David Ortiz on MLB’s lack of famous players

BOSTON – A few hours before Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday, four lucky Red Sox fans walked along Fenway Park’s left-field warning track in front of the Green Monster. They were the winners of a Mastercard giveaway that scored them free tickets to the sold-out game, and, unsurprisingly, they seemed pretty enthused.

“I’m on the warning track at Fenway Park before a World Series game,” one said. “What could be better?”

The group stopped to pose in front of the Fenway scoreboard and, at the goading of a photographer, called out, “Big Papi!” as they smiled for the camera.

“Surprise!” David Ortiz yelled as he popped his unmistakable head out from the scoreboard.

“Bro, bro, bro,” said one bro, to his bro. “Nah. No way.”

Yes, way: Ortiz spent his Wednesday serving in at least capacities at his longtime baseball home. He joined several members of Bodton’s 2004 championship team in throwing out the ceremonial first pitch, he worked as an analyst for FOX on the network’s set on Jersey St., and he surprised some Red Sox fans as part of the Mastercard promotion.

“I have that good relationship with the fans here,” he told For The Win on Wednesday. “For a lot of people, I did a lot of things they’ll never forget about. Every athlete should take care of the fans, and make sure they go home happy. You don’t do this forever.”

Ortiz cuts a distinctive figure here, and, undoubtedly, everywhere.


He wore all black: A long, black overcoat inscribed with an old English “P” in black font, a long-sleeved black shirt, black pants with a hint of leathery sheen to them, black sneakers, and a black cap adorned with a small, metallic Jolly Roger. Around his neck, he had a large pendant, glimmering with gemstones, in the shape of the letter “O.” Diamonds shined from his earlobes. Everything fit perfectly on his hulking frame, and it all looked fresh enough and coordinated enough to betray Big Papi as a celebrity. It would be hard to imagine anyone – even someone from a faraway land with no baseball – taking more than a moment’s notice of Ortiz’s stature and carriage and outfit and not immediately concluding, “this is someone.”

Ortiz holds a rare distinction among recent Major League ballplayers. Though two full years removed from his playing days, he remains one of the sport’s most recognizable figures, a rare baseball player to establish some form of crossover fame. Such things are difficult to quantify, but a 2017 ESPN.com effort to determine the most famous baseball players used Ortiz as a reference point and labeled the benchmark for stardom “The Papi Line.” A New York Times article this week with a headline that challenged readers to “Name one famous baseball player” used a photo of a poster of Ortiz as its lead image.

If you pay any attention whatsoever to Major League Baseball, you have likely heard the league criticized on multiple occasions for its apparent inability to market its players in a way that fosters superstardom.

When presented as some sort of major problem, it’s likely overstated – the league is hardly hurting for cash, and at no risk of folding just because your uncle in Arizona still hasn’t heard of Francisco Lindor. And there’s a lot to it: The sport itself limits individual in-game opportunities far more than football or basketball do, it breeds intense regional connections but only tenuous national ones, and its long and unyielding regular-season schedule makes players disinclined to spend their rare downtime marketing themselves.

Few active players rank anywhere close to Ortiz or a pair of his contemporaries, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, in terms of name recognition. But when asked about the phenomenon Wednesday, Ortiz told For The Win he believes some members of the current generation of young big-league talent will ultimately emerge as transcendent superstars.

“Everybody’s 20 years old,” he said. “Everybody’s inexperienced. It comes with time. I didn’t come to be who I am from day to night. It takes a lot of work – years – and if you look at it today, everybody’s young. Five, ten years from now, some of the guys are going to be brands. They’re going to be that type of people.

“The game is fun to watch. The way the guys are playing the game now, the way they handle the business – personality-wise, you see guys having more fun now, more charisma. It’s more authentic now. There’s more freedom now. So there’s going to be tons of guys popping up with that type of personality.”

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