COOPERSTOWN, New York – At age 26 in 2002, David Ortiz had the best season to that point of a six-year major league career, all with the Twins.
Despite struggling with sore knees earlier in the year and not playing all the time against left-handed starters, the Dominican slugger finished with 20 home runs, 32 doubles, an .839 OPS and a 120 OPS+, numbers that suggested the best was yet to come. coming on a Minnesota team that had just qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 11 years.
However, the Twins did not know if Ortiz would stay healthy and they did not see well his average of .203 and only five of his home runs against lefties in that 2002. In addition, Minnesota—a franchise that was going to disappear, along with that of the Montreal Expos, if an MLB plan announced after the 2001 World Series prospered (in the end it didn’t, of course)—it wasn’t for the rich, and a salary of $3 million or more for Ortiz via arbitration for 2003 didn’t he was most attractive. And if that wasn’t enough, Doug Mientkiewicz was well established as a good defensive first baseman, albeit with a mediocre to decent bat.
Now, 20 years later, not even the Twins now believe there was any reason for Ortiz’s release at that time. But it was. Later, fellow Dominican Pedro Martinez recommended that the Red Sox sign Ortiz. And as the saying goes, the rest is history.
“I’m always going to be grateful to Minnesota for giving me the opportunity to make it to the big leagues,” Ortiz said of the matter last week on a call hosted by the Hall of Fame.
We already know what happened next. Ortiz became one of the best and most iconic players in the Red Sox’s rich history since 2003, helping Boston break the Curse of the Bambino in 2004 and win its first World Series in 86 years. In all, the Santo Domingo native hit 483 of his 541 Major League home runs with the Red Sox, with a host of individual accomplishments and three World Series titles, en route to Cooperstown.
It’s clear Ortiz didn’t agree all along with how the Twins under manager Tom Kelly and then Ron Gardenhire, under general manager Terry Ryan, handled their opportunities on the field and, ultimately, the decision to let him go. free.
“I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but I think I learned as much as they learned as management,” said Ortiz, who came to Minnesota as a minor leaguer in a trade with Seattle—his original organization—and made his debut in the Majors in 1997 with the Twins. “Then they did things differently with players of my caliber. I am talking about guys like (Miguel Ángel) Sanó and some others with whom I was in contact at one point and gave them advice.”
Interestingly, the Twins were just beginning a period of regular-season success in 2002. They won the American League Central Division in each of the next two seasons, losing both times to the Yankees. In 2006, 2009 and 2010, they returned to the postseason, only to be beaten in the first round, once by the A’s and twice more by the Bronx Bombers.
But those successes could never compare to what was done in Boston with Ortiz, who was part of three teams that won the World Series (2004, 2007 and 2013) and in total participated in seven postseasons with the Red Sox.
And against the Twins after their departure from Minneapolis/St. Paul? In 73 games against Minnesota, Ortiz hit .332/.408/.636 (1.046 OPS) with 21 homers, 23 doubles and 58 RBIs.
In the end, Ortiz prefers not to talk about the bitter side, but about the lessons learned in Minnesota that he benefited from.
“I learned that when you get a chance to play, you don’t take anything for granted,” Big Papi said. “You have to take advantage of that and understand that you can be there today, but tomorrow someone else can take your place.
“You have to do everything you can do. And that’s exactly what I did when I got to the Red Sox and got a chance to play.”
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Minnesota’s Eternal Regret: Letting Big Papi Go