ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Boston and New York have been adversaries since the original Hamilton walked Broadway in the late 18th century.

David Ortiz has been at the epicenter of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry for the past 14 seasons. Come 2017, neither Ortiz nor Alex Rodriguez will be an actor in this award-winning baseball melodrama that featured brawls during the 2003 American League Championship Series and beyond.

Ortiz, for one, is glad the era of on-field gladiators has passed.

“This is not the WWE. This is baseball at the highest level,” Ortiz told B/R during a Red Sox visit here in August. “It’s all good for the game. People don’t pay to come and watch us fight. People used to do that because of what it used to be. And that’s why people believe the intensity isn’t there. It’s there. We just don’t fight like we used to.”

The David Ortiz Goodbye Baseball tour makes its penultimate regular-season stop beginning Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox could clinch the American League East title with victory or a Toronto loss. The Yankees have planned a celebration for Ortiz on Thursday but have not released details.

“Playing in New York is very special,” Ortiz added when asked Saturday by B/R about his final trip to the Bronx as a player. “The fans are very into it. Every inning you have to be on your toes to make something happen. The New York Yankees, I have a lot of respect for that organization. Somehow, someway, you get connected to it [when you’re from] the Dominican Republic.

“When I was a kid, New York was an organization that was very well mentioned back in the Dominican. Everyone in the Dominican is aware of the Yankees. We kind of changed the Dominicans’ minds a little bit once me, Pedro [Martinez] and Manny [Ramirez] got together here.

“Now, I would say it’s pretty much 50-50 Red Sox-Yankees in the Dominican. But when I was a kid, every game you would see in the Dominican was coming from New York. There are 3 million Dominicans in New York, so that connection is always there. It’s always an honor and pleasure to play there.”

The 40-year-old Ortiz has somewhat brutally slashed .307/.397/.574 against the Yankees in his career with Minnesota and Boston, producing 53 home runs and 171 RBI. His two-run home run in the 12th inning of Game 4 during the 2004 ALCS ignited baseball’s biggest-ever postseason comeback.

Red Sox vs. Yankees hit warp speed with the sale of Babe Ruth to New York nearly a century ago. The teams’ enmity has endured a roller coaster of competitiveness since. The intensity hit crescendos in the late 1940s, the mid 1970s—erstwhile Boston pitcher Bill Lee once referred to the Yankees as “Billy Martin’s Brownshirts“—the late 1990s and in the first decade of the 21st century.

Fisticuffs aplenty came along for the ride.

Now, Red Sox vs. Yankees is enjoying a period of relative calm, at least when it comes to throwing punches.

“This is better,” Ortiz said in August. “Once you fight with someone, that guy becomes your enemy whether you like it or not. I don’t want to be having enemies in baseball. Once there’s a brawl going on and you’re throwing punches, people start getting injured.”

Fewer on-field melees does not mean the players’ competitiveness has waned.

“From that time until today, there are a lot of rules that have basically been added to the game,” Ortiz said. “Players have to approach things differently. It’s good for the game. You don’t want to send the wrong message that you have to fight to be able to earn respect or perform at this level.

“When I first came up and got hit, one of our pitchers [see: Martinez] would throw a close pitch to them. