Put aside for a minute all his most recognizable achievements: the legendary clutch hitting, the age-defying improvement curve, the singular distinction as the common denominator of this century’s Red Sox World Series-winning rosters. Then consider this: David Ortiz may well be the only face-of-the-franchise great in Red Sox history to exit Fenway without a scowl on his face or bitterness in the air.
For so many of the Sox’ brightest lights — starting with the Babe and continuing on through Clemens, Boggs, Nomar, and Pedro — mounting discontent preceded a recrimination-inducing departure. Even those faces of the franchise who managed to close out their careers in a Sox uniform did so with some glumness, from the Kid refusing to tip his hat out of pettiness to Yaz remaining unable to overcome his painful shyness.
And then we have Papi, who tipped his hat before his final regular-season game, flashing the same giant grin at 40 he had worn when he first stepped onto Fenway soil. What’s more, it always seemed genuine.
Same for his involvement in the community. While many athletes are invisible out of uniform or seem to endure their community-service commitments with gritted teeth and box-checking obligation, Ortiz always embraced them. He became such a trusted Bostonian that by the time of the Marathon bombing, it felt entirely appropriate to let him speak for the rest of us in calling out the cowardice behind the attack and proclaiming our resolve to emerge from it only stronger. As voluble as he could be, he also had the good sense to know that a defining moment of crisis — rather than a partisan election — was the right time for an athlete to sound off on matters unrelated to sports.
Ortiz delivered during every one of his 14 seasons with the Sox. Sure, he sometimes grumbled about his contract, but he never seemed to stop loving his job. In an age of soulless corporate downsizing and looking-out-for-number-one careerism, it has become exceedingly rare in any workplace — be it a grocery store or an insurance giant — for a company man anywhere to retire with both the company and the man still feeling great about each other. Ortiz earned his gold watch just for keeping the joy of the game alive throughout his career. And then a few more watches for all those clutch homers.