By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

David Ortiz and baseball mortality

Tony Massarotti asks the question that’s on everyone’s mind: Is the end at hand for David Ortiz? I think it’s still too early to tell. It may be that he can’t catch up with a good fastball because his mechanics are screwed up; it’s not necessarily age and injuries.

But if he’s not hitting by Memorial Day, then it may be time to face the likelihood that he’s through. What a shame that would be. Still, I think the Sox could survive Ortiz’s departure. What they can’t survive is a prolonged slump by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester or both.

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19 Comments

  1. mike_b1

    Players with Ortiz’s body type tend to age fast. I see no reason why he would defy that curve.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Mike: I suspect you’re right. But I see no reason not to give him another month — maybe batting sixth instead of third.

  3. wellbasically

    If Varitek can be cured then Ortiz can.

  4. cavard

    >>> What they can't survive is a prolonged slump by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester or both. <<<Very true. I'd also throw in Dice-K. However, it's only May. There's lots of baseball to go. We can't predict what will happen months from now by how they play in April and May. I've fallen for that trap thousands of times when they Sox out-slug everyone at the beginning of the season and I end up thinking "this is the year." Well…. we all know where the Sox ended up. If the end is near for Ortiz, don't worry. Others will step up. That's always the case…. well, most of the time. Everyone's gotta stay on top of their game.

  5. Tony

    A few words: George “Boomer” Scott …

  6. Steve

    Don’t kid yourself, Dan, about how much a drag Ortiz’s slump means to the Red Sox this year. Other people are carrying the load right now, and when they hit their inevitable slumps it’ll be Papi’s turn to shoulder the team. If he’s not there to do it, it turns wins into losses.BTW, Beckett’s in a bit of a funk now, in case you hadn’t noticed.I’m just hoping Papi will be fine eventually. But no one outside the Red Sox clubhouse really knows for sure what the deal is there.

  7. O'Rion

    Papi’s halcyon days arrived during an “era” that’s supposedly over? I think there’s cause/effect here. Whatever the reason, you can’t have your #3 hitter as the only HR-less member of your lineup. As much as I hope for better times, Ortiz looks 33 going on 40.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Steve: Unfortunately, I went into the season expecting Ortiz to deliver exactly what he’s given us so far. So I had already made that mental adjustment.And, yeah, I had noticed that Beckett’s in a slump. That’s why I wrote it.

  9. O-FISH-L

    How does Tony Massarotti submit that piece without any reference to Manny Ramirez, and how Manny’s departure makes things exponentially harder for Ortiz, both at the plate and elsewhere? I haven’t been overly eager to jump on the Globe’s conflict of interest in covering the Sox, but after management ran Manny out of town with the help of the media, omitting him from the story makes me wonder. I also question, but can understand a little better, why Mazz failed to mention that Ortiz’ huge drop off coincides with enhanced testing for steroids. Mazz needs to be able to navigate the locker room without fearing for his life, but at some point, someone (other than commenters on boston.com) must mention it.Perhaps the Sox can retire Johnny Pesky’s number a few more times, or John Henry can release a few more sappy emails to distract people.

  10. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: Maybe Massarotti should have at least mentioned Manny, but here’s what he could have written:Ortiz’s fears that Ramírez’s departure would mean he’d never see another hittable pitch were vastly overblown. Kevin Youkilis, the new clean-up hitter, provided more production than Manny for the rest of the season, and has been otherworldly this year.

  11. mike_b1

    Ortiz’s dropoff coincides neatly with those of other large-body type players who hit their early 30s.Moreover, his dropoff last year can be tied to his injuries (again, those go hand in hand with his body type). To raise the question of steroids is a red herring: there is no evidence that proves any correlations between steroid use and (improved) baseball performance.

  12. Dan Kennedy

    Not to mention that steroid testing was already well established by the time Ortiz had his best years.

  13. O-FISH-L

    Dan, while the steroid policy has improved there’s still no reliable test for human growth hormone. Urine tests are ineffective and the player’s union won’t allow blood tests. According to published reports, Ortiz himself isn’t sure if he took PED’s in the past, pointing to a suspect “protein shake” he drank as a youth.On the Manny trade, Bill Madden of the Daily News (among others) got it right late last season when the impact of the trade on Ortiz became obvious. “…Ramirez and Ortiz seldom slumped at the same time, and were capable of carrying the Sox on their own. Kevin Youkilis, who has replaced Manny as the Red Sox cleanup man, is a dangerous, clutch hitter. But he’s no Manny and isn’t one to give the Sox a swagger.” — Madden—mikeb_1, you might want to read the Mitchell report. “The illegal use of performance-enhancing substances poses a serious threat to the integrity of the game,” the report said. “Widespread use by players of such substances unfairly disadvantages the honest athletes who refuse to use them and raises questions about the validity of baseball records.”

  14. Dan Kennedy

    Fish: No, Youkilis is no Manny … instead, he’s much better than Manny was during his last year and a half with the Sox, when he was mailing it in.I don’t rule out the possibility that Ortiz had psyched himself into believing he needed Manny. But the numbers say he didn’t.

  15. mike_b1

    I did read the Mitchell Report. What that statement left out is that there is no science behind the idea that steroids (or PEDs, to be more broad) enhance baseball performance.What’s more, it’s simply not provable. There is no consistency in from player to player terms of regimen, nutrition and other factors, not to mention that we don’t know for certain who used what when and for how long. When we review the history of known PED users, far more have been fringe players than stars. So did steroid use help, or hurt? And how many players were actually brought down prematurely by steroids’ known liabilities? I would argue the use of greenies has had a much greater effect on the baseball record books as amphetamine use has been more widespread and more steeped in baseball tradition (Jim Brosnan refers to it in his seminal book, “The Long Season,” a diary of the 1959 season). Certainly, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and other great sluggers used greenies. To suggest the baseball record book is somehow tainted by PED (read: steroid/HGH) use, while ignoring what the previous generations admittedly engaged in, is disingenuous.

  16. mike_b1

    Btw, Bill Madden got it wrong.This from FragileFreddy.blogspot.com:Ortiz with Manny, April 2006 – July 31, 2008:OBP: .398SLG: .586BB Rate: once every 6.6 PAHR Rate: once every 13.5 ABOrtiz without Manny, September 2006 – April 15, 2009:OBP: .430SLG: .593BB Rate: once every 5.1 PAHR Rate: once every 15.2 ABSince the start of 2006 David Ortiz has been a better hitter without Manny Ramirez batting behind him than with Manny Ramirez batting behind him.And for good measure, here’s Youk’s numbers from Aug. 1, 2008 through April 15, 2009:.349/.420/.651 (Avg./OBP/Slg.)Note: that 1.071 OPS is better than the best performance that Manny posted during his tenure with Ortiz (1.058 in 2006).And this, also from FragileFreddy.blogspot.com:There are so many ways to identify the slower bat of David Ortiz. One that jumps at me is his infield pop up percentage. When he was with the Twins 13% of his fly balls were infield pop ups. That dropped immediately in 2003 when he joined the Sox and from 2003-2007 only 8% of his fly balls were infield flies. The last two years have seen 17% (2008) and 20% (2009) of his fly balls land in the hands of an infielder.This is a sure sign of a slow bat. Think of the Ted Williams taught swing, the slight uppercut. If you are a little slow the top half of the bat will connect with the ball sending it straight up. Let’s revisit this trend for David: 1998-2002 – 13%2003-2007 – 8%2008-2009 – 18%Never trust a sportswriter. They base their reporting on emotions, not facts.

  17. O'Rion

    Jose Canseco suggests that eight in ten in the majors had used PED’s.Let’s reduce that to 5/10. That’s still a lot of drug use for would-be multi-millionaires to be risking careers on something that didn’t “enhance” their abilities. By the way the a few days ago 2008 Olympic 1500 champ was found to have used CERA and if his “B” sample is also a positive, he returns his Gold giving up the title in addition to being banned from further competition. It took eight months but the OG’s people are serious about testing. MLB is not. I think Arod’s last 12 years or so, is proof of that.

  18. mike_b1

    O’Rion: Who said baseball players are smart and logical? Have you not seen the tabloid photos of A-Rod out on the town with Madonna and other girlfriends, all while being married? He should have known better, right? He’s just not that smart. And ARod’s just one example.And no scientist worth their salt would compare (possibly enhanced) performance in one sport to that of another. Besides, track/field has no controlled study of PED use, either.

  19. George

    When Ortiz arrived at spring training this year, he made a couple proclamations. First, he said that anyone who tests positive for PEDs this year should be banned from baseball for a year. Later in the interview with the typically fawning baseball “journalists,” he stated that anyone who used before there were penalties for the illegal use of PEDs should be given a free pass. The obvious followup for any intrepid, or even competent, journalist should have been: “So Davey, before MLB began penalizing players for illegally using PEDs, did you use PEDs?” Shockingly, it appears no one bothered to ask.

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