I teach English for a living so when summer rolls around I’ve about had it with deconstructing James Joyce and yearn for something light to read. So the second I stepped out of my classroom in June, I cracked open Papi: My Story by David Ortiz with Michael Holley.
And it was exactly what the doctor ordered.
The writing is certainly serviceable with Holley, a columnist for The Boston Globe, doing an admirable job capturing Ortiz’s voice, the pages littered with “my boys” and “bruh’s” and “man’s” alongside the gratuitous expletives. Ortiz also successfully joins Jimi Hendrix in becoming the second person in history who can refer themselves in the third-person and still seem cool.
Papi navigates us through Ortiz’s career from growing up in the Dominican Republic to being drafted by the Seattle Mariners and playing minor league ball. It then shifts to his tumultuous times with the Minnesota Twins to his arrival in Boston, where a chapter is devoted to each of his 14 seasons with the Red Sox.
Ortiz’s autobiography is meant to “inspire someone who need[s] to believe in turnarounds and transformations.” And his story, rising from abject poverty to becoming “Big Papi”, a New England legend, is, indeed, inspirational.
However, the book can also be broken down into two lists: “People Papi Likes” and “People Papi Doesn’t Like.” So here are the stars of each list, in order of their respective ire and adulation.
“People Papi Doesn’t Like”
- Bobby Valentine. If somehow you missed the memo during his playing career, Papi insists on being respected, and most of the people on his shit-list have demonstrated a certain level of irreverence toward him. But no one was loathed by Papi more than Bobby Valentine. Bobby V. is described as “aggravating as hell, arrogant and disrespectful.” And in Papi’s final analysis, after Bobby V. badmouthed Papi on national television, the 2012 Sox skipper is described as “a bad human being.” While Bobby V. might credit himself with the invention of the sandwich wrap, he will live in infamy these pages.
- Tom Kelly. Kelly was Papi’s first manager in Minnesota, and he was “the type of guy who could make your life miserable if he didn’t like you.” And Tom Kelly “didn’t like [him]. At all.” Kelly sent Papi down to AAA in Salt Lake City for a year and, according to Papi, tried to derail his career. Tom Kelly is no bueno with Big Papi.
- The Boston sports media (particularly Dan Shaughnessy). The blight of Papi’s career was appearing in a New York Times article about the 2003 list of players who tested positive for PED’s, something Papi adamantly denies and claims to still not understand. But the bad men in the Boston sports media added insult to injury, and then the Boston sportswriters insisted that Papi was finished in 2009 and 2010. Well, as Roger Waters might say, “ha ha, charade you are.” And when Papi’s statistics bounced back in 2011, Shaughnessy—who Papi describes as a [someone who copulates with their mother] who “walks around like he owns the team”—suggested that Papi’s success was due to steroids. Bad move, Dan. It’s safe to say that if Shaughnessy’s curly red hair were on fire, Papi wouldn’t stop to urinate on his head.
Honorable mentions: Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington for disrespecting Papi with paltry contact offers, and Tito Francona for pinch-hitting for Papi with Mike Lowell in game against Toronto in 2010, something Papi claims was the most humiliating day of his career. “It was embarrassing,” Papi writes. “Man, was it ever embarrassing.”
“People Papi Likes”
- Papi (and God for creating Papi). There is no disputing that David Ortiz was the greatest DH to ever play the game, and to be great at anything requires a copious amount of self-confidence. On the first page of his autobiography, Papi credits himself with “redefining the position” (which he did) and boasts that he was “celebrated and cheered by millions” (which he was). While there are certainly attempts at humility, it is abundantly clear the Papi likes Papi. The only person/entity bigger and better than Big Papi is the Big Man Himself. “God gave [Papi his] talent” and “God is great.” Nice work, God.
- His family. I admit that I have a tendency to be smart-ass in some of these columns (see last line of previous paragraph), but this is, perhaps, the most endearing part of the autobiography. Papi is extremely candid when talking about his love for his parents, his sister, his wife, Tiffany, and their three children. He also delves into his marital problems and his separation from his wife, with which most married couples can relate. But Papi is a man of strong values, and there seems to be nothing more valuable to him than his family.
- Pedro and Manny (his “boys”). Duh. Despite both players have multiple diva episodes in Red Sox uniforms, they are apotheosized by Papi in print. Granted, without Pedro Martinez pestering the front office, Papi may have never donned a Boston uniform. And both players taught Papi a tremendous amount about the game and how to train, mentally and physically. But as a fan who watched Manny Ramirez’s episodes on his way out of town, it seems Papi suffers from some selected amnesia. Both were great players, no doubt. But Papi selectively polishes their halos.
- The Boston fans. Papi loved playing in Boston, and a large part of that was due the fans, who he believes inspired him and “helped shape [him] as player and as a person.” There is a genuine respect for the fans and the city of Boston, as we all saw after The Boston Marathon Bombing. Papi loves Red Sox fans, and it’s fair to say that the love is reciprocated.
Honorable mentions: Jon Lester receives effusive praise for his fight on and off the field, as does the “wise” John Henry, who offered Papi a contract extension in 2014 that “allowed [him] to put [his] mind fully on training and preparing.” Dr. Creepy is presented as, well, less creepy.
While Papi: My Story certainly won’t be shortlisted for a National Book Award in nonfiction, it will appeal to most fans of the man and the game, mainly Red Sox fanatics.