Everyone knows the story by now: Released by the Minnesota Twins as an afterthought following the 2002 season, David Ortiz was scooped up by the Boston Red Sox, where the beloved slugger resurrected his career to become one of the greatest clutch hitters of all time.
But few might realize how close Ortiz came to falling through the cracks.
ESPN the Magazine detailed Ortiz’s journey from Minnesota to Boston in a lengthy oral history that revealed just how bleak things looked for Ortiz ahead of the 2003 season. According to former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, Boston needed to fill the first base/designated hitter spot, and Ortiz was one of the Red Sox’s many targets on a list that included the likes of Jeremy Giambi, Erubiel Durazo and Cliff Floyd.
The Sox ended up signing Giambi and Panamanian slugger Julio Zuleta, and Ortiz still was without a job in January 2003.
“I didn’t think I wasn’t going to play,” Ortiz told ESPN the Magazine. “But I was preparing to just go to winter ball and hope something came up. So I went to winter ball and had a good winter, but I didn’t have anything.”
Enter Ortiz’s saving grace: Red Sox pitcher Pedro Martinez, who pushed the club to take a chance on his fellow Dominican Republic native.
“(Ortiz) and Pedro Martinez were close,” Epstein said, “and Pedro called everyone — me, (team president) Larry Lucchino, (Red Sox traveling secretary) Jack McCormick — to lobby for David and talk about what a great guy he was.”
“You had the star player, the best player on a team approaching the last year of his contract, asking for a favor,” Fernando Cuza, who served as an agent for both Ortiz and Martinez, told ESPN the Magazine. “Do the favor and what does that really cost you? There was zero economic risk to the Red Sox. If David doesn’t make it, he gets released.”
The rest is history, as Epstein and Co. offered Ortiz a one-year, $1.25 million contract, which he signed on Jan. 22, 2003. And if it wasn’t for Pedro’s prodding, not only would Big Papi not have helped lead the Red Sox to a World Series title one year later, he might not have even spent the 2003 season in the big leagues.
“You know how many offers I got? One. From the Red Sox. That’s the truth,” Ortiz said.
“All I know is that one day right in front of me, Pedro called Larry and told him to sign me,” he added. “Pedro made it happen.”
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images