Take a look at the top of the statistical tables for this baseball season, and one name will keep jumping out.
Through Wednesday night, David Ortiz led the majors in slugging percentage, at .695, 90 points ahead of his nearest rival. He was hitting .339 with 18 home runs and led the majors in doubles, with 29.
Yes, that’s 40-year-old David Ortiz, the same guy who set the career home run record for the Boston Red Sox . . . 10 years ago. The same guy who carried the Sox to their comeback win over the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series 12 years ago.
The same guy who made his major league debut with the Minnesota Twins 19 years ago.
In a year he says will be his last, it is natural to look back and savor Ortiz’s great career. And Ortiz is being feted at ceremonies at many stadiums as he makes his way around the league one last time.
But the season has not been merely a valedictory tour. Ortiz is playing like a superstar half his age.
The .339 batting average would be a career high, as would his 1.118 on-base-plus-slugging figure.
Ortiz was a late bloomer who did not have his first All-Star appearance until 2004 at age 28.
His peak seemed to come from 2004 to 2007, when he was in the top four in most valuable player voting every year and won two World Series with the Sox.
After a few less stellar seasons that seemed like the natural aging of a player in his early 30s, he had a renaissance that culminated in a World Series MVP Award in 2013.
His most recent two seasons, while solid, seemed to show that he was finally aging out of the game, and he announced in November that he would play just one more season.
But this year he is pouring it on again.
And fans are ready to vote him onto a 10th All-Star team;
he has more than double the votes of the second ranked designated hitter in the American League, Kendrys Morales.
Amazingly, he is performing extraordinarily well despite physical hardship. “Everything hurts,” he told ESPN Deportes this week.
“It even hurts to think. Last time I reached second after a double, I almost called for a timeout so they would get me out of the game. I can barely run because my feet hurt so much. I am in severe pain.”
Ortiz’s numbers not only rank him among baseball’s best hitters this season, but also among the best ever for his age.
Among players in their 40-year-old season, only four managed an OPS of .900 or more — Ty Cobb (the leader at .921), Harold Baines, Moises Alou and Willie Mays.
With his figure at 1.118, Ortiz is in strong position to surpass them even if he slumps.
Ortiz’s legacy is marred in some eyes by a link to steroid use, though he has denied knowingly taking banned drugs. Well known as a clutch hitter (his .455 career World Series average ranks first among players with 40 or more plate appearances) and a flashy player, the man known as Big Papi is a certified Red Sox legend.
He has given no indication that he is reconsidering his decision to retire, but if he can hit like this, he may want to stick around a little longer.
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