Yesterday, after the Red Sox were able to beat the “Beast of the East” Baltimore Orioles, 8-5, David “Big Papi” Ortiz flew off the handle to ESPN Boston’s Gordon Edes about the way his leadership has been conveyed by the media. His biggest beef was with the media’s definition of team leaders, and how this definition would seemingly preclude Ortiz from ever truly becoming one of them. The argument was sparked because the question asked about the meeting Ortiz called, in which he ripped into the pitching staff of the Sox. And rightfully so, the pitching staff has ben brutal not only this year but ever since the meltdown the Sox had last year. Today I was listening to Felger and Mazz on 98.5 The Sports Hub and heard that not only was this meltdown caused by Edes’ question, but apparently it was because of a comment Mazz had made earlier this year. After Ortiz called the meeting and ripped into the pitchers, the media found out and began to talk about it. Mazz went on to say that “it is about time”. Whether Mazz meant this in a good or bad way, Ortiz took it offensively.
Ortiz has been known to have the occasional outburst; remember the blowup over the “RBI that wasn’t” last season? Unlike that incident, though, Big Papi’s consternation here is both warranted and productive. Through both his play and off-field conduct, Ortiz has proven that he is a leader of this team. At the plate, he has been the team’s best player all season. He currently ranks 4th in the AL in batting average, 3rd in OPS and 2nd in slugging percentage. He has been a steady presence all season, putting to rest any concerns that he might begin to slow down due to his age. Indeed, he has been the backbone of this erratic Sox lineup. Ortiz went on to say that he gets, “no respect. Not from the media. Not from the front office” for the example he sets on the field.
I found this to be very interesting. Ortiz spoke out after another great win against the O’s, in which he hit a ball that has yet to land. Plus, the Sox are back at .500 and seeking to get out of the cellar of the AL East. Ortiz does have a case behind what he has said though. In his case, some of the slights are real: management’s refusal to give him a multi-year deal and the rush to anoint Dustin Pedroia as the only real leader on the team are two examples of how the organization, fans and media bear some responsibility for his frustration. However, without these slights we might not be seeing the highly-motivated, highly-productive Ortiz that has played a key role in pulling the Sox out of the AL East basement. I just found it interesting that he erupted after such a solid game, it kind of came out of nowhere.
Many Sox fans called into all of the radio shows today, and as I continued to listen I realized that Ortiz has a point. Ortiz is just acknowledging the fact that he is a leader and he doesn’t care what the media has to say about him or the situation. While it may sound defiant when Ortiz says that, “I don’t give a [expletive] about anybody knowing what we talk about, No. 1. And No. 2, I don’t give a [expletive] what they call leaders,” in reality he is letting us know that being a leader on a team is not like holding a public office. You’re not just a face to put on the programs and TV. Instead, a true leader does the little things to help his team when the cameras are off and nobody is watching. Based on his words and his actions, Ortiz has demonstrated that he is just that for the 2012 Red Sox.