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Book Review: Big Papi – My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz and Tony Massarotti

Big Papi – My Story of Big Dreams and Big Hits, by David Ortiz and Tony Massarotti

St. Martin’s, 288 pp., hardcover, $24.95, ISBN-13: 978-0312366339

Also available in Spanish as Big Papi – La Historia de Mis Anhelos y Mis Grandes Batazos

The truth in any contemporary book by a sports hero is always in the ellipses, what isn’t said, what’s between the lines. No doubt this was vetted before publication by an army of lawyers, so as not to offend anyone associated with Major League Baseball or, perish the thought, sully the game’s reputation. You assuredly won’t find anything revealing here unless you look for it. Suffice it to say that the days of hilarious tell-alls like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four or Sparky Lyle and Peter Golenbock’s The Bronx Zoo – or Jim Brosnan’s thoughtful, introspective The Long Season – are long over, gone with the days of affordable box seats, a single best-of-five pennant playoff series, and ninth-inning beer in the bleachers.

This book seems to be based on a hastily conducted series of spring training interviews, most likely translated from Ortiz’ native Spanish (he’s Dominican). For those who’ve somehow managed to avoid the hype, David Ortiz is the most feared slugger in the American League, a large man with a devastating lefthanded swing who last season led the league in home runs, setting the Boston Red Sox single-season record in the process. Three years ago, his extra-inning heroics led the Red Sox to a historic comeback against the Yankees in the playoffs, followed by the Red Sox’ first World Championship in 86 years. Perhaps most notably, the Red Sox got him for free when the power-starved Minnesota Twins, fearing that Ortiz’ considerable girth would increase his already significant penchant for injuries, gave him the pink slip after the 2002 season. All this is contained in the book, along with the following:

– Ortiz calls everybody “bro” or “papi” (hence his nickname, “Big Papi”),

– He grew up poor but not destitute, more fortunate than his friend Pedro Martinez, the great pitcher and Dominican folk hero who he credits with saving his career

– He was very close to his mother, and losing her in an auto accident was understandably traumatic (though he glosses over it)

– Like many other Latin players, he used another name (David Arias) during much of his time in the minor leagues

– Dominicans in the Major Leagues share a loyalty to each other beyond any team affiliation, bonding together because they can’t stand the blandness of American food

– Ortiz likes to cook, and one suspects his popularity with his colleagues stems from his fondness for working the grill (though, sadly, we don’t find out anything else about his gustatory talents or predilections: no recipes, no favorite foods, no guide to the best Dominican takeout joints around the majors).

Other things you learn from this book, although its authors might not want you to:

– Although Ortiz seems to be universally well-liked among his peers, he comes across as a fiercely proud, impetuous character who does things his way and his way only

– In the minors, he won accolades not only for his hitting but also his fielding (which makes sense: contrary to conventional wisdom, he remains a perfectly adequate first baseman).

– He’d much prefer to play in the field than serve as the designated hitter

– He explains away his mysterious hospitalization for a rapid heartbeat during a crucial series against the Yankees as being due to “stress” (come on, this is the guy who almost singlehandedly vaulted the Sox into the World Series with one crucial clutch performance after another, and he’s talking about STRESS???). While Ortiz seems to be the least likely guy in the majors to be doing steroids (he’s too fat – although he insists he isn’t), there may be other plausible reasons, including but not limited to the little things that ballplayers have been using to get a little extra pep since the 1950s.

There’s next to nothing in here about the legendary camaraderie of the Sox’ 2004 World Championship team (and its subsequent demise), nothing about Ortiz’ friendship with teammate and fellow Dominican Manny Ramirez, nothing about his vaunted swing, opposing pitchers or for that matter any juicy tales from the clubhouse, the backyard barbeque, the strip club or wherever Ortiz and his pals hang out.

To offer enough heft to justify its pricetag, the book is puffed out with “appreciations” of Ortiz’ talent as well as a tortuously long mea culpa by Twins General Manager Terry Ryan, explaining how he let the most feared slugger in the American League walk away, getting nothing in return: you end up feeling really sorry for the guy, listening to him go on and on, reliving one of the worst errors in judgment that any big league exec ever made.

Strictly for diehards: one suspects that the Spanish-language version is the more popular of the two editions available.

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July 25, 2007 Posted by | Culture, Literature, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments