David Ortiz’s name is synonymous with the Boston Red Sox of the 2000s and 2010s, but his path to becoming the player he was in Boston was not an easy one.
Growing up in a difficult environment, Ortiz spent years struggling to overcome injuries, lack of consistency, and personal turmoil throughout stints in the minor leagues only to be released by the Twins years into his career.
He persevered and became an icon in Boston. David Ortiz eventually cemented his place as one of baseball’s best hitters with a knack for delivering the clutch hit needed to propel his team to greatness.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) July 24, 2022
David Ortiz was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic on November 18, 1975, to parents Enrique Ortiz and Angela Rosa Arias.
Ortiz grew up in a particularly rough area of the Dominican Republic that was plagued by lead poisoning, extreme pollution, crime, and drugs.
Witnessing the murder of a man as a child, Ortiz’s parents did everything they could to shield him from the devastation of his environment.
His father worked as a car mechanic, and his mother worked for the Department of Agriculture.
She would often take on odd jobs and side gigs to make some extra money for the family.
Ortiz’s parents instilled in him the value of hard work and moral fortitude.
He became interested in athletics from a young age. It was this interest that kept him away from the crime that surrounded him.
His father urged him to follow this interest, particularly in baseball.
Ortiz also excelled in basketball, becoming a standout two-sport athlete at Estudio Espaillat High School.
His performance in high school attracted the eyes of a number of Major League scouts from the United States. Just after turning 17 years old, David Ortiz signed a contract with the Seattle Mariners.
In his first professional season in 1994, Ortiz joined the Mariners’ farm team in the Arizona League.
His first season was not particularly successful, as he hit under .250 and did not show much power.
He was struggling to adapt to life in the United States away from his home country and his parents, but he continued to work hard to make a name for himself and improve his game.
The following season, Ortiz vastly improved his hitting and began to see his power increase.
By 1996, Ortiz had been assigned to the Mariners’ Single-A team in the Midwest League, where he hit 18 home runs and batted over .300 for the second year in a row.
At this point, Ortiz was beginning to be seen as one of the Mariners’ top-hitting prospects.
In addition to his excellent hitting, Ortiz impressed everyone with his defense at first base, earning the title of the Midwest League’s best defensive first baseman by Baseball America.
After the 1996 season, the Mariners sent Ortiz to the Minnesota Twins as the player to be named later in a trade for third baseman Dave Hollins.
In his first year in the Twins’ organization, Ortiz bounced around multiple teams.
Beginning in Single-A, Ortiz was promoted to Double-A, then Triple-A, then the Major Leagues as a September call-up in 1997.
He made his Major League debut as a pinch hitter against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field and finished the season with a home run and 16 hits.
In 1998, Ortiz began his first full season in a Twins uniform.
He was off to a hot start before breaking his wrist in early May.
Sidelined until July, Ortiz’s injury prevented him from hitting for power.
He had a productive season considering missed time, posting an impressive .371 on-base percentage and a .277 batting average.
Earning His Way Back to the Bigs
Ortiz did not make the Twins roster coming out of spring training in 1999. Instead, he played in the minor leagues.
David Ortiz fields a ball at first base for the Minnesota Twins. Year is 1999. pic.twitter.com/TkhQ8w4NsY
— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) March 10, 2021
David was one of the best minor league players in the league with 30 home runs and a .315 batting average. However, he struggled mightily when called back up to the Majors in September of that year, failing to record a hit and playing through an ACL injury.
The Twins gave Ortiz another chance in 2000, where he was primarily used as a designated hitter.
He established himself as an everyday player by June of that year.
By the end of the season, Ortiz had amassed 36 doubles, 10 home runs, and a .364 on-base percentage.
Similar to 1998, Ortiz began the 2001 season as the Twins’ best hitter. However, he missed significant playing time due to another wrist injury.
He struggled upon returning to the lineup but still showed flashes of power.
The Twins were competitive for the first time in years and finished with an 85-77 record.
They missed the postseason, but there was a feeling of excitement for the next year, especially if Ortiz was able to stay healthy.
The 2002 season was a series of ups and downs for Ortiz.
He struggled in the first half of the season as he was battling a series of knee injuries and grieving the loss of his mother, who had passed away that January.
The Twins’ new manager was Ron Gardenhire, whom Ortiz seemed to like much better than the previous manager Tom Kelly.
Overcoming his injuries and forging a good relationship with Gardenhire, Ortiz flipped a switch in the second half of the season. He helped to lead the Twins to 94 wins and a postseason appearance.
He finished the 2002 season with 20 home runs, 75 RBI, and a .272 batting average.
