There were stretches when Ortiz couldn't swing without hearing an audible "pop" in his left shoulder, or sensing a mechanical hitch. And yet he finished with a .332 batting average, easily the best of his career.
There were moments when Boston's Big Papi, lacking propulsion in his tired legs and power stroke, felt more like "Ichiro [Suzuki]," as he joked to reporters in May. Four months later, he owned a very un-Ichiro-like 1.066 on-base plus slugging percentage, one-thousandth of a point behind American League leader Alex Rodriguez.
Ortiz's ability to remake himself, to succeed not just on physical strength but on skill and persistence, is one good reason why he has won a Silver Slugger Award at designated hitter for the fourth straight year.
"I would say, personally, this is one of my best offensive years here in Boston, all the way around," said Ortiz, who finished with a career-high and AL-best on-base percentage of .445, along with 35 homers and 117 RBIs. "I think [if] you look at my numbers this year ... I put it together more than some of the other seasons when people think I had a good season."
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who appreciates the kind of numbers that Ortiz put up in 2007, has called Big Papi's year "underappreciated."
"All the home runs aren't quite there or the RBIs we've seen in the past," Epstein said, "but if you look, he's had one of the best offensive seasons in the American League, if not the best. It's pretty impressive what he's done."
Before Ortiz did it last year, no DH in the 27-year history of the Silver Slugger had won the award even three times in a row. Ortiz's four awards now tie him with Paul Molitor (1987-88, 1993, 1996) and Edgar Martinez (1995, 1997, 2001, 2003) for the most at DH all-time (Martinez also won the award at third base in 1992).
Suzuki joins Ortiz on the 2007 Silver Slugger roster as a repeat performer. Fellow AL Silver Slugger winners Jorge Posada, Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Magglio Ordonez and Vladimir Guerrero are repeat honorees, with only Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena and Detroit's Placido Polanco winning for the first time in the AL.
The Silver Sluggers, given to a player at each position in each league, were determined by a vote of Major League Baseball coaches and managers. Voters took batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage into account, and drew upon their own general impressions of overall offensive value. They could not vote for a player on their own team.
A representative of the Hillerich & Bradsby Co., the maker of Louisville Slugger, the Official Bat of Major League Baseball, will present the specially designed award to each winner in a ceremony early in the 2008 season. The trophy is three feet tall and bears the engraved name of the winner and his Silver Slugger teammates in his respective league.
The Silver Sluggers were instituted by H&B in 1980 as a natural extension of the Silver Bat Award, which is, as its name indicates, a silver-plated bat presented by Louisville Slugger to the batting champions of the AL and NL. This year's Silver Bat Award winners are Colorado's Matt Holliday and Detroit's Ordonez. Holliday won the NL batting title with a .340 average, and Ordonez led the AL and the Majors with a .363 average. Each will receive his Silver Bat Award in an on-field presentation early in the 2008 season.
Alex McPhillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.