FORT MYERS, Fla. -- If David Ortiz is worried about his legacy, he shouldn't be. It couldn't be more secure. Let's begin there. If he's not the greatest baseball player of his generation, he's on the very short list. He's also one of baseball's great ambassadors. In short, he's what we'd like every professional athlete to be.
Baseball is better off because he has graced the big leagues for 17 seasons. He's a tremendous player and a caring teammate. He's also a kind and generous man with a huge heart. So at a time when Ortiz has thrust himself into yet another frothy debate about what he may or may not have done a dozen years ago, it's important to take a step back and understand how important he has been to the game.
We're part of a lucky generation of fans who will be able to say we got to see this guy play. Beyond that, Ortiz's big smile and distinctive laugh has warmed the hearts of thousands of Red Sox fans through the years.
He is so unique and so likable and such a huge presence that he has gone a long, long way toward putting Major League Baseball in the sweet place it's now in. Go ahead and try to imagine the home clubhouse at Fenway Park without David Ortiz. Can't do it, can you? Me neither.
In 12 seasons with the Red Sox, Ortiz has played a huge role in transforming the franchise from one that made breaking hearts a cottage industry to one that has come to define winning and doing things right.
When Red Sox fans remember the greatest era their favorite team has ever had -- beginning with three championships -- Ortiz will forever be one of the faces of it. He has been at his best when on the sport's biggest stage (a .455 batting average in 14 World Series games). Some of his walk-off postseason home runs -- for instance, the one he hit in Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS -- rank among the most spectacular moments in baseball history.
There are other ways to measure greatness. There's being a good citizen of the community. There's representing the franchise the right way. Ortiz checks off every single one of these boxes. There may not be another professional athlete who has invested as much of time and money in good causes. He understands that part of the responsibility of having wealth and prominence is to use it to those who have neither.
He has done it in Boston through an assortment of charities, beginning with his own David Ortiz Children's Fund. He has also done work for the Jimmy Fund, Make-A-Wish, Red Sox Foundation and various other efforts, both in Boston and his native Dominican Republic.
In 2011, he was given the Robert Clemente Award, which is Major League Baseball's highest honor for players who've made charitable work a priority. Hundreds of players have done amazing things through the years, and in this way, apart from the home runs and the postseason appearances, Ortiz takes a backseat to no one.
For me, there is no gray area when it comes to Ortiz. I love the guy. I love the play. I love the attitude. I don't know if he's THE face of Major League Baseball in the post-Derek Jeter era, but he's definitely one of them.
Now he's caught up in a flurry of debate and speculation about whether he did or did not use performance enhancing drugs. This is a whirlwind of his own making in the wake of his using Jeter's Players Tribune to angrily deny that he'd ever "knowingly" used steroids. If I had one wish for Ortiz, it would be that he allow the past to be past. This is a debate he can't win, so why engage in it?
If he failed a drug test 12 years ago, so be it. If he didn't, he's never going to convince people otherwise. It's no secret that a bunch of baseball players used PEDs. Players in every sport used them, too, but in baseball, the steroid era became the impetus for a drug-testing program that is by far the best in professional sports, one that has been effusively praised by anti-doping officials.
We all have to get our minds around what happened. We will never fully know who used and who didn't. Big deal. Baseball has come out of the steroid era stronger than ever, with both players and owners committed to fighting PED use and growing the game together.
Baseball has never been healthier than it is right now. We're in a period of amazing growth and parity, and Ortiz has done his part in getting to this point. As for the other stuff, he should drop it. He has built an amazing legacy. He's both respected and beloved, not just by Red Sox faithful, who adore the man, but by players, managers and coaches throughout the game.
To return to the PED debate obscures all the other good work he has done. All he should be doing at this point is playing the way he has always played and being the good citizen of Boston he has always been.
Nothing else matters. His larger legacy has nothing to do with steroids and never will. That ought to be enough. Everything else is in the distant past, not gone forever, but simply a footnote.
He's at that point in his career where he has more yesterdays than tomorrows, and this part of his career ought to be one long, sweet victory lap. Here's hoping he can bask in the warmth of those Fenway Park ovations for the rest of this amazing ride. He has earned that much.