David Ortiz loves baseball. But he has grown to dislike the way the game is being played now.
“To me it’s messed up,” Big Papi said during a lengthy conversation from his home in Miami. “The game has changed a lot. Coaches only want kids to hit home runs and that’s all they practice because they want to get paid.
“We used to want to develop great hitters. Now it’s all strikeouts with some home runs and it’s straight-up [expletive] boring. If you could bet in Vegas that the next hitter was going to strike out, you’d take it every time.”
That’s not what you’d expect to hear from a player who hit 541 career home runs. But Ortiz also was a career .286 hitter who took pride in his plate approach and not being an easy out.
After striking out 145 times in 145 games in 2010, Ortiz worked diligently on his swing to make more consistent contact, especially going to the opposite field. He struck out only 83 times in 146 games the following season.
In 2019, the last full season, 161 hitters struck out at least 100 times. That’s nearly a 14 percent increase from Ortiz’s final season of 2016.
“I struck out 100 times a few times in my career and I was [upset],” Ortiz said. “Now everybody does it. I see kids now taking BP and all they work on is running into a home run. Everybody is swinging out of their ass.
“It’s not good for the game. If there’s a runner on first, you want to use that hole and hit the ball to right field. Then the runner has the opportunity to go to third and can score on an out or even a wild pitch. That’s how I was taught to play.
“We used to be criticized for taking big swings in certain situations. Now that’s all they want every time. It’s hard to watch for me.”
Major League Baseball is taking steps to address the issue, hiring Theo Epstein as a consultant to improve the on-field product. It also is changing the composition of the ball for the coming season, deadening it with the idea of putting more balls in play.
Ortiz believes it comes down how young players are taught the game.
“Manny [Ramirez] and I used to talk all the time about letting the pitcher provide the power,” he said. “Take a level swing and make good contact and you’ll get results.
“I’m not saying you have to play small ball. But if somebody is in scoring position, you should adjust and not just try to run into one. Hitters give themselves up too easily. The game is more fun when there are people on the bases.”
Here’s Ortiz on some other topics:
▪ On former teammate Dustin Pedroia deciding to retire following years of dealing with a painful knee injury: “The game will miss him a lot and the Red Sox will miss him more. He was the best gamer I ever played with. He was so intense, so locked in. He always had that chip on his shoulder.
“I hated to see what he went through. He deserved a chance to play again, even just one more game at Fenway.”
The news also left Ortiz feeling grateful for how his career ended in 2016. He played in 151 games that season, hitting .315 with a MLB-high 48 doubles, 38 home runs, and 127 RBIs.
Ortiz’s final plate appearance came in a Division Series game at Fenway Park in front of a sellout crowd. He drew a walk, was replaced by a pinch runner, and left to a thunderous ovation.
“I was ready to go home. My body had enough,” Ortiz said. “I wish I could have played a few more years, but it was my time. I was prepared for it. Pee Wee [Pedroia] didn’t get that chance.
“Usually in baseball you don’t get to decide when you want to stop playing, somebody else does. I was lucky. I’m 45 now and I don’t have regrets.”
▪ On his special assistant role with the Red Sox: “I want to do more but with the pandemic, everything is kind of on hold. But you can’t keep an old man like me away. I’ll always be with the Red Sox. I want to be involved.”
▪ On Mookie Betts winning the World Series with the Dodgers: “I have nothing but good things to say about that kid, man. I was cheering for him the whole way and wanting him to do well.
“He plays the game the right way. I wish he was still with us, but things happen. He deserves everything he has. I was so happy for him.”
▪ On working for Fox Sports: “I’m a free agent; we’re in negotiations. I want to stay in TV. I love doing it and we have fun doing those shows. You see me, you can tell. They want me to do more than just the playoffs. We’ll see what happens.”
▪ On the 2021 Red Sox: “I think they’ll be better all the way around. Alex [Cora] being back will help a lot. He’s a good communicator and the players love playing for him. It’s a different story when he’s around.
“I was happy they got [Adam] Ottavino from the Yankees. I couldn’t believe the Yankees did that. He can be nasty. We’ll see how the young talent comes around. But they have more talent now.”
▪ On Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo: “He’s a hitter. He goes to all fields and you can see he knows what he’s doing. He’s probably a leadoff hitter right now, but I can see him hitting second or third at some point. I like how he approaches situations at the plate. He has a plan.”
▪ On being on the Hall of Fame ballot next year: “I’m getting old, that’s how I feel. Those five years went by fast. But it’s exciting to have my name mentioned with all those incredible players from the game.
“What I think about is when I was getting started in the big leagues and I didn’t get much of an opportunity from the team I was with at the time [the Twins]. I had to wait for an opportunity in Boston, too. I made my own way in the game. Nothing was given to me.”
Does he think he’ll be elected on the first ballot? “I’ve got the numbers. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I’ll sit back and wait to see what happens. But that would be a great honor if that happened.”
▪ On how he is feeling after being shot in 2019 while visiting the Dominican Republic: “I’ve recovered. I have one more surgery at the end of this month to fix a hernia, but other than that I’m fine.”
▪ On retirement life: “It’s good. I’m home a lot like everybody else now. My daughter Alex is in college in Boston [at Berklee] doing her thing with music and [son] D’Angelo is playing baseball. We’re good.”
D’Angelo Ortiz is a junior infielder at Westminster Christian in the Miami area after transferring from IMG Academy across the state in Bradenton.
“He works hard at it. Teenagers can find a lot to do in Miami, but he’s always working out and wants me to work with him,” Ortiz said. “When I was his age, my dad was always working. I’m lucky I get to be with my kids. He gets good grades and I hope he gets an opportunity to continue with baseball.
