Why isn't David Ortiz hitting?
True, the Red Sox slugger broke out of a truly embarrassing slump over the weekend, but he did so against the Texas Rangers, the second-worst team in the Major Leagues. And even with that, Ortiz whose big smile and clutch hitting over the past five years have made him arguably the most popular player in all of baseball has hit just two home runs in 79 at bats and is batting a meager .177. Fewer than a dozen AL starters have worse numbers.
What's ailing Big Papi? Baseball commentators have weighed in with various pet theories: his stance is wrong, his knee is bothering him, he's impatient, he's a head case. But what do they know?
So we decided to poll five experts of a different sort: passionate Red Sox fans who are famous for other things, like writing or acting or running for President. Here are their views on Big Papi and why he hasn't been performing.
JOHN KERRY, U.S. Senator and 2004 Democratic nominee for president
"As a recovering presidential candidate, let me remind Red Sox Nation that it's not how you do in April, it's all about winning in late fall. Trust me, I know. On a serious note, everyone needs to exhale. This guy has been baseball's best big game hitter the last three seasons. It's April. It's cold. He's coming back from knee surgery. Get out of his way. Give him air. Let Papi be Papi. For once, can we not be the Chicken Little Nervous Nellies of yesteryear? This guy carried us to two World Series championships, the first time that's happened in my lifetime. Guess what? He's human. He's recovering. He'll get his swing back. All will be right in the world. They didn't bury his jersey under the new Yankees Stadium for nothing. And, bottom line, who would you rather have: a hobbled Big Papi in the lineup or little Steinbrenners in the front office? We win this one in the end."
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STEPHEN KING, award-winning, bestselling novelist
"It's clearly his brain. He's got that freak-out thing going, and it happens to baseball players all the time. His weight's okay, and he doesn't appear to have lost any bat-speed, but he's getting in the hole early in counts, swinging at bad pitches, pressing. He'll be fine by mid-season, I think. Fans have to remember that players like Derek Jeter (and even Teddy Ballgame) have gone through similar periods. A-Rod had one last year."
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CASEY AFFLECK, Academy award-nominated actor (and brother of fellow fan Ben)
"If you free a camel of the burden of his hump (or slump), he wouldn't be a camel anymore. Everybody just needs to relax. Papi always comes out on top. The fat lady ain't sung yet."
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SAMANTHA POWER, Pulitzer-prizewinning writer and Time magazine columnist
"Why isn't Ortiz hitting? With the Yankees playing as if they are human, Manny Ramirez exploding, and J.D. Drew returning to the form of his youth, Big Papi is just getting a slump out of the way when the Sox can afford to absorb it. When the team urgently needs him, which they will, he will do as he has always done: bend down to pick up the mortals around him and single-handedly carry them on his back. Alternative explanation: Julio Lugo gave Ortiz hitting tips in the Dominican Republic in the off season."
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DORIS KEARNS GOODWIN, Pulitzer-prizewinning author and historian
"For years David Ortiz has carried the Red Sox on his shoulders. Now it is our turn to carry him on ours. Those of us who are true (admittedly irrational) fans have long understood that our emotions and our rituals affect the play on the field. So we must replace our negative fears about what is wrong with absolute certainty that this will pass so that our confidence in him can restore his confidence in himself. P.S. In the 1950s, when Brooklyn Dodger first baseman Gil Hodges was in an equally terrible slump, entire parishes prayed for him. And I gave him my St. Christopher's medal blessed by the Pope. The slump dramatically ended. As a seven-year-old I was sure that I had made it happen."