David Ortiz will have a final game in 2016 and how will it compare to the final game of two other Red Sox stars?
The Boston Red Sox will have another farewell party at the end of the 2016 season that will close the book on the 20 year Major League career of David Ortiz. Ortiz, however, did not spend his entire career with Boston as two previous Red Sox notables had – Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. Ortiz played six seasons with the Minnesota Twins before cementing his baseball history in Boston.
Williams and Yastrzemski were both highly touted young players who arrived in town with a splash. For Williams, it was as a chippy young player vowing to return and wreak havoc on pitchers after being demoted and scolded by veterans during his spring training stay. That was 1938 and in 1939 Williams, then 20-years-old, returned and hit .327, led the American League in doubles (44), RBI (145) and was on his way to the Hall of Fame.
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Yastrzemski came to Boston after a spectacular season with the Red Sox Triple-A team the Minneapolis Millers where Yaz hit .339 and Boston beckoned as Yastrzemski was scheduled to replace Williams in left field. The début season for Yastrzemski was far from memorable and the future HOF inductee finished with a disappointing .266 average.
Ortiz was originally signed as an amateur player from his home – the Dominican Republic. Ortiz then had the distinction of becoming a PTBNL when he was shipped to the Twins to close out an earlier deal. With the Twins, Ortiz split time between the parent club and various minor league affiliates for several seasons before being released, despite a .272 average and 20 home runs and 75 RBI. Now 27-years-old Ortiz signed a deal with Boston where he was slated to be a part-time performer. So just how did that workout?
Williams ended his last season (1960) the same way he began it – with a home run. This is also about his last game and Yastrzemski’s last game, but a footnote applies to Williams – he bowed out of the last three games of the season that were scheduled in New York against the Yankees. The beginning was at Griffith Stadium in Washington, where Williams hit a monstrous home run in his first at-bat of 1960.
The Red Sox finished seventh (65-89) among the eight teams of the American League. The team was a dreadful collection of aging veterans with limited talent, a few with legitimate talent and even had Haywood Sullivan whose playing skills matched his eventual management skills. The season dragged on with Williams, like Ortiz in 2015, reaching certain significant home run figures including surpassing 500.
The last game of the greatest hitter saw 10,454 fans show up on a drizzly and overcast day – September 28th – to see Boston eventually defeat the Baltimore Orioles 5-4 with Williams getting one hit in three at- bats. That hit was the eighth inning blast off loser Jack Fisher and sailed over the Boston bullpen. Williams made a curtain call of sorts when he went out to left field in the top of the ninth and was quickly replaced by Carroll Hardy.
Williams was the stubborn sort who took every slight – real or perceived – as a serious personal affront. The war with the press was legendary as was his total neglect of tipping his cap to the fans – in this instance, Williams did exactly what he had always done – no cap tipping! The season itself was remarkable, especially after a very disappointing 1959 (.254) as TSW went into retirement with a .316 average and 29 home runs and 72 RBI in only 310 at-bats.
Yastrzemski was not the caliber of hitter that Williams was and few, if any, could be. But Yastrzemski played in Boston for what seemed like forever – 23 seasons and the record books for the team are dotted with his name. That last season was nothing of note for Yastrzemski or the Red Sox.
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The team was mired in a losing season (78-84) but there were some bright spot with Jim Rice (39) and Tony Armas (36) combining for 75 home runs. Dwight Evans chipped in with 22 home runs. Wade Boggs hit .361 and won the batting title. Red Sox color commentator Jerry Remy played second base and hit .275. For Yastrzemski, the final average was .266 – same as his rookie season – with ten home runs and 56 RBI.
The Red Sox played the Cleveland Indians on that October 2nd before 33,491 and finished off the season with a 3-1 win. The story of the day was Yastrzemski as it was the previous day when a celebration took place honoring Yastrzemski, who ran the field waving and shaking hands with fans. A stark contrast to Williams. The next day was game 3,308 – an MLB record at the time – and his lone hit that was a single to third in the third.
The festivities for Ortiz will be planned all season long and if the Red Sox are relevant it should be momentous if the team goes into the playoffs and possibly the World Series. Ortiz’ personality is dynamic and his interaction with fans and media are exceptional. This will not be a farewell like Williams, but more like Yastrzemski. Expect those tickets for a game against the Blue Jays to be extra special and extra expensive.
Sources: Baseball-reference/Baseball Almanac
“Ted Williams: The Biography of an American Hero”
John Updike’s “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu”