A can­did and col­or­ful mem­oir from one of baseball’s big­gest stars.

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - RE­VIEW BY BREN­DAN O’TOOLE Bren­dan O’Toole’s work has ap­peared on Over­theMon­ster.com.

On Jan. 22, 2003, the Bos­ton Red Sox signed a $1.25 mil­lion con­tract with a 27-year-old first base­man who had been re­leased the month be­fore by the Min­nesota Twins. They saw in him a po­ten­tial com­ple­men­tary bat for their high-pow­ered of­fense, one who was worth the mod­est fi­nan­cial gam­ble. Thir­teen years, three World Se­ries wins and al­most 500 home runs later, David Or­tiz re­tired from baseball as ar­guably the most im­por­tant player in the his­tory of the Bos­ton fran­chise.

The rise of Or­tiz from scrap-heap bench player to Hall of Famer is an un­likely and en­ter­tain­ing story, and en­gag­ingly told in “Papi: My Story” (by Or­tiz with co-author Michael Hol­ley). Start­ing with his early life in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic, when he looked up to far­away greats such as Ken Grif­fey Jr., and con­clud­ing with his 2016 re­tire­ment tour, the mem­oir is largely a straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive of Or­tiz’s time in baseball. Those look­ing for a deep dive into the in­ner life of a baseball star or the in­tri­cate strate­gies of a mod­ern fran­chise will prob­a­bly be dis­ap­pointed. As the un­pol­ished re­flec­tions of one of the few ballplay­ers to re­de­fine a club, though, it works per­fectly.

The ca­sual, con­ver­sa­tional tone of the book re­flects one of Or­tiz’s best qual­i­ties as an icon of the game: his felic­ity with his sec­ond lan­guage when ad­dress­ing both me­dia mem­bers and his fan base. His skill with the blunter An­glo-Saxon el­e­ments of English (most fa­mously in the post-Bos­ton Marathon bomb­ing dec­la­ra­tion that now graces a mil­lion T-shirts through­out New Eng­land) is ev­i­dent through­out the book, which adds a re­fresh­ing di­rect­ness to his voice but is prob­a­bly worth con­sid­er­ing be­fore giv­ing a copy to the 10-year-old Sox fan in your life.

Still, it’s in that voice that the mem­oir’s true strength lies. Freed of the beat re­porters and colum­nists who nor­mally fil­ter the in­ter­ac­tion be­tween player and fan, Or­tiz shines when he dis­cusses the unique cir­cum­stances of play­ing baseball in the league’s harsh­est spot­light. The Bos­ton fan base has a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion for pas­sion verg­ing on ex­trem­ism, and Or­tiz does not shy from talk­ing about ev­ery­thing that in­volves. His first sea­son in Bos­ton cul­mi­nated in a leg­endary play­off se­ries that ended in a dev­as­tat­ing ex­tra-in­ning loss to the archri­val New York Yan­kees. As any New Eng­lan­der alive at the time can at­test, the mood in the re­gion after­ward can best be de­scribed as fu­ner­ary. Or­tiz took it as the mo­ment he un­der­stood his fans: “I never wanted to see faces that sad again.”

A year later, he’d live up to that goal, lead­ing Bos­ton to an un­prece­dented come­back vic­tory against the Yan­kees, fol­lowed by the fran­chise’s first World Se­ries win since World War I. Had he re­tired at that mo­ment, he’d have ce­mented his leg­end. But of course, he had a great deal of baseball left, and he grew into one of the best hit­ters in the league over the re­main­der of the

David Or­tiz of the Bos­ton Red Sox cel­e­brates Jonny Gomes’s three-run home run against the St. Louis Car­di­nals in the 2013 World Se­ries.

decade. In­juries and age started to sap this a bit be­tween 2009 and 2011, lead­ing to the grand­est of Bos­ton tra­di­tions: the mo­ment when “What a player!” turns into “What have you done for me lately?” Or­tiz speaks can­didly of dis­re­spect from lo­cal writ­ers and per­ceived dis­re­spect from Red Sox man­age­ment dur­ing con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tions, as his pro­duc­tion dipped: “In a lot of ways, it’s the me­dia in New Eng­land who run the ball club. Once they start hound­ing you, in print, on the ra­dio, on tv, it’s con­stant.”

It’s in th­ese mo­ments that the mem­oir lives up to its “no holds barred” billing. Many of the most vivid pas­sages in the book are de­voted to ad­dress­ing slights and grudges, pri­mar­ily in­volv­ing for­mer coaches and me­dia mem­bers. That so much time is spent on th­ese in what is over­all a story of re­mark­able suc­cess is a fas­ci­nat­ing win­dow into the mo­ti­va­tions of star ath­letes. It’s clear that even af­ter more than a decade, Or­tiz is still ran­kled by his treat­ment in Min­nesota and that to some ex­tent it fu­eled his play in Bos­ton.

Of less im­por­tance to his ca­reer, but per­haps more en­ter­tain­ment to Bos­ton read­ers, is the chap­ter sum­ma­riz­ing the brief en­try of Bobby Valen­tine into our lives. Valen­tine’s one-year tenure with the Red Sox is gen­er­ally ac­cepted as the low point of the past two decades of the fran­chise, and Or­tiz makes it clear that it was even worse in­side the club­house.

Less gos­sipy but frankly more in­ter­est­ing are the in­sights Or­tiz of­fers into the way Bos­ton’s man­age­ment has worked with star play­ers over the years. Sports fans have be­come used to sto­ries of the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, the Red Sox’s Na­tional Foot­ball League neigh­bors, tak­ing a ruth­less stance on player ne­go­ti­a­tions, but Or­tiz casts the Fen­way own­er­ship as be­ing no less com­mit­ted to hard­ball. From his own dif­fi­cul­ties in work­ing out long-term deals to his baf­fle­ment at Bos­ton let­ting es­tab­lished veter­ans such as Pe­dro Martinez and Jon Lester walk away, Or­tiz does very well in de­scrib­ing the bizarre na­ture of pro­fes­sional sports as both a kids’ game and a bil­lion-dol­lar en­ter­tain­ment ven­ture.

The in­tended au­di­ence for “Papi” is clearly those of us for whom Or­tiz is a defin­ing fea­ture of our baseball ex­pe­ri­ence: the New Eng­lan­ders who, be­fore 2004, as Or­tiz puts it, “looked for­ward only cau­tiously” for fear of an­other heart­break. For that group, who cried in 2003, cheered in 2004, 2007 and 2013, and still hasn’t fully ad­justed to Or­tiz not play­ing ev­ery day, this book will pro­vide an en­gag­ing few hours of nos­tal­gia. Baseball fans of other loy­al­ties will cer­tainly en­joy its club­house vi­gnettes, col­or­ful lan­guage and in­sights on hit­ting; fans of the Yan­kees, how­ever, may wish to skip Chap­ter 7 en­tirely.


By David Or­tiz Houghton Mif­flin Har­court. 262 pp. $28

PAPI My Story

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