Things looked rather bleak on the Boston sports scene in January 2003.
The Celtics and Bruins were in the middle of decent yet unspectacular seasons, the New England Patriots had just missed the playoffs amid a Super Bowl hangover and the Red Sox were a few months removed from their third consecutive year without a postseason berth.
Then the Sox signed a relatively obscure first baseman in free agency, and the fate of their franchise changed forever.
On Jan. 22, 2003 — exactly 15 years ago Monday — new Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein signed David Ortiz to a one-year, non-guaranteed contract that would pay him $1.25 million if he made the team.
Ortiz went on to earn 10 All-Star nods in Boston, bringing three World Series titles to the city while staking his claim as one of baseball’s most clutch hitters ever.
He was far from a slam dunk back in 2003, though. In fact, the Minnesota Twins released the Dominican Republic native on Dec. 12, 2002, in a move to save cap space.
Ortiz faced stiff competition for playing time on the Sox, as well: Epstein also brought in Bill Mueller, Kevin Millar and Jeremy Giambi — who all had prior experience at first base — during that same offseason. Nothing was guaranteed.
Ortiz scuffled early in the 2003 campaign, hitting .212 in April and needing 15 games to hit his first Red Sox home run.
Yet Boston stuck with Ortiz, and the player we now know as “Big Papi” soon emerged: The then-27-year-old finished with 31 home runs and 101 RBIs and became an instant folk hero by smacking two more homers in the American League Championship Series against the rival New York Yankees.
A year later, Ortiz raised his game further, earning 2004 ALCS MVP honors and helping slug the Red Sox to their first World Series title in 86 years.
So, yeah. That free agent first baseman made the team.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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