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David Ortiz faces the reality that all great athletes must face

The numbers make it easy to argue that David Ortiz was the best clutch hitter in Red Sox history.
The numbers make it easy to argue that David Ortiz was the best clutch hitter in Red Sox history.John Tlumacki/Globe staff/File 2015

There comes a time in every athlete's life when his body, his soul, his head tell him it's over.

You can dangle a zillion dollars in his face, and nothing can change his mind. He looks forward to the last time he has to go through a grueling offseason workout just to endure another season.

He looks forward to the last time he has to make grueling road trips that have gotten worse with the strange scheduling you're seeing year in and year out around major league baseball.

The older a player gets, the tougher it is to be in shape. Everything starts to hurt a little bit more, and you reach the point of diminishing returns.

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So that's the place we think David Ortiz has reached, amid reports he will play the 2016 season and then call it a career.

He will put his body through the punishment of an offseason program just one more time. He will play with the feeling that his ankle and Achilles' tendon may be about to burst, just one more season.

For the past couple of years, Ortiz has played more than what the preseason plan was for him. He was supposed to take more time off. Enduring two consecutive last-place seasons hasn't been easy on him after winning three championships since he arrived in Boston in 2003 and shocked the world with the player he became.

He has checked off everything on his bucket list. He's been an All-Star. He's been arguably the best designated hitter in the 43-year history of the position. He's been a devastating postseason player, perhaps the most clutch in history. He's hit more than 500 home runs.

All that's left is determining whether he gets a plaque in Cooperstown, N.Y.

There has not been a more productive player in Red Sox history when the games counted most. Ted Williams made it to one World Series in 1946 and hit .200. Carl Yastrzemski got there in 1967 and 1975 and hit .352 with a .933 OPS. Wade Boggs hit .290 in the 1986 World Series.

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But none of them shined on the biggest stage like Ortiz, who hit .455 with a 1.372 OPS in three victorious World Series appearances.

So why would he announce this now? Why not wait until spring training or halfway through the season? And would he reserve the right to change his mind?

We'll know the answers when he tells us Wednesday, but if we had to venture a guess, it would stand to reason Ortiz made this momentous decision after much thought.

There was likely a lot of back and forth with his family, and once the tough decision is made, it's hard to keep that in. He wants it out because he wants to free himself of the burden of keeping it quiet.

Ortiz also may want to do it so it gives the Red Sox a chance to prepare for life after him.

All signs point to Hanley Ramirez being the guy to take over as DH. That is, if Ramirez is still with the team. We're sure Dave Dombrowski will do all in his power to find a new home for Ramirez, but if he can't, it's likely that Ramirez will be at first base for one year, then slip into the DH role, which is really the only position he should be playing.

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Maybe Ortiz is doing it now because Wednesday is his birthday. He'll be 40. That age seems to hit players hard. It's a time that seems appropriate to call it a career. Ortiz is approaching his 20th season in the major leagues.

Maybe he just wants to get it out of the way and enjoy the rest of his offseason, averting the questions he might have been subject to. A few times last season, Ortiz spoke about the end being near. So it's something he's certainly thought about for a while. When to do it is always the toughest part.

While Ortiz has always made a big deal about his contracts, he has earned close to $144 million, plus what he'll make next season. So it can't be about the money.

He can spend the season saying his goodbyes to the players around the league who truly admire him.

He has had run-ins with David Price and Chris Archer. Maybe he has admired too many of his home runs, and he's taken some heat from opposing players. But Ortiz draws a crowd from the opposition at the beginning of every series. Opposing players gravitate to him. They want his approval, his recognition, his advice, his blessing.

He's done more for Dominican players than probably anyone else.

When he leaves, one of the true impact players in the game — on the field and off it — will be gone. Someone who truly personified a baseball player who had fun playing baseball will be gone.

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Talk about a player who made his mark, who went from platoon player, released by the Minnesota Twins, to great player and potential Hall of Famer, there's no greater example than David Ortiz.

It always floored me how much criticism Ortiz has received over the years. His detractors still hold on to the report that he was on the list of 103 players who tested positive for some type of performance-enhancing drug. That test didn't count against the players, except that the percentage of positive tests triggered the start of the program and the penalties.

Also remember, he never tested positive again when it counted.

But it's not worth the time or effort trying to change the minds of people who are on that side or those who think he was half a player because he didn't play a position, and that somehow he's not worthy of being called great or Hall of Fame-worthy.

There are many more people who appreciated him and who easily shout those people down.

Father Time has come calling for Ortiz, who hung in there for as long as he could. After the 2016 season, it will be time to take a bow for an incredible career that will never be forgotten in these parts and likely never be duplicated when it comes to one word: clutch.


Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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