At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Friday, September 22, 2006

Papi Pops Two; Is Sox Top Bopper

David Ortiz last night hit his 51st and 52nd home runs in a win against his former Minnesota Twins, and in so doing, he broke the 68-year-old Red Sox club record for home runs for a season. While certainly statistically significant – at least for members of Red Sox Nation, if not for baseball fans as a whole – Big Papi’s achievement was equally notable for the sidebars it suggested. For instance:

• One of the first people to greet Ortiz following his historic blast was Red Sox lifer Johnny Pesky, who may have a unique personal connection to the deed because he actually played with former record-holder Jimmy Foxx, in Boston in 1942.

• Big Papi himself forged a connection with Double-X (another Foxx nickname, along with The Beast) in a way modern-day players too rarely do. When he learned that it was Foxx’s record he was chasing, Ortiz apparently set about studying his predecessor and thereby demonstrated a respect for, and an appreciation of, baseball history that is sadly lacking among today’s players. Perhaps sharing a dugout with Pesky has something to do with that?

• During their respective post-game press conferences, reporters asked Terry Francona and Ortiz whether they thought Papi could have hit 60 home runs this year if he hadn’t missed games for health-monitoring reasons. The answer, of course, is “who knows,” but was interesting to see how 60 remains the benchmark despite having been eclipsed seven times since Babe Ruth first set that bar in 1927.

• Ortiz has increased his season home run totals every year he has been in the majors since becoming a regular in Minnesota in 2000. He’s hit 10, 18, 20, 31 (now with Boston), 41, 47, and currently 52 and counting. So maybe 60 is in the cards, for ’07!

• Has any DH ever been able to maintain the kind of consistent concentration and plate discipline that Ortiz has? Others in the role have noted how hard it is to stay mentally present and physically primed when they don’t play the field. Papi, though, somehow manages to be in every game and to keep his swing sharp despite spending 98% of his time in the dugout. This may be his most remarkable achievement of all.

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