“But, like I tell him, nobody will hand it to you. You have to work no matter who your father is. I’m proud of him. He’s making sacrifices to play, and I love to watch him.”
Prime free agents still looking for jobs
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training this coming week and, as of Friday, Jackie Bradley Jr., Jake Odorizzi, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker remain free agents.
Two other former Red Sox players — Kevin Pillar and Rick Porcello — also are looking for jobs.
Whatever interest the Red Sox have in retaining Bradley is largely polite, according to league sources. The Astros and Giants are possibilities.
The uncertainty about whether the National League will have a designated hitter has clouded his market to some degree. Bradley’s agent, Scott Boras, is willing to wait to get the deal his client is seeking.
Justin Turner remained a priority for the Dodgers even after the expensive addition of Trevor Bauer and the sides arrived at a two-year deal Saturday. Turner broke the news himself on Twitter.
The Mets are looking to add a reliable starter and have choices. The Orioles also could pick up a veteran starter on the cheap. They already have Felix Hernandez coming to camp on a minor league deal.
Chavis could be odd man out
With versatile defenders Christian Arroyo, Marwin Gonzalez, and Kiké Hernandez now on the roster, the Sox are set up to use a three-man bench and keep 14 pitchers.
If Hernandez is the regular second baseman with some games in the outfield, Arroyo and Gonzalez give the Sox coverage at every infield position, left field and right field. The third bench player would be backup catcher Kevin Plawecki.
There’s ample opportunity to platoon, as well.
With Arroyo out of minor league options, that could leave Michael Chavis in Triple A to start the season as the Sox will likely want to keep as many players under team control as possible leaving Florida.
Chavis, 25, hit well in his first month in the big leagues then plunged off a statistical cliff. He has a .641 OPS since the 2019 All-Star break with only eight home runs in 223 at-bats while striking out 78 times.
Chavis played 12 games in left field last season and didn’t look comfortable. He’ll have a lot to prove this season. Being a former first-round pick won’t help him. Just ask Andrew Benintendi.
A few other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ MLB’s pandemic protocols for spring training will keep Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Pedro Martinez, Dwight Evans, and Luis Tiant away from Fort Myers this season.
It’s a necessary precaution, but spring training won’t be the same without seeing Captain Carl spending time around the batting cages with the minor leaguers.
▪ The Sox dialed back the start times of night home games to 7:10 after making the universally unpopular decision to start at 7:30 last year.
Bauer already feeling the heat
Trevor Bauer’s first news conference with the Dodgers was contentious at times as he dodged questions about his behavior on social media, which has included harassment of women and questioning if President Obama was an American.
“Now is not the forum to go into specifics,” Bauer said.
If not at a news conference, then when is the time? Bauer did use the occasion to complain about fans who approached him for autographs while he was at a hotel.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said he trusted the team’s vetting process and that he had multiple conversations with Bauer and team president Stan Kasten about whether the righthander was a good fit.
“Obviously, time will tell,” Friedman said.
Bauer then said he planned to have a conversation with Friedman and manager Dave Roberts about his desire to start every four days, saying that would help the team.
“It’s not a selfish thing,” Bauer insisted.
But a newcomer taking starts away from Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, and other members of an already dominant rotation isn’t apt to go over well.
It often can be positive for a championship team to change its chemistry a little to avoid becoming stale. But when Bauer speaks of the Dodgers being a conduit for building his personal brand, you wonder how that could detract from the team-first culture Roberts has carefully fostered.
Beyond giving a pitcher with a career adjusted ERA of 113 a three-year contract worth $102 million, the Dodgers are taking a risk with Bauer’s personality, too.
Andrew Benintendi smiled and laughed throughout the remote news conference he conducted with the Kansas City media following his trade from the Red Sox. Gone was the pained expression he often wore over the last few years with the Sox. Benintendi is close friends with Red Sox minor leaguer Tate Matheny, the son of Royals manager Mike Matheny. Earlier in his career, Benintendi spent a few offseasons working out in St. Louis with Tate, and Mike threw them batting practice on occasion. “This is obviously a talented player and really liked the person, as well,” Mike Matheny said. “They were both quick on the phone [after the trade]. Tate called me, couldn’t believe it, and was so excited for Andrew.” . . . The Mets hired former Red Sox assistant general manager Zack Scott on Dec. 23 and he was promoted to acting general manager on Jan. 27. Scott said Friday he has still yet to meet owner Steve Cohen and team president Sandy Alderson in person because of the pandemic . . . For the third time in his career, Jed Lowrie is back with the Athletics. The infielder, who turns 37 in April, agreed to a minor league contract. Lowrie left Oakland after the 2018 season to sign a two-year, $20 million deal with the Mets and played in only nine games because of a series of injuries . . . Mike Winters, an umpire for 32 seasons, decided to retire at age 62. Winters worked the 2018 Division Series between the Red Sox and Yankees . . . Best wishes to Mike Lynch, who is making a comeback from hip replacement surgery. Mike’s father, the late Dick Lynch, was the baseball coach at Swampscott High who helped develop Billy Conigliaro into the fifth overall pick of the 1965 draft. Mike was the bat boy in those days. “Billy was the center fielder and a great pitcher,” Lynch said. “He could have pitched professionally.” Conigliaro, who died Wednesday, was open to the idea of pitching but stayed in the outfield . . . Happy birthday to Takashi Saito, who is 51. The righthander appeared in 56 games for the Red Sox in 2009. Nick Pivetta, who will get a shot at the rotation this season, is 28. Fittingly enough, Feb. 14 also marks the birthday of Candy LaChance, who played for the Boston Americans from 1902-05. The infielder from Connecticut helped Boston win the 1903 World Series. The Americans also won the pennant in 1904, but the New York Giants refused to play in the World Series.