FORT MYERS, Fla. - I was standing outside the Red Sox clubhouse yesterday morning, minding my own business, not looking for any trouble, when David Ortiz came out and started yelling at me.
OK, maybe “yell’’ is too strong. But it was unhappy talk and it caught me by surprise.
“Dan, you think I’m going to break down like Jim Rice did when he was 36? You’re wrong. It’s not the 1980s. It’s 2012.’’
“Whoa, big fella,’’ I offered. “I don’t remember writing that.’’
“Yeah, you said it on Boston.com,’’ said Ortiz, before disappearing into the clubhouse.
Hmmm. When you get yelled at so many times, by so many people, you become somewhat impervious to the shock of it. Larry Lucchino, Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, Tom Werner, John Henry (the only man who can yell and whisper at the same time), Curt Schilling, and Jonathan Kraft are card-carrying members of a “I’ve yelled at Shaughnessy’’ club that dates to the days of John McNamara, Bill Fitch, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Steve “Doorknobs’’ Crawford, and yes, Jim Ed Rice, who was, in fact, effectively done at the age of 36 in the summer of 1989. It’s a big club.
But I don’t complain. It’s part of the job. It’s the life we choose. You dish it out, be ready to take it. It’s only fair for those who’ve been ripped to rip back once in a while.
That’s what was so perplexing about Ortiz’s mini-outburst. I’ve written some rough stuff about Big Papi, but can’t remember saying anything about him breaking down, a la Rice, circa 1989. Red Sox publicists said Ortiz had been complaining about some video he’d seen, perhaps Globe 10.0, but he was unable to find it on the Web yesterday morning.
While I was racking my brain to remember if I’d said anything like this, Ortiz came out of the clubhouse, holding his bat. I tried to explain that this might be one of those rare instances in which I was an innocent bystander.
Papi wasn’t having it.
“It was you and your blond friend, on Boston.com,’’ he said.
“You should know better. You’ve been watching me for 10 years. Come to the cage and watch me swing right now,’’ he added, pointing to his bat.
No. While Ortiz went to the cage, I called my boss to explain the situation.
“Wow, it’s great that Big Papi is watching Globe 10.0,’’ said the boss. “Now what was it you were saying?’’
I explained that perhaps Ortiz had the wrong guy. And we have no blond people on Globe 10.0, although I’ve heard Heidi Watney might be auditioning.
The boss pledged to get to the bottom of it and minutes later sent me a Globe 10.0 video from Feb. 13, the day Ortiz and the Sox avoided arbitration and agreed on a one-year, $14.575 million contract. In the video, the Globe’s Bob Ryan and Kevin Paul Dupont debate the worth of Ortiz. It’s highly complimentary, until the end when Dupont says, “We watched Jim Rice. Jim Rice was 36 when it all fell apart in the summer of ’89 and he was all done in the summer of ’89. That’s right where Papi is.’’
Ah-ha! I was taking grief for something said by a hockey writer (also a card-carrying BBWAA member who covered the Sox full time in Rice’s day), a guy who is not blond, a guy with a goatee, wearing a tie and a fleece vest, for goodness sake. I went to Ortiz and explained the mistaken identity.
Papi: “I saw somebody and it looked like you.’’
Me: “He’s actually a much better-looking guy than me.’’
Papi: “It’s OK. Don’t worry about it.’’
Me: “But do you actually care what’s said or written about you?’’
Papi: “I do, sometimes.’’
Me: “You could have given me grief a million times through the years and you never do.’’
Papi: “You’re right.’’
Me: “Why would anything bother you at this point?’’
Papi: “We always have a lot of [expletive] going on around here, but I’ve never seen somebody expecting me to do bad. Straight up. You know what I’m saying? Are we trying to get better here or get worse? I’m a big part of this ball club right here. Now I’ve got somebody waiting for me to break down just because I’m 36. I was 35 last year, so we are talking about a year later. What’s going on here?’’
Me: “Well, if it makes you feel any better, he’s our hockey writer.
Papi: “Well, [expletive] him. I am still here for a reason, right? Anybody can have a bad season. I work my ass off to get better every year. I always come hungry and I try to make things happen. Nobody but God is going to get me out of the game. That’s what I’m trying to let people know. When God tells me, ‘I gave you everything, now I can’t give you no more,’ I’m going to believe in Him, trust me. Because I believe in God more than anything else. When I hear people expecting you to do bad, that’s not right, that’s not fair. That’s OK. I’m done with that. I don’t really care anymore.’’
With our conversation winding down, the ever-congenial Darnell McDonald came over and gave Ortiz a hug.
“Why are you in a bad mood,’’ McDonald asked playfully, still embracing Papi.
“I like to get in a bad mood,’’ said Ortiz. “I like challenge. My whole life has been a challenge.’’
“We need haters!’’ said McDonald. “We need haters!’’
I shuffled out of their way. It seemed like time to excuse myself.