At the All-Star break, the 40-year-old Ortiz has 22 home runs, 72 RBI and has sucked opposing pitchers into a Black Hole with a .332/.426/.682 slash line and major-league best 1.107 OPS. He's alone at No. 19 on the all-time major league home run list with 525 career "moon shots," having recently passed Ted Williams, Willie McCovey and Frank Thomas.
Ortiz will start in his 10th All-Star Game on Tuesday night in San Diego. He took himself out of the Home Run Derby a couple of weeks ago, telling B/R "that's for the guys in their 20s. It will wear you out, though."
But he is eager to participate in the game itself. "We're going to have fun and give the fans what they're expecting. I'm going to take my couple of at-bats as usual. It's not an obligation. The All-Star Game is for the fans to enjoy watching their favorite players. As players, we have to put on a good show so the fans can go home happy."
Ortiz recently sat down with B/R in the visitor's dugout at Tropicana Field and formed an all-time All-Star team of opponents he's faced during his days with both the Minnesota Twins (1997 to 2002) and Red Sox (2003-present). Ortiz had roughly 15 minutes of prep time to ponder his selections. He spent that time in the batting cage whaling away at soft tosses and chatting with a few visiting friends.
Here's his breakdown by position:
C, Ivan Rodriguez: "Pudge was an outstanding hitter and an unbelievable catcher. How many Gold Gloves did he win? He was one of the best I've ever seen." (Note: Rodriguez won 13 Gold Gloves.)
1B, Jim Thome/Carlos Delgado: "There's a whole lot of choices there. During my time, it was two guys who dominated the game incredibly. Jim Thome and Carlos Delgado. It was ridiculous, the way they hit. What you came see with them is what you got.
"Coming up, I would always ask them questions. They had so many answers for me that made sense. Now, when the young players come up to me, I have the same answers. For example, when I asked them about hitting with men in scoring position, they gave me the sort of answer that boosted my confidence."
2B, Robinson Cano: "I thought Chuck Knoblauch was the one player who I thought was going to dominate that position for a long time. But once you got to see [Dustin] Pedroia and Robinson Cano play, they took that position to another level. Looking at Cano, you're looking at a third baseman playing second base with good range. He makes everything look like he's not even trying."
For the record, Ortiz and Pedroia have been teammates since the Boston second baseman broke into the majors in 2006.
SS, Derek Jeter: "The Captain was a champ. He was the guy you want to play for your team at shortstop for the next 20 years. He had consistency over the years. He may go down as the best shortstop of all time because he won so many championships. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. That's what it's about. To compete against Jeter was incredible. I played against him tons of times. It was a competition. You wanted to beat him, but you enjoyed watching him do his thing. There was respect."
Ortiz initially had another answer when the conversation moved to short.
"Before he moved to third base, Alex Rodriguez was the best," Ortiz said. He quickly gave the nod to Jeter, when asked to compare the two. A-Rod's full-time shift to third and Jeter's five championships with the rival Yankees were his cited reasons.
3B, Adrian Beltre: "I've watched him at third base for a long time. I've been playing at this level for almost 20 years. I'm going way back to the guy I saw dominating for a long time. It's crazy. If [Miguel] Cabrera hadn't been moved to first base [originally in 2008], I would put him in the package, too. You have to be a fan of Beltre at third base, regardless. Beltre is a Hall of Famer to me; Cabrera the same thing."
CF, Ken Griffey Jr.: "I saw Griffey play five or six years of my career. He's one of the best I've ever seen. When it comes down to hitting, Griffey, since day one—it was stupid the way he hit. His swing was unique. I remember coming up as a kid—I'm sure a lot of guys wanted to hit like him, and you can't."
RF, Torii Hunter: "Another one of the best. Griffey and Torii have something in common: They cover way too much ground out there, a ridiculous amount of ground. Once Torii figured out the hitting, he became one of the top 10 hitters in the game."
LF, Barry Bonds: "I don't care about the baggage. He was the best hitter I've ever seen. The best. He didn't miss pitches. Doesn't matter if you throw him 65 or a 105. There was no rush in his swing. I hear other things people say about it. This and that, blah, blah, blah. He was special. Barry's swing was so short and compact. You're not going to find many videos of Barry being fooled by a pitch. It was unbelievable. Without a doubt, he's the best hitter I've ever played against. No one can match his numbers. His numbers are ridiculous.
"I totally understand the perceptions people have about him. But I don't think anything that can make you that good. That's how I feel. Before all that crap came out about him, he was a Hall of Famer already. He was a 400 [home run]/400 [stolen bases] guy. That's what I feel. I don't know what people say behind the scenes, blah, blah, blah. I'm talking about the guy I saw on the field do what he's done from the first day I saw him until the last day he played.
"You still have to do everything. I'm not saying that it's OK to go out there and use stuff that's not legal, but there's something special about him that no one will ever have. When he was playing with Pittsburgh, he was beyond everybody already. Beyond everybody. That's something people should think about. This guy was legit since day one."
The so-called "baggage" carried by Bonds also extends to Ortiz.
Ortiz's name was included on a leaked list of players who tested positive for banned substances during MLB's pilot testing program back in 2003. Ortiz maintains he never knowingly took any banned substances, has never tested positive since the pilot program and told B/R "nothing makes you hit."
Bonds' name, meanwhile, has become synonymous with performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. Bonds was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice in 2007 for allegedly lying to a grand jury during the BALCO investigations. The perjury charges were dropped following a mistrial, and an obstruction of justice conviction was overturned in 2015.
DH, Edgar Martinez: "He's the one DH who impressed me the most. I got to see him play a little bit in my career. I saw Edgar hit a ball that start foul and ended up fair. That's how good his hands were inside the ball. The man made hitting too easy."
SP, Pedro Martinez: "Definitely the best. He was not fun to face, especially early in my career. I faced Pedro in his prime. His stuff was stupid."
Ortiz struck out six times and scratched out three hits including a home run in 17 career at-bats (.176 average) against Martinez while he was with the Twins.
The Dominican duo of Ortiz and Martinez were pivotal in helping the Red Sox end their 86-year World Series drought in 2004. In 2015, Martinez became just the second player born in the Dominican Republic, joining Juan Marichal, to enter the Hall of Fame.
RP: Mariano Rivera: "He had one pitch [his cut fastball]. You knew it was coming, but it didn't make a difference."
Ortiz fared far better against Rivera, knocking out 13 hits and one home run in 38 at-bats (.342 average).
He said being a part of Rivera's final All-Star Game in 2013 was his favorite All-Star moment. In that contest at Citi Field in New York, Rivera walked onto an empty field to the blaring sounds of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and pitched a perfect one-two-three inning in the bottom of the eighth.
"That moment was special. As a player, it was something you never forget about," Ortiz said.
Ortiz clearly has respect for the Yankees teams he went toe-to-toe with in countless high-pressure battles, as he selected Jeter, Cano and Rivera. The Yankees beat Boston to win the ALCS in seven games in 2003. The Red Sox responded a year later by becoming the first major-league team to erase a 3-0 deficit in the postseason, beating the Yankees 4-3 in the 2004 ALCS. Ortiz hit .387 in that series with three home runs and 11 RBI.
All in all, Big Papi's All-Star lineup carries a strong Latin flair, boasts an asterism of brilliant Hall of Fame-caliber numbers and favors those who played a majority of their careers at one position. Every selection also has at least 12 years of MLB service, so his fellow veterans get the respect for doing it over a long career.
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