After defeating the Oakland Athletics in the ALDS, the Twins would lose the ALCS to the eventual World Series champion, the Anaheim Angels.
Following that season, the Twins began attempting to trade Ortiz because they did not want to pay him his salary of almost $2 million.
After failing to find a trade to their liking, they released Ortiz.
This was a move the team would come to regret.
Ortiz was and remains a good friend of then-Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez.
When Ortiz told Martinez the Twins had let him go, Martinez began pleading with the Red Sox front office to sign Ortiz.
The team offered him a one-year deal, a low-risk, high-reward move that would, at the very least, provide the Red Sox with a left-handed option off the bench.
That winter, Ortiz played in the Dominican Winter League hoping to hone his skills further.
He hit over .350 and was named the Caribbean Series’ MVP.
After so many years of ups and downs with the Twins, Ortiz would later note that the Red Sox were quite different. As he took his spot in the locker room next to slugger Manny Ramirez, he immediately noticed the change in atmosphere.
“It felt like I just got out of jail, bro,” he said. “I felt like I could hit the way I wanted to hit.”
Starting the 2003 season off to another slow start with limited playing time, Martinez began to demand Ortiz be slotted into the lineup more often and every day that he was on the mound.
Being one of baseball’s best pitchers and the face of the team over the prior few seasons, Martinez’s words had sway.
After a number of injuries, Martinez got his wish as Ortiz became the team’s primary designated hitter.
Big Papi Is Born
He began the second half of the season hot, hitting eight home runs in July and finishing the season with 31 on the season.
Ortiz was productive in the postseason, tallying many clutch hits and home runs against the Athletics and rival New York Yankees.
The Red Sox would fall to the Yankees in seven games in the ALCS. However, Ortiz had solidified himself as one of the team’s best hitters and a dangerous force in the middle of the Boston lineup.
Now nicknamed “Big Papi,” Ortiz had the best season of his career up to that point in 2004.
He played in a career-high 150 games, hit 41 home runs, drove in 139 runs, and batted .301.
He was named to the 2004 American League All-Star team, the first of five consecutive selections.
The Red Sox won 98 games and made the postseason as a wildcard team.
Ortiz had an excellent postseason, racking up some clutch hits that helped propel Boston to the World Series.
Big Papi hit a walk-off home run against the Angels in the ALDS to end the series. He hit another walk-off home run in Game Four of the ALCS against the Yankees. At that point in the series, the Red Sox were losing three games to none.
In Game Five, he hit a walk-off single to bring the series to three games to two.
The Red Sox would go on to upset the Yankees and become the first team in baseball history to come back from a three-game deficit in the postseason.
Ortiz was named the ALCS MVP and the Red Sox would go on to sweep the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for their first title since 1918.
In 2005, Ortiz had another monster year.
He hit 47 home runs, batted .300, led the league with 148 RBI, and picked up another All-Star nod.
The Red Sox made the postseason but were swept in the ALDS by the Chicago White Sox. The Chicago team would go on to break their own lengthy World Series drought as Boston had done the year before.
One key to Ortiz’s sustained success in Boston was his dedication to video.
He constantly tweaked his hitting approach depending on what he saw on video from opposing pitchers.
He watched videos before, during, and after games, often sharing with teammates what he saw in order to help them in their own at-bats.
Another element of Ortiz’s success was the fact that Manny Ramirez batted right behind him. Together, they formed one of the best offensive duos in baseball during the 2000s, if not the best.
Before the beginning of the 2006 season, Ortiz and the Red Sox agreed on a four-year contract extension worth around $52 million.
He continued his offensive tear, hitting 54 home runs and breaking the team’s record for home runs in a season.
His 54 home runs also led the American League, as did his 137 RBI.
Despite Ortiz’s historic campaign, the Red Sox won just 86 games and failed to make the postseason.
In 2007, Ortiz was instrumental in helping to lead the Red Sox to another World Series.
He was again one of the AL’s best overall hitters, hitting .332 with 35 home runs and 137 RBI.
Fans selected Ortiz for his fourth consecutive All-Star team. The Red Sox went on to win 96 games and finish first in the AL East.
Ortiz hit well against the Angels in the ALDS and against the Cleveland Indians in the ALCS, leading Boston to another AL pennant.
They faced the upstart Colorado Rockies in the World Series, sweeping them in four games to win their second World Series title in four years.
Ortiz suffered another wrist injury in 2008 and missed weeks of playing time.
He played in just over 100 games on the year, batting a disappointing .264 with 23 home runs.
Despite his decreased production and missed time, David Ortiz was named to yet another All-Star team.
The Red Sox made the postseason but were defeated by the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS.
