Jerry Remy explains the origins of the Big Papi nickname he gave David Ortiz early in his tenure with the Boston Red Sox.
A great nickname can last forever. The Boston Red Sox have had several players throughout their storied history with nicknames that were as common as their actual names. “Yaz” was a popular one born out of necessity when fans struggled to spell Yastrzemski. Roger Clemens earned “The Rocket” name with his overpowering fastball. Ted Williams had a handful of nicknames, including “The Kid,” “Teddy Ballgame,” and the “Splendid Splinter.”
There’s no nickname more iconic than the one bestowed upon David Ortiz after joining the Red Sox organization – “Big Papi.”
You can’t simply give yourself a nickname. The best ones are created for you and that was the case for Ortiz. On a recent episode of NESN’s TC & Jerry podcast, Jerry Remy explained how he was the one who started referring to Ortiz as Big Papi.
"“When I would sit in the clubhouse and he’d come in, guys would call him ‘Papi,’” Remy explained. “At that time, I wasn’t exactly sure what Papi meant. Now I know it’s like a father. Everybody was calling him Papi. So he started to have this success. I’m looking at the guy, the guy’s a monster for crying out loud. He’s huge. So I went up to him one day in the clubhouse and I said David, ‘do you mind if I call you ‘Big Papi.’ He looked at me and he he goes, ‘No. I kind of like that.’ So I said, ‘Ok, I’m going with it tonight.’ And from that point on I started calling him Big Papi on the air. And he’s still Big Papi today.”"
The Red Sox scooped Ortiz off the scrap heap prior to the 2003 season after the Minnesota Twins released him. Ortiz had produced a modest .266/.348/.461 slash line with 58 home runs over parts of six seasons with the Twins. The production wasn’t quite enough to keep a spot on the Twins roster, let alone warrant a catchy nickname.
It was a move that Minnesota would soon regret as Ortiz would go on to flourish in Boston. He hit .288 with a .961 OPS, 31 home runs and 101 RBI in his first year with the Red Sox to finish fifth on the AL MVP ballot and he made his first of 10 career All-Star appearances the following season.
It was around this time that “Big Papi” was born.
While promoting his book, Papi: My Story, in 2017, Ortiz told The Late Show‘s Stephen Colbert that calling people “Papi” is a custom that comes from his native Dominican Republic. When baseball brought him to this country, he brought this custom with him because he struggled to remember people’s names, including those of his own teammates.
"“I meet so many people every day, it’s hard for me to keep up with their names,” Ortiz explained to Colbert. “So I just ‘Papi’ people.”"
Eventually, his teammates reciprocated by calling him Papi. It was Remy who took it a step further during NESN broadcasts by adding the “Big” part of the nickname based on Ortiz’s imposing size and monster production at the plate.
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Ortiz’s bat earned him a nickname early in his Red Sox tenure but at the time, nobody could have imagined how big of an impact he would have on this franchise.
In 14 seasons with the Red Sox, Ortiz hit .290/.386/.570. His 483 home runs in a Red Sox uniform are the second-most in franchise history and he tallied 541 homers in his career. The 54 home runs he bashed in 2006 is a single-season franchise record. Ortiz won seven Silver Sluggers and finished top-five on the AL MVP ballot in five consecutive seasons.
Most importantly, Ortiz played a pivotal role in three World Series championships, including the historic 2004 team that ended an 86-year title drought. He earned ALCS MVP honors that year and he was the World Series MVP in 2013.
Remy was right. Ortiz has been such a big part of Red Sox history that simply referring to him as “Papi” wasn’t enough. The future Hall of Fame slugger will always be “Big Papi” in the hearts of Red Sox fans.