Big Papi's sudden impact

An excerpt from Seth Mnookin’s book, Feeding the Monster: How Money, Smarts, and Nerve Took a Team to the Top (Simon and Schuster).
By SETH MNOOKIN  |  July 20, 2006

060721_ortiz_main
BIG PAPI: Ortiz admires his clouts in a style Todd Walker once compared to “pimpin’. ” Ortiz makes no apologies. “If they don’t like it,” he said of opposing pitchers, “don’t let me hit it out.”
By midseason, it was clear the 2003 team was an offensive powerhouse on par with baseball’s all-time best. For the month of June, the Red Sox had four of the top 10 batting averages in the league: Garciaparra (.398), Millar (.373), Trot Nixon (.356), and Manny Ramirez (.351). The Sox led all of baseball that month with a team-wide .315 average. Combined with the team-wide .308 average in May, the entire roster had compiled one common benchmark for batting excellence over the course of two full months. In June, the team hit more home runs — 42 — than in any month since 1998 and scored more runs than in any month since 1961.

Perhaps most incredibly, they were doing this largely without the offensive firepower of David Ortiz. Ortiz began the year platooning at first base and designated hitter and hit only one home run in April, one more in May, and two in June. Halfway through the season, he had a total of only four home runs, half as many as Todd Walker, the team’s second baseman.

Still, the 6’4” slugger had already become one of the most popular people in the Red Sox clubhouse. He was, along with Millar, one of the team’s unrepentant cutups. His pendulous swagger and his ribald, needling sense of humor helped shift attention away from the increasingly sulky Garciaparra. When he arrived at the ballpark the afternoon of a game, Ortiz would stride into the Sox clubhouse wearing fluorescent polo shirts and wrap-around sunglasses and shout, to no one in particular, “What up, bitches!”* Even before he started playing every day and hitting for power, Ortiz was happier in Boston than he’d been in Minnesota. His six seasons with the Twins had been difficult ones. There had been the injuries, sure: the Minneapolis Metrodome’s artificial turf is punishing on players’ knees. But just as frustrating to Ortiz was the way the Twins coaching staff tried to turn a proud home-run hitter into a singles batter who slapped balls over infielders’ heads.

“When I first came to Minnesota, that’s when I was told, ‘Stay inside the ball . . . hit the ball the other way,’” Ortiz said after coming to Boston. “I was always a power hitter in the minor leagues. Everything changed when I went to Minnesota. Whenever I took a big swing, [the coaching staff would] say to me, ‘Hey, hey, what are you doing?’” Ortiz tried to go along with the Twins plan, but he wasn’t happy about it. “I said, ‘You want me to hit like a little bitch, then I will.’ But I knew I could hit for power. It was just a matter of getting the green light.”

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