Former Twin David Ortiz released his new memoir on Tuesday entitled, “Papi: My Story.” As you would expect, the second chapter of the book is named “Tom Kelly and Me” and it’s all about how much the legendary Twins manager ruined David Ortiz’s life.
Ortiz—who the Twins received in a trade with the Seattle Mariners in 1995—described his arrival to the Twins thusly:
Many things about the Twins had changed over the years, but the same manager was still in place. His name was Tom Kelly, and he was highly respected in the Twin Cities and throughout baseball. It didn’t take me long to figure out he was the kind of guy who could make your life miserable if he didn’t like you. It also didn’t take me long to figure out he didn’t like me. At all. This was going to require some problem-solving skills. This was going to be my biggest challenge yet in professional baseball.
I know this is supposed to set TK up as some kind of villain, but all I can do is laugh.
Ortiz goes on:
I know he’s recognized as a good baseball man, but he struck me as a guy who believed his players were dumb fucks.
/Extended clearing of the throat noise
David, you played for the Twins under Tom Kelly for part of five seasons. Would you like to know what those teams’ records were? Here:
- 1997 Twins: 68-97
- 1998 Twins: 70-92
- 1999 Twins: 63-97
- 2000 Twins: 69-93
- 2001 Twins: 85-77
You pretty much were all dumb fucks.
But David tired to defend this point anyway:
I’ll give you an example. The Metrodome was known for being a tough place to track the ball, as well as for its fast, unpredictable turf. You could be working hard, concentrating hard, and embarrassing things still could happen to you in the field. There was a game where Kelly thought the team was too sloppy, so he ordered the players on to the field after the game. Come on. It’s major league baseball. I’d never seen anyone do that before, and I’ve never seen anyone do that since.
Well first of all, Tom Kelly didn’t just do this once, he did this many times—while you were on the team. You saw it more than once, David.
Secondly, I searched old newspaper columns for the specific time Ortiz may have been referencing and came across a Star Tribune piece by LEN3 from May 3, 2000. That day TK held an unusual, early-afternoon fundamental drills in the Metrodome for all infielders, outfielders, and pitchers. Why? Because the young Twins had committed 19 errors in 26 games.
For reference, the current also-young 2017 Twins have committed 8 errors in 35 games.
David—Tom Kelly made you guys do fundamental drills because you weren’t playing major league baseball.
Still, Ortiz (always the victim) goes on:
I walked on eggshells around [Tom Kelly]. I didn’t like playing the way he wanted me to play. He loved those Punch and Judy, spray-the-ball-all-over-the-field hitters. He absolutely loved that kind of stuff. I’m not going to be putting the ball on the turf and moving runners over. I’m a big, left-handed power hitter who is supposed to drive in runs. That was my approach.
The approach seemed to work fine for the first half of 1998 season. I hit four home runs and drove in 20 in our first 34 games, and I led our team in slugging percentage. I felt great, I even got a compliment from Kelly, who told the people covering the team that I brought “pizazz” to the game. Unfortunately I hurt my wrist in a game against Tampa and broke it a week later in New York.
Ummmmm... yeah, no. I mean, kind of, but a more accurate description of this is that you, Ortiz, hurt your wrist against Tampa Bay, proceeded to not tell anyone it hurt until a week later, and by that time it was for sure broken.
“He was exciting to watch,” Tom Kelly said in an article about the ordeal published in the Star Tribune on May 11th, 1998, when the broken wrist diagnosis was made. “[Ortiz] was coming along and learning some lessons. Now, this will hold him back.”
At least Ortiz correctly acknowledges in his book that the injury made his relationship with TK worse, although he doesn’t seem to even understand why.
The very best part of the chapter, though, comes when David Ortiz talks about the 1999 season:
This was a team desperately in need of, to use Kelly’s word, pizazz. Yet, at the end of spring training, the Twins sent me to Triple A. When I’d made it from A ball to the big leagues in 1997, I though my minor league days were over. Two years later, even after my wrist injury, it was clear to everyone that I was a 23-year-old hitter who belonged in the big leagues.
The Twins disagreed. I was one of the first cuts, and they used poor batting average against me. I get angry about it to this day. I put it all on Kelly. I think about his mentality at the time, and the games he played with me. If I were a lesser mind, if I didn’t posses the inner strength that I have, it could have broken me.
DAVID—IN 1999 YOU WERE A FRINGE MLB PLAYER WHO HAD ONLY PLAYED IN 101 MAJOR LEAGUE GAMES OVER TWO SEASONS. YOU CAME TO SPRING TRAINING OVERWEIGHT AND HIT A MEASLY .137 BA WITH TWO HOME RUNS.
THAT’S WHY YOU DIDN’T FUCKING MAKE THE TEAM.
It’s not like any of this is new, though. David Ortiz has been bitching about how he thinks the Twins and Tom Kelly wronged him for over a decade. Back in 2006, when the Star Tribune’s then beat-writer Joe Christensen asked David why he thought the Twins hadn’t had a 30 home-run hitter since 1987, Ortiz said,
“Because no one in Minnesota used steroids.” “Because they’re stupid. You take a hard swing and the manager [Kelly] was screaming at you from the dugout, ‘Hey! Hey!’”
For what it’s worth, Christensen followed up with Tom Kelly, and published TK’s thoughts in the same article from April 2, 2006:
“He [David Ortiz] can say all he wants, I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me,” Kelly said. “He’s just not smart enough to know. There was a lot of hollering, a lot of screaming, and look at where he’s at now.”
Scouts do believe Ortiz is a more complete hitter now than he was earlier in his career.
According to ESPN.com, of the balls Ortiz put into play last season, he pulled 50% to right field but sprayed 29 percent to center and 22 percent to left. Some of his home runs were prolific opposite-field shots over the Green Monster at Fenway Park.
“Now he’s going to say, ‘Well I just swing now,’” Kelly said. “And yeah, he just swings. But he drives them to left, he drives them to center. I think he forgot about that, but that’s OKAY...
“This is all developed through time and experience and repetition and knowledge and more at-bats,” Kelly said. “Some guys will learn faster than others.”
Here’s the thing that gets me: many a baseball writer, to this day, continue to write about how Ortiz played with a chip on his shoulder. Where do you think that chip came from? Not the Red Sox long World Series drought—he’d only been there a year before breaking the hex in the 2004 ALCS. Being released from the Twins? Maybe.... but I think even more likely, from Tom Kelly. TK was always that guy on Ortiz’s shoulder, the guy he remembered, the guy who never thought he was good enough.
Want proof? Ortiz just “wrote” the entire second chapter in his autobiography explicitly about how much Tom Kelly bothered him.
TK pushed Ortiz harder than anyone else has ever pushed him in his entire life. TK is a huge reason why Ortiz is the person he is today. Of course it wasn’t a pleasant experience. It wasn’t meant to be. That’s how TK managed everyone on that late 1990s/early 2000s Twins team, including Doug Mientkiewicz, A.J. Pierzynski, Torii Hunter, Jacque Jones, and many more. They all hated Tom Kelly at one time or another, but eventually, when they got older and learned more, and started trying to teach younger players themselves... it seemed to make sense. Maybe.
Maybe, one day, David Ortiz will finally come around too.