Last week, David Ortiz appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the three Boston police officers who appeared on the SI cover the week of the Boston Marathon bombings. This week, I’m going to use that cover as an excuse to put my love for Big Papi to pen and paper one last time before the winter. Is that okay with everyone? Good.
When most teams win a championship, you see one of two covers the following week. It’s either an action shot, or multiple members of, if not the whole team, posing. If it’s an action shot, ground rules state that it’s okay for it to be just one or two guys (I’m reminded of Tom Brady’s “The Hero” cover after SB 38). But if it’s a photo shoot right after the title, then normally you’d like to see multiple contributors take the cover.
For this year’s Red Sox team, maybe you’d see Ortiz with Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, and Koji Uehara. Or maybe a shot of the entire team, reminiscent of the ’04 Sox being honored as SI’s Sportsmen of the Year. However, the only member of the team on the cover was Ortiz, and he was with the three officers who made their second SI cover appearance in just over six months, as the nation’s most famous sporting magazine declared this “Boston’s Finest Hour.”
A wonderful combination of the ubiquitous nickname for police squads meshed with the ubiquitous nickname for high pressure situations that turn out for the better. It was a nice touch having Ortiz off to the back and having the officers form a triangle in the foreground. Stories and imagery intertwining sport and tragedy tend to induce squeamishness, but SI found a delicate balance in their cover shot.
So, why just Ortiz and not the other 24 guys? I can understand if some fans have a problem with a team championship cover being occupied by only one member of that team. But this cover is clearly about much, much more than the World Series, as noted by the headline, the sub-headline, the caption, and the ratio of athletes to officers. And if you’re going to do a story about Boston, the police department, and the Red Sox, where you need to choose one athlete to represent the team, well, yeah, you’re going to choose David Ortiz.
No one man is ever bigger than his team, but for the sake of this cover, David Ortiz is the Colossus of Rhodes, and his teammates are the guys scrubbing the decks of the ships that pass under him. The Red Sox became the first team in this century to win three World Series, and Ortiz became the first player since Babe Ruth to win three titles as a member of the Sox. It’d be inaccurate to say Ruth was bigger than his team—no, he was bigger than the game itself. Ortiz became the first non-Yankee in 20 years to win three World Series with the same team. Given that the titles came over a ten season span, that says a hell of a lot about what Ortiz must mean by now to his team.
As a representative of the team in regards to the Marathon bombings, Ortiz is a no-brainer. For one thing, he embodies the resiliency of the city of Boston and all its people and public servants. Big Papi’s career isn’t 1/1000th as important as any of the losses suffered on April 15th, but the point is that he’s a guy who, in a baseball sense, has been dragged through the mud, left for dead, and risen from the ashes to be at the top of his game.
Then you factor in how much Ortiz has meant, this season, to the city and its team. I wrote recently that the Red Sox are closer to the Marathon than any other Boston team. Well, no player is closer to the Marathon than Ortiz. He’s been a part of 11 straight Marathon Monday games. And no one but Ortiz could have taken the microphone at that first home game after the bombs went off a few days earlier, right around the corner from the old yard. It was Boston’s moment, and Ortiz made damn sure he was going it’d be a moment Boston would cherish forever.
Of course, then he gave Boston a season to remember. He led the Sox in every pertinent offensive category. He came up with timely hits week after week, month after month. He stayed healthy and carried the offensive for extended periods of time. He bailed them out in Game 2 of the ALCS with as clutch a hit as you’ll ever see. Then he made the universe bow down to him for six games to finish everything off in perfect fashion.
If the Red Sox hadn’t won the championship, hell, if they’d missed the playoffs, I can’t imagine SI running the same cover photo and story last week. So it is about the Red Sox because they made it happen on the field. And there are no qualms here about SI using the Sox World Series of redemption to extoll the virtues of my home city and the way it’s remained tough in terrible times. The city supported the Sox, the Sox supported the city, almost as if they had a handshake agreement: The Sox get the job done and earn the cover of SI, and Boston police will take it from there.
Well, Boston police and one other guy, that is.