By Rob Ficiur
Boston Red Sox 40-year-old slugger David Ortiz has announced that 2016 will be his last major league season. As I watched him play this weekend I realized in many ways David Ortiz might be as close as we have to a modern day Babe Ruth. The following compare the careers of two of baseball’s top sluggers.
1. Both retired at age 40. At age 39 both super stars were (are) productive; Ruth batted .288 with 22 home runs and 84 runs batted in. At that same age Ortiz batted .273 with 37 home runs and 108 runs batted in.
2. Second home brought them fame – David Ortiz played his first five years with the Minnesota Twins. Recurring knee injuries made the Twins reluctant to sign him and unable to trade him. At age 26 Ortiz became a free agent. The Red Sox got a great player out from that take a chance signing.
Babe Ruth played five seasons with the Boston Red Sox, from ages 19-24. Babe was one of the best pitchers of this day. At the end of the 1919 season the Red Sox owner sold Ruth’s contract to the New York Yankees for cash.
Giving away Babe Ruth began the curse of the Bambino. The curse of the Bambino was a mythological curse for selling their best player. The Red Sox, who had won the World Series three times with Ruth on the team, would not win again for 86 years. That 2004 Red Sox team that broke the curse of the Bambino was led by another slugging left hander, David Ortiz.
3. Playoff Success – Comparing playoff numbers from the Ruth’s era to our modern time is difficult. In Babe’s time there was only one playoff round, the World Series. In Ortiz’s day, his team had to win three playoff rounds to win a world series.
Babe Ruth played 41 playoff games, hitting 15 home runs while batting .326. David Ortiz has played in 82 playoff games with 17 home runs, and a .295 batting average. Babe Ruth hit nearly as many home runs in exactly half the number of games.
4. Legendary Games – Babe Ruth’s most legendary game was in the 1932 World Series. By the time Babe came up to bat in the fifth inning of Game #3, the Chicago Cubs fans were already ridiculing Babe for a missed catch in the outfield. After Babe ignored the first pitch strike he put up one finger. After two balls, Babe did not swing at strike two. Babe put up two fingers. Then legend has it that Babe pointed to center field. Babe had called his shot, because he hit the next pitch to the exact spot he had pointed. Eventually Babe admitted he was just pointing that he had one more strike to go. He said no one can hit a ball to an exact spot. However, legend is more powerful than truth. Eight years later fans remember this play as the one where Babe called his shot.
David Ortiz’ hit a home run that was immortalized the year it happened. In 2004, 86 years after the Red Sox had won their last World Series, it looked like another bad year. The New York Yankees were leading the Boston Red Sox three games to zero in the American League Championship series. No team in baseball history has ever won a series after being down 3-0. In the 12th inning Ortiz hit a game winning walk off home run. The Red Sox went on to win the next three games and eliminate the Yankees. In the World Series they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in four games. The eight-game winning streak was the longest in baseball’s post season history.
5. Babe was an elite pitcher; Ortiz a designated hitter. During his Boston pitching days he had 94 wins and 46 losses. In the 1918 World Series he set a record when he pitched 29 2/3 scoreless innings. That record would last 42 years.
David Ortiz played most of his career as a designated hitter. On the field he was not as elite as with his bat.
6. World Series Record – In 1928 Babe Ruth set a World Series record by batting .625 (ten hits in sixteen official at bats). This record stood until 2014 when David Ortiz surpassed it. Big Papi hit .688 (eleven hits in sixteen official at bats) to claim his third World Series Win for the Boston Red Sox. Both Ruth and Ortiz have led Boston to three World Series titles.
7. Career Numbers – Babe Ruth still leads Ortiz in most career numbers. In home runs Ruth has 714 (third all time) Ortiz has 519 (22nd overall); Ruth’s 2214 runs batted in place him second overall all time; Ortiz has 1692 runs batted in (27 all time).
8. Money – Babe Ruth was paid more than any athlete in history. His life time earnings come out to about $880,000. In 2016 dollars this would be about $13 million dollars. David Ortiz is going to make $16 million this season alone. Ortiz’s life time earnings of $143 million dollars reminds us that we live in a different era than Babe Ruth’s time.
In almost every statistical category Babe Ruth betters David Ortiz. However, David Ortiz is still more like Babe Ruth than any player of our era. Baseball fans can’t watch Babe Ruth play, but we have one more season we can enjoy Big Papi’s star power (and wonder if this is what it was like to watch Babe Ruth in his prime).