While baseball is suffused with tales of the Immortals, players themselves of course are completely mortal, and are beset by illness, injury and the depredations of age that sap skills and abilities and finally rob them of their careers. Itís always bittersweet and sad but the stage must be cleared for the arrival of new Lochinvars, as is the case with all human enterprises.
So far in 2012, two of the great stars who are attaining senior status are performing as though Ponce de Leon has led them to the fountain of youth. In both of their cases, it was not long ago that declining production seemed to presage the end for both of them.
David Ortiz, Big Papi of the Boston Red Sox, is one of the players I am referring to. In 2009, during his age 33 season, talk was that he was done, his bat had slowed and it was a matter of time, and not much, before he would shuffle off the scene. After a sub-par 2008 when he only played in 109 games, the talk was getting louder and louder. He got off to a dreadful start, batting only .143 in May yet he persevered and by seasonís end he had rebounded, playing in 150 games and posting a still-lackluster .794 OPS with respectable but hardly Big Papi-like power numbers of 28 home runs and 99 RBI.
Fortunately for David and the Red Sox, 2010 and 2011 were bounce-back seasons, as he posted an .899 and .953 OPS in those years; a .900 OPS is All-Star quality, and he was named to the American League team both seasons, and garnered a Silver Slugger as the best Designated Hitter. The Red Sox rewarded him with a one-year contract and a nice raise.
So far, 2012 has been a revelation for the Red Sox slugger. Through the first 19 games he has played, he has posted an eye-popping 1.174 OPS with an astounding .425 batting average with four home runs and eighteen RBI. Itís safe to say that he wonít challenge his Red Sox predecessor Ted Williams and hit .400 for the season (at least I think it is), but he is on the way to a breathtaking season, especially for a player older than 35.
How fitting that the guy just behind Ortiz in the AL batting race is his long-time rival with the New York Yankees, Derek Jeter. Through 19 games Jeter is hitting .400 with 34 base hits and an OPS of 1.040. Jeter, who had a sub-par 2010 after a stellar 2009 when he led the Yankees to the World Series championship, started 2011, his age 36 season, trying to make adjustments to his swing, and stumbled out of the gate. After returning from an injury, he went back to doing things the old-fashioned way, and recovered his stroke; Captain Clutchís 5-for-5 performance last year when he attained his 3,000th hit (with a home run, no less) stands and just another shining moment in his Hall of Fame career.
So no player lasts forever, but itís gratifying to see these two great starts having great starts to the 2012 season, even if they arenít Jamie Moyer.