And so the non-story came and went.
For those a day or two behind: On Sunday night, Boston Red Sox fixture and World Series MVP David Ortiz went on CBS Boston's Sports Final program and said that he's feeling good about coming back to Boston (why wouldn't he?), but that baseball is a business and that he's looking for long-term security in the form of a multiyear deal. Ortiz, entering the last season of a two-year deal and 38 years old, added that if he can get that deal somewhere other than Boston, he will.
That was a terrible mistake on his part. There are few if any markets where a veteran player can acknowledge on TV that his team loyalty varies directly based on his current contract, despite the fact that this is true of essentially every veteran player who has the option of choosing free agency. Those markets in which Ortiz's comments wouldn't have made much of an impact aren't more tolerant than Boston, they're just paying less attention, because their current team is terrible. Going on live television and acknowledging that you're a gun for hire -- disrupting that tacit fiction that allows fans to pretend you care about being a part of Boston's ballclub specifically as much as they do -- is a pretty quick way to get half the sports media flacks in broadcast range gunning for you.
Which of course, they did. The mood is fairly well captured by the headline to Dan Shaughnessy's column: "David Ortiz's Contract Talk Is Selfish, Offensive." That language might be a bit extreme, but it's Shaughnessy, and the actual thrust of the piece is blunted somewhat by the fact that he first establishes all of the good things that Ortiz has done for the team, for which Shaughnessy is grateful, before looping back around to excoriate him. If you've read a column from either Shaughnessy or really any other mainstream guy in that region, on the whole it reads pretty similar to all the other times Ortiz has said something that's gotten the Boston press riled up.
On Thursday, Ortiz squashed the beef, telling WEEI that he's more than happy with his current deal, and he loves playing in Boston, and he doesn't know why people are spreading "bad rumors," which is an interesting choice of words considering how all this started. But the fact that Ortiz even has to backtrack and apologize -- when all he did was plainly state the financial realities of the game -- is absurd to begin with, isn't it?
It would be, if it were anyone but Ortiz in Boston. Ortiz's relationship with the press and the fans has never had the sort of serene, deflector-shield like stability of say, Derek Jeter's with his "home" town, but Ortiz nonetheless has built a strong following, in a mostly organic way. This idea -- that professional athletes fervently care about the cities and teams they represent with the same passion as their fans -- is a fiction that both sides have to keep up, so that fans can still feel connected to their teams in this most mercenary of eras. Ortiz has reinforced that fiction pretty well from his end, from that outburst about leadership in the locker room last season to the way he carries himself in press appearances. And there was that big moment everyone remembers from last April, when he said something on national television that I can't directly quote in this space, yet somehow got a free pass from the FCC.
The real reason why Ortiz has no business talking about the cold, harsh financial realities of the game isn't because of the profanity he used in that April moment, but rather because of one of the words that came before it: "our." In one of the most emotionally charged moments in recent Boston history, he used the first-person plural to refer not to himself and all the guys in the locker room, but to himself and everyone in the stands -- in the city. And then he used the profanity, to make sure everybody remembered it.
Is that a bad thing? Not at all. But it's something he can't take back -- he has to own that moment for the rest of his career and beyond. This little dustup, small and otherwise insignificant as it was, should signify that since the last time he signed a contract, his relationship with the city where he plays has changed a little bit. With Thursday's apology, it seems he's figured that out.