The following season, Ortiz was still not 100% healthy and had a rough start to the year.
He began to hit more consistently as the season went on and reached several milestones, including his 300th career home run. This broke the record held by Frank Thomas for most home runs as a designated hitter with 270.
The Red Sox made the postseason as a wildcard but were swept by the Angels in the ALDS.
The 2010 season started slowly for Ortiz as well.
Now 34, injuries had started mounting and many were beginning to question Ortiz’s future production.
As in previous years, Ortiz improved as the season chugged along and ended up with another All-Star selection.
By the end of the year, he had hit 32 home runs and had driven in 102 runs with a .370 on-base percentage.
The Red Sox ended up finishing third in the AL East and missed the postseason entirely.
They would also miss the postseason in 2011, but Ortiz had another productive year.
— SI MLB (@si_mlb) July 9, 2020
He made his seventh All-Star team, hit 29 home runs, and drove in 96 runs.
Ortiz won the Roberto Clemente Award that year, given to the players who “best exemplify the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and contributions to their team.”
Worst to First and Champs Again
The 2012 season was a disaster for both the Red Sox and Ortiz.
Despite a hot start to the season, Ortiz injured his Achilles in July. He would miss extended time with two separate stints on the disabled list.
Without Ortiz, the Red Sox collapsed and ended the season in last place in the Al East.
Ortiz played in just 90 games all year.
However, 2013 was the exact opposite of 2012 as the Red Sox went from worst to first and won the AL East with a 97-65 record.
Ortiz hit .309 with 30 home runs and 103 RBI, leading Boston to another World Series appearance.
Boston dispatched the Rays and Detroit Tigers to win another American League pennant before facing off against the Cardinals in a rematch of the 2004 World Series.
The Red Sox would defeat St. Louis in six games with Ortiz being named MVP, winning their third World Series of his tenure with the team.
Shortly after the series, the Red Sox unofficially offered Ortiz a contract that would allow him to play for the team as long as he wanted to.
Ortiz played three more seasons for the Red Sox before retiring after the 2016 season.
Those three seasons were some of the best of his career. He collected more than 100 RBI each year and hit 35, 37, and 38 home runs, respectively.
He remained one of the league’s most feared hitters.
The Red Sox failed to make another World Series before he retired, but Ortiz’s impact on the team and the city of Boston cannot be overstated.
Time to Go
Before his final season in 2016, Ortiz posted a video in which he announced he was going to retire at the end of the season.
In the video, Ortiz says:
“Baseball isn’t just based on putting up numbers. This is our second family. Whoever is around you on a daily basis is your second family, and I always had good thoughts for everyone around me.”
Life After Baseball
In early 2022, Ortiz became the only player in his class elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot.
Welcome to baseball immortality, David Ortiz.
📷 Milo Stewart Jr. pic.twitter.com/SrwHCmSCkw
— National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum ⚾ (@baseballhall) July 24, 2022
After Edgar Martinez had overcome the prevailing negative view of designated hitters being elected, Ortiz’s election cemented the idea that designated hitters can contribute enough over the course of a career to be worthy to be a Hall of Fame player.
Upon his election, Ortiz said:
“I feel so thankful and grateful for being able to accomplish what I was able to accomplish and, thank God have the career I have.”
Ortiz finished his Hall of Fame career with 55 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), 541 home runs, a .286 batting average, and almost 2,500 hits.
In his retirement, Ortiz has primarily been involved in broadcasting baseball for FOX Sports as an analyst.
He first made an appearance for FOX in 2014 as a guest analyst during the World Series and continues to broadcast for FOX during the regular season, All-Star Game, and postseason. He often appears with other former players, including Alex Rodriguez as well as fellow Hall of Famers, Frank Thomas and Pedro Martinez.
In 2019, Ortiz was shot in his native Dominican Republic after being mistaken for somebody else in a murder attempt organized by members of a drug cartel.
He underwent multiple surgeries in the Dominican Republic and Boston, making a full recovery.
Those responsible have been arrested and investigated as of 2022.
David Ortiz’s impact on the city of Boston and the Red Sox rivals any player’s contribution to one city or team.
In just his second season in Boston, Ortiz helped lead the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years with clutch hits and a fearless demeanor.
One of the most feared sluggers in the American League, Ortiz formed an offensive duo with Manny Ramirez that was perhaps the best in the league. They led the Red Sox to another World Series title in 2007.
His impact on the city after the devastating 2013 Boston Marathon bombing inspired the team, leading them to another title in 2013.
That impact goes beyond just World Series titles. David Ortiz remains one of the best designated hitters in the history of the game, cementing his place in the Hall of Fame.