How David Ortiz Is Acting More Like Red Sox Great Ted Williams Than Ever
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Still, Big Papi has never performed at a level closer to that of former Boston slugger Ted Williams than he is doing right now.
Including his home run in Friday night's 7-3 win over the Astros—his second straight game with a homer—Ortiz is batting .500 (11-for-22) with an OPS of nearly 1.500 since returning from a heel injury that sidelined him most of spring training and the first 16 games of this season.
While most hitters return from major injuries looking rusty at the plate, Papi looks hotter than ever.
It is a trick that the Hall of Famer Williams, acknowledged by many to be baseball's greatest all-time hitter, performed often during his career.
Injuries, military service and a few self-imposed "retirements" often kept Ted away from spring training and/or early-season action, but he always seemed to return in top form to the amazement of fans and fellow players alike.
In 1941, for instance, a bad ankle hobbled The Splendid Splinter for a month during the end of spring training and the early season, but he singled as a pinch-hitter in the home opener and batted .462 in his first eight games back en route to a .406 season as the last .400 hitter in big league history.
After a Triple Crown season in 1942 (.356, 37, 137), Ted missed all of 1943-45 while serving as a Navy pilot during World War II. He didn't skip a beat, however, coming back in 1946 to hit .342 with 38 homers.
Williams served his country yet again as a Marine fighter pilot during the Korean War, and missed most of the 1952 and '53 seasons. Unlike most big leaguers, he rarely touched a baseball during his absence, yet returned to Boston's lineup late in 1953 and hit an incredible .407 with 13 home runs and 34 RBI in just 37 games.
On the first day of spring training in 1954, Williams broke his collarbone—an injury that kept him on the shelf for all of the exhibition season and the first month of the regular campaign. Once again, however, he showed he needed no warming up by hitting .455 in his first 10 games back for Boston.
Even when Ted decided he'd quit baseball and start fishing full time after the 1954 season, and then sat out all of spring training and April in '55 before a pricey divorce changed his mind, it didn't matter. He merely hit .414 with six homers and five doubles in his first 53 at-bats when he came back.
So while Ortiz, who also missed all but one of the last 73 games of the 2012, may be doing something astounding, it is not unprecedented in Red Sox history.
Just ask the really old-timers at Fenway Park.
Saul Wisnia lives less than seven miles from Fenway Park and works 300 yards from Yawkey Way. His latest book, Fenway Park: The Centennial, is available at http://amzn.to/qWjQRS, and his Fenway Reflections can be found at http://saulwisnia.blogspot.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @saulwizz.
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