I admit it, I have spread the Ortiz-misses-the-steroid theory to explain why Boston’s clutch hitter has struck out in Mudville this season. I am ashamed as Bill Simmons eloquently points out that Boston’s fans owe the man an eternal debt of gratitude for delivering two World Series. His theory is the guy is older than he says he is. Whatever, it’s sad to see a legend fade.
It’s been a sports experience unlike anything I can remember. Red Sox fans refuse to turn against Ortiz. They just can’t. They owe him too much for 2004 and 2007. It’s like turning on Santa Claus or happy hour. Every Ortiz appearance is greeted with supportive cheers, every Ortiz failure is greeted with awkward silence. The fans are suffering just like he is. Only when he left 12 men on base against Anaheim on May 14 did I receive a slew of angry e-mails from back home, but even those tirades centered more around Terry Francona’s steadfast refusal to drop Ortiz in the order. I cannot remember another Boston athlete stinking this long, and this fragrantly, without getting dumped on.
Really, that’s a tribute to what he means to his fans and how delightful it was to watch him play. His career might be over (notice I left the door open; I’m such a sap), but Ortiz has reached the highest level an athlete can reach: unequivocal devotion. Sox fans love him the same way you love an ailing family member. In the end, at his bleakest point, he’s brought out the best of an entire fan base. He has inspired dignity and emotion and loyalty. The fans could have sped his demise (and saved a few games) by booing until Francona benched him. They didn’t. How often does that happen?