Skip to main content

Big Papi is scary good

By Mike Downey, Special to CNN
updated 12:06 AM EDT, Thu October 31, 2013
Boston Red Sox players hold up the championship trophy after Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, October 30, in Boston. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 6-1. Boston Red Sox players hold up the championship trophy after Game 6 of baseball's World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals on Wednesday, October 30, in Boston. The Red Sox defeated the Cardinals 6-1.
HIDE CAPTION
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Photos: Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
Boston celebrates World Series win
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Mike Downey: David Ortiz may have been the scariest thing to face Cardinals this Halloween
  • "Big Papi" was awesome at the plate: 11 hits in 15 official times at bat before Game 6
  • Downey: Cardinals had to walk Ortiz four times in the final game; they lost anyway
  • Red Sox claimed the series as their own in large part due to Ortiz, Downey says

Editor's note: Mike Downey is a former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune.

(CNN) -- Verrry scary things as we approached Halloween:

1. Zombies.

2. Vampires.

3. David Ortiz.

It was a dark and bone-chilling night in Boston, Massachusetts. A game of baseball was to be played -- a spine-tingly, goose-bumpy game, Game 6 of the 2013 World Series, in a park fenced in by a Green Monster -- and the visiting St. Louis Cardinals had a particularly petrifying sight to face on Halloween eve when, one by one, those wolfman-hairy Boston Red Sox came to bat:

Mike Downey
Mike Downey

"Big Papi."

(Screams. A thunder clap. A lightning bolt.)

Oooh, as scary as the walking dead. Up to the plate he stepped, 6 feet 4, 250 pounds, lugging a huge wooden club.

David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox hits a double, scoring Dustin Pedroia, in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the 2013 World Series.
David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox hits a double, scoring Dustin Pedroia, in the first inning against the St. Louis Cardinals during Game Five of the 2013 World Series.

A cardinal or two on the front of a St. Louis player's shirt must have flown away in fear.

The rest of the Red Sox were eerie enough, with those demented-farmer-from-a-horror-film faces of theirs. Yet it was not the dark whiskers of David Americo Ortiz that were intimidating to anybody. It was that bat. That dangerous, deadly, pitcher's-bloodsucking bat.

Sure enough, they tried to take that bat out of Ortiz's huge hands. They walked him ... and walked him ... and walked him .... and walked him. Four times, three of them intentional, but all for naught because the Red Sox took Game 6 anyway, 6-1, to claim the World Series as their own on the green grass of home.

He came to Wednesday night's game hitting .733.

Red Sox player cheating or pitching?
Music showdown between Boston, St. Louis
Was obstruction the right call?

No, not .333. Not even .533, which would have been a fairly surreal bat stat. The monster masher known in New England to all as "Big Papi" already had 11 hits in 15 official times at bat in this World Series, a fiendishly good, sell-your-soul batting average of .733.

Which is kind of like playing 18 holes of golf and getting birdies on 14 or 15 of them.

Once when he DIDN'T get on base, he walloped a ball to Fenway Park's right-field wall that required a fence-banging, rib-bruising catch on the part of the Cardinals' Carlos Beltran to prevent it from being a grand slam home run.

Scary good, this guy has been.

(A banshee's cry. A creaking door.)

On the opposite wall of Boston's ancient park, the intimidatingly high left-field one nicknamed the "Green Monster," ghosts inside probably were cackling in delight whenever Ortiz lurched up to home plate. Wednesday's game needed to be won by the visitors from Missouri to stay alive. They must have felt Fenway's old walls closing in on them, like anxious villagers finding themselves trapped by Stephen King under a dome.

St. Louis came armed with a strong team and a splendid pitching staff. Yet it had to at least consider the possibility of NOT having a pitcher throw a single pitch to Big Papi.

At least not one he could hit.

Wait ... you mean walk Ortiz on purpose every time up, no matter what?

It might beat getting beat by his bat.

"I remember them doing it to Frank Howard," the former big-league outfielder Rick Reichardt said when I touched base with him before Wednesday's game.

September 2, 1970: Cleveland Indians vs. Washington Senators. The manager of the visiting team, Alvin Dark, had a dread of seeing 6-foot-7, 255-pound Frank Howard stride toward the plate. "He's the monster man in baseball," Dark once said of him. "I never saw any man feared like this."

So, he intentionally walked Howard time after time. He made pitcher Sam McDowell walk him in the first inning. (Reichardt batted next and made an out.) Walked him in the third inning, even though Howard was the first man up. (Reichardt struck out.) Walked him in the fifth, again with none on base and none out. (Reichardt singled, then Howard scored on a wild pitch.)

It got weirder. Sixth inning, two Senators on base, Howard up, so the Cleveland manager decided to finally risk pitching to him. He told McDowell to go from the mound to first base. He brought in the great Dean Chance just to pitch to Howard, who promptly made Dark regret it with a base hit. Reichardt then knocked in a run and Washington won the game.

Would you walk the Red Sox's red-hot David Ortiz every time at bat?

"Every at-bat, I would not," Reichardt told me. "But depending on the situation, it could be automatic."

This is the kind of fear that Barry Bonds struck in his foes. Bonds was walked intentionally a whopping 120 times in the 2004 season alone. That is insane. Yet to opposing managers, it felt more logical than letting Bonds have a chance to belt a home run.

Sparky Anderson refused to let George Brett hit after being burned by him once too often. "Anytime I've got first base open," Anderson said in the '80s when he was managing the Detroit Tigers, "that's where he's going."

Walk him even with the bases full?

"You bet," Sparky said. "That's the way they pitched Ted Williams. I'll take my chances with whoever's on deck."

Ah, Ted Williams ... the scariest Red Sox of them all.

Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants was once walked deliberately by Anderson four times in a game, whereupon he yelled to Anderson in the dugout: "Who do you think I am, Ted Williams?"

Hmmm, maybe the specter of Ted Williams was there a-haunting Fenway Park as well, watching over Ortiz as the Red Sox went out hunting for the ultimate Halloween treat. The way that Ortiz had been hitting in this World Series, you could definitely describe it as Williams-esque.

Big Papi, unlike the man once nicknamed the Splendid Splinter, is a baseball slugger in an era when many fans have become suspicious of a hitter's success. Is his prowess the result of hard work and legitimate talent or are more sinister methods involved: a secret formula from a Frankenstein-like laboratory, perhaps?

Ahhh, but almost nobody seems to speculate that a banned steroid has ever passed through David Ortiz's flesh and veins. He seems immune to suspicion, possibly due to his always being a man of considerable size, big arms, big trunk, big head, and not some 170-pound beanpole who transformed into a baseball-crushing beast.

"They pick me (to be drug-tested) every time, I don't know why," Ortiz said a few years ago with a bemused shrug. "All I know is all they are going to find is a lot of rice and beans."

He came to Halloween eve looking to torment and haunt everyone from St. Louis to the very end.

(A maniacal laugh. A wolf's howl.)

The Cardinals, well, they were looking to do whatever it took, short of garlic or a stake to the heart, to fend off Fenway Park's scary bat.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Downey.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT