By Steve Silverman
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The long “Goodbye, Papi” tour is finally over, and many Yankees fans may be relieved.
David Ortiz was hoping his home run-happy baseball career would come to an end with another Duck Boat tour up the Charles River as a celebration of the team’s fourth World Series title during his 14-year run with the Boston Red Sox.
But the team that was so hot in mid-September – 11 straight wins to earn the American League East title – fell apart in October and was swept by the Cleveland Indians in the American League Division Series.
If the truth be told, the Red Sox lost their way at Yankee Stadium in the final week of the season. They clinched the AL East title on a night that Mark Teixeira ended the game with a walk-off grand slam off of pitcher Joe Kelly.
The Red Sox had clinched the division title moments earlier when the Baltimore Orioles had beaten the Toronto Blue Jays, but the damage was done.
The Red Sox may not have known it at the time, but they would never recover.
Ortiz certainly had a final season for the books, pounding 38 home runs, driving in 127 runs and batting .315. Those traditional stats tell his story, and that makes sense because Ortiz was an old-school kind of player.
Much like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, Big Papi was feted in nearly every city that he visited on his last trip around the American League.
He was loved by his teammates, but it seemed he was almost equally loved by the teams he tormented. Ortiz was about the most talkative and friendly player to ever reach base, and he was seen chatting up opponents before the game and on the basepaths on an everyday basis.
Ortiz certainly represented Boston. And has anyone besides Samuel L. Jackson ever cursed with greater meaning than Ortiz?
After the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, he spoke from the heart at Fenway Park. When he said, “This is our f—ing city,” it was a remarkably effective way of showing that town’s pain, suffering and pride.
Ortiz, who has been able to escape the nasty stain of his name being mentioned in the first banned substance report in 2003, paid the greatest respect to the Yankees. He said his greatest memories of the game are from competing with the Bronx Bombers, and his letter to Yankees fans ended like this: “We share too much history to leave the field as enemies, but I’ll always respect you as a rival.”
The Yankees presented Ortiz with a book of personal messages from Joe Torre, Joe Girardi and Jeter, to name a few.
They touched on his ability as a clutch performer and his warmth as a human being.
Considering the volatility of the relationship between the two teams, it’s really quite amazing.
Here’s a look at a few of those letters:
Wishing you all the best in your retirement. You’ve been a terrific clutch hitter during your special career. Personally I wish you had retired after the 2003 season.
* * *
It was an absolute pleasure watching and competing against you for all these years. The Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is the greatest in all sports. It is rivalry that I will forever miss and you were a huge part of it. I wish you all the best in retirement. Now it’s time for you to relax!
* * *
You were one of the most feared hitters of your generation. If the game was on the line, we did not want to see you come to the plate. More importantly, you took on the heartbeat of Boston when the city was going through some of its toughest times. You were someone they could turn to.
* * *
Compare that with what is going on in the real world, with a presidential election just around the corner.
The most powerful position in the free world should also be the most dignified. And until recently, those who ran for president conducted themselves with class and dignity and treated their opponents with respect.
But the current Republican presidential candidate has engaged in the lowest form of campaigning, as he substitutes name-calling, rude behavior, misogyny and unprovoked vitriol for actual qualifications in an attempt to make his opponent look bad.
His childish campaign has been a poor reflection on the entire country. Is this really the best we have to offer?
Somehow, the greatest rivals on the athletic fields can treat each other with respect, dignity and honor. While this happens, the low-brow candidate representing the GOP treats his rival in the most vulgar and crude manner imaginable.
Politicians are supposed to be our leaders, and while they have often fallen short, it has never been to this degree.
If only they could follow the example of Ortiz and his rivals.
Please follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy