10 years ago today, the Red Sox made one of their best moves to help their roster. On Jan. 22, 2003, they signed a player recently released by his old team – David Ortiz.
Yeah, that worked out well for them.
Ortiz had been a Twin. He made his big league debut as a young 21-year-old in 1997, but had never quite broken through. In 2000, he showed flashes of promise, hitting .282 with 36 doubles, 10 home runs, and 57 walks in just 130 games.
He hadn’t really regressed since then, but he hadn’t progressed as much as the team wanted. In 2002, Ortiz belted 20 homers in 125 games, but his OBP was a middling .339 as a designated hitter, the Twins figured they could do better. They cut him on Dec. 16, 2002 and after 37 days on the market—37 days in which any team that wanted him could’ve claimed him—the Red Sox gobbled him up.
He immediately began prospering. After his previous high of 20 homers, Ortiz knocked out 31 in 2003, while raising his average to .288 and improving his walk rate from roughly one every three games to one every two games. Oh, and he enjoyed the first of several 100 RBI campaigns.
In 2004, Ortiz became a star. He belted 41 homers, drove in 139 runs, and batted .301. In the postseason his clutch hits helped propel Boston’s historical come back from a three-games-to-none deficit over the Yankees in the ALCS and then the team’s first World Series championship in 86 years right after that.
His next two years would be even better, as he led the league in RBIs both times while hitting 101 homers. Yeah, that signing 10 years ago today worked out well.
Obviously, there is an elephant in the room when discussing Ortiz’s big improvement: PEDs. Ortiz has been linked to them.
While not wanting to dismiss that, I’d like to point out there’s more going on than just that. ‘roids by themselves don’t turn an unemployed ballplayer into an MVP candidate. There’s another factor explaining both why the Twins cut him and why he’s taken off since then—institutional philosophy.
Eons ago I read an interview with David Ortiz in which he said part of his problem was that the Twins kept trying to change his swing. They’d had lots of success with players like Brian Harper in the 1990s promoting a contact hitting approach. Don’t swing away, try to make contact, and put the ball in play. That was the Minnesota offensive way. While it worked with some, with Ortiz it was forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Look at Ortiz’s numbers for a few minutes and how they changed over time. Perhaps the most striking difference in Minnesota and Boston isn’t the homers and RBIs—even in Minnesota he had some power. It’s walks and strikeouts. He didn’t draw many walks with the Twins and the longer he was there the worse he was. But at least he didn’t strike out much.
Meanwhile, Boston accepted the strikeouts as something that happens with big swings, and encouraged Ortiz to develop his plate discipline. His strikeouts skyrocketed in Boston while he led the AL in walks in back-to-back seasons. Ortiz doesn’t currently walk as much as he used to, but his overall plate approach is different from Minnesota—and much more appropriate for him.
Or, to put it another way, if organizational philosophy wasn’t an issue, how do you explain Minnesota’s decision to cut Ortiz? He had his weaknesses there, but he was still a good player. In 2002, he posted an OPS+ of 120, well over league average. He just wasn’t their kind of player.
But Ortiz was Boston’s kind of playerand a decade ago today he became their player, period.
Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something occurring X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
1,000 days since Magglio Ordonez has a big day, getting his 2,000th career hit and 300th home run.
1,000 days since John Buck of the Blue Jays belts three homers in one game—all off of different pitchers.
6,000 days since Kevin Brown wins his 100th decision, giving him a career record of 100-83.
6,000 days since Paul Molitor sets a personal best with four extra base hits in one game—two doubles and two homers. He also has a sacrifice hit.
7,000 days since the Orioles sign free agent pitcher Sid Fernandez.
7,000 days since the Mets sign free agent reliever Mike Remlinger.
10,000 days since Carlton Fisk ties his personal best with seven RBIs in one game.
10,000 days since Burt Hooton appears in his final game.
10,000 days since one of the best pitcher’s duels of the 1980s. The Mets top the Dodgers 2-0 in 13 innings. Fernando Valenzuela went 11 scoreless innings while Dwight Gooden had nine. Both have game scores of 87.
20,000 days since the Red Sox lose 4-1 to the Yankees despite getting 16 men on base. They strand 13 and lose two in GIDPs. A solo homer by Ted Williams is their only run.
20,000 days since Roy Smalley appears in his last game.
30,000 days since the birth of Harvey Kuenn.
1857 The first formal baseball convention is held. 25 teams are present for it in New York City, as the game is becoming organized.
1877 Tom Jones is born. He’ll lead the AL with 40 sacrifice hits in 1906.
1889 Amos Strunk is born. Nicknamed “Lighting” he’ll play for 17 seasons as an AL outfielder.
1889 The Indianapolis Hoosiers NL franchise goes bankrupt.
1901 Connie Mack signs a 10-year lease with the grounds at 29th/Columbia in Philadelphia for his A’s to play. The place will be called Columbia Park and will hold 7,500.
1910 Sam Wise, the first batter ever to fan 100 times in a season, dies at age 52. He fanned 104 times in 1884. No one else made triple-digits in Ks until 1904.
1913 The Giants agree to let the Yankees play as tenants in the Polo Grounds.
1918 The Yankees trade star hurler Urban Shocker and four others along with $15,000 to the Browns for infielder Del Pratt, and what’s left of former star pitcher Gettysburg Eddie Plank. The Browns get the better part of this deal by far.
1929 The Yankees announce that they’ll put uniform numbers on the backs of their players’ uniforms.
1946 The Phillies purchase pitcher Jim Tabor from the Red Sox.
1949 Mike Caldwell is born. He’ll go 137-130 in 14 years as a big league pitcher. His 22 wins in 1978 are still the most by a Brewers pitcher in a single season.
1953 The US government warns foreign-born players that under the McCarren-Walter Act they risk deportation if they jump pro contracts.
1955 Bob Wicker, 20-game winner with 1903 Cubs, dies at age 76.
1959 Ken Williams dies at age 68. For a brief while, he was a fantastic player, most notably a big 1922 season where he led the AL with 39 homers and 155 RBIs while hitting .332. Williams nearly delivered a pennant to the Browns that year, but it was not to be.
1969 Houston trades Rusty Staub to Montreal for Jesus Alou and Donn Clendenon, who refuses to report. Thus Montreal sends Jack Billingham to Houston instead. This trade works out well for the Expos, as Staub becomes the most popular player in franchise history. Not only does he hit like an All-Star, but he embraces Montreal, learning French and becoming a big hockey fan.
1978 Chone Figgins is born.
1982 The Angels sign free agent Reggie Jackson.
1989 Negro Leagues shortstop Willie Wells dies at age 80.
1992 The Angels sign free agent pitcher Bert Blyleven, who didn’t pitch in 1991.
1996 The A’s trade Danny Tartabull to the White Sox.
1997 Don Mattingly officially announces his retirement.
1998 The A’s sign free agent outfielder Rickey Henderson for another go-around with the team.
2001 Former Miracle Met outfielder Tommie Agee dies at age 58.
2005 The Reds sign free agent Rich Aurilia.
2007 Minnesota signs free agent pitcher Ramon Ortiz.
2007 St. Louis signs free agent pitcher Ryan Franklin.
2008 The White Sox sign free agent reliever Octavio Dotel.
2009 Billy Werber, 1930s infielder, dies at the ripe old age of 100. 100 years, seven months, and two days to be exact. He led the league in steals three times, runs once, and plate appearances once.
2010 The Angels trade Jr. to the Mets. The Angels have to eat a ton of contract in the deal, too.