December 24, 2013

Commentary: Winning and whining go hand-in-hand for David Ortiz

By Steve Buckley
Boston Herald

Why is anybody surprised David Ortiz is whining about a new contract while the old one is still in force? He’s like an old vaudeville comic who keeps using the same act in city after city, year after year – “I just got back from a pleasure trip: I took my mother-in-law to the train station!” – the only difference being that his tour is limited to one city: Boston.

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David Ortiz has done so much for the Boston Red Sox, it’s hard to see him entering his yearly contract complaint. But it just may have a purpose.

The Associated Press

And instead of playing the Old Howard or the Orpheum, Big Papi’s act is limited to Fenway Park. And the customers love it.

And why shouldn’t they?

He’s helped lead the Red Sox to three World Series titles.

He’s one of the great clutch hitters in the game’s history.

His philanthropic work is off the charts.

And he spoke to us, and for us, on that sunny Saturday in April at Fenway Park, just days after the Boston Marathon bombings.

These are the parts of the act that never get old. His greatest one-liner – “This is our (expletive) city!” – will live forever. But it’s when Ortiz stages his annual contract campaign that the act gets old and tired. And maybe that’s the entire point: Ortiz eventually will get so old and so tired he won’t be able to play anymore, and that’s when the money will stop rolling in.

Oh, he’ll make a killing on TV if he chooses to go in that direction, and rest assured he’ll always have a gig with the Red Sox to be special assistant to the something or other. And he’ll be great at that, just as Pedro Martinez is.

But millions? To be a big league ballplayer? No. He is a man whose birth certificate is turning into a bear trap, and each year the teeth bite harder and deeper into his flesh. Sooner or later – OK, not later, just sooner – he’s going to be making his living by telling jokes on one of those goofy TV sets with all the bobblehead dolls. Or he’s going to be in spring training working with minor league hitters in the morning and golfing with big league advertisers in the afternoon.

Ortiz is a very, very smart man. He recognizes his maximum earning years are coming to an end, which is why he keeps asking for more, keeps whining, keeps dropping dimes to the baseball writers.

And I can’t shake this feeling it’s all about one thing, and pay attention because it’s important: When it’s all over, Ortiz wants to be able to get paid for one full year without playing.

No more of this going-into-a-season-with-a-one-year-deal nonsense. What if Ortiz enters the 2014 season with just the one year remaining on his deal and everything goes wrong? What if he tears a muscle or busts a bone or simply slows down to the degree that he can’t jack anymore?

If any of those things happened, by next offseason he would be a 40-year-old without a contract. At that point he’d have to quit or sign a deal that’s structured in such a way that he’d have to put up numbers to earn the dough.

One way for Ortiz to avoid that trap is to always have one year on his contract beyond the season he’s about to play. You know how those cool kids in the State Farm insurance commercial sing the little jingle and the pretty insurance lady magically appears? It would be like that for Ortiz: If he gets hurt he just sings a jingle – or hums “I’m shipping up to Boston” and Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington magically appears with a check for $15 million.

Hey, it’s not like it’s never happened before. Curt Schilling managed to get the Red Sox to give him a one-year deal following the 2007 season, then never pitched in another game; the result was a nice $8 million golden parachute while rehabbing an injury during the 2008 season. He made a few trips but oops, never was sufficiently healthy to get into a game.

But the checks kept showing up, even if Schilling didn’t. And don’t blame him: He asked and then-GM Theo Epstein delivered.

Those days are over. Part of the reason the Red Sox won a World Series in 2013 is management was smart. And while winning can sometimes make you drunk, it shouldn’t make you dumb.

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