BOSTON -- One day, David Ortiz says, when he’s older and living life at a more leisurely pace, he’ll do some reading up. He’ll look back on his career, the highlights and totals. He’ll look at Ted Williams’. He’ll consider the two, side by side, with the sort of perspective afforded only by time.
Then, perhaps, Ortiz will attain a greater degree of historical appreciation for what happened Friday night at Fenway Park: a line drive down the right-field line for his 522nd career home run, one more than Williams had in 19 major league seasons.
But for now? Ortiz, balancing All-Star-caliber production at age 40 with a season-long retirement party, has other stuff going on.
“I got no time. Too busy. Only free time I got is when I go to sleep,” Ortiz said with a smile indicative of the late hour and long game, a 5-4 Boston Red Sox victory over the Los Angeles Angels. “Like I always say, I have my respect for Ted Williams. Whenever you can attach your name to his name, it’s good. It’s great.”
The blast came in the fifth inning on a Jhoulys Chacin slider down and in, several inches off the plate. In a light drizzle that later picked up and delayed the game for 95 minutes, Ortiz turned on the pitch, sending it screaming toward the Pesky Pole in the right-field corner.
The swing created a threesome of noteworthy milestones. Ortiz moved into sole possession of 19th place on the all-time home run list, passing three Hall of Famers: Williams, Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas. Ortiz drove himself in for his 1,705th RBI, one more than Thomas for No. 23 all-time. And with 2,000 hits as a member of the Red Sox, Ortiz is seventh in franchise history.
What does it all mean to Ortiz? Not a whole lot in the moment, necessarily. It’s one dinger in a long series of dingers he has hit this season and century. On his way out the door as Friday night slipped into Saturday morning, Ortiz seemed more excited about a ninth-inning call down the right-field line -- judged a ground-rule double and upheld upon review despite the Angels' view that it was fan interference -- that saved the Red Sox lead and win.
But the fact, both straightforward and mind-blowing, remained: Ortiz has hit the ball out of the park more times than Williams. That’s not the end-all, of course, and it’s not to suggest Ortiz is a greater player than Williams was. But home runs, the standard that they are, speak loudly.
It can be difficult to digest. For modern observers -- players and coaches, fans and reporters -- Williams is rightfully perceived with a degree of reverence reserved for a special few, his legacy padded by the passage of time that turns greatness into legend. Few have memories of watching him play. Most know him as the retired No. 9, the .406 batting average, the Red Seat. He died the year before Ortiz came to Boston.
Ortiz, the Williams or Yastrzemski of this generation, is still here. He’s tangible. He’s the guy who wins World Series and does Dunkin’ Donuts commercials, not a near-mythical figure from the annals of baseball history. He’s proof of how hard it can be to acknowledge and appreciate history as it happens, even when you know it’s happening.
The true recognition will come later. Maybe much later.
“It’ll all sink in for everybody next year when he’s not here,” Travis Shaw said. “We’re playing with an all-time legend. It’s special to be in the same lineup as him, share the same clubhouse as him.”
Say it again: all-time legend.
“It’s hard to think about because we see it every day. I think to us, it’s just David being David,” said Steven Wright, the winning pitcher Friday. “It’ll be more of a ‘wow’ moment 15 years from now, to be like, ‘Damn, I played with him for four years.’ You don’t realize it. It’s an everyday thing. You see it every day. Tomorrow is a new day, and he goes out there and does it again. That’s just David.”