back, if and when Adrian Gonzalez regains his power, when Ryan Lavarnway comes up go give them another bat behind Saltalamacchia, the Red Sox will make their run at a Wild Card, and the Valentine Era can be viewed without being tethered to the past.
When it happens, Ortiz will have been a huge factor in completing the transition.
"I just want everyone around here to stop worrying about the BS," he said, "and play baseball. If we do that and do it right, we'll be fine. If we don't, no one may want to be here."
Peter Gammons is a columnist for MLB.com and an analyst for MLB Network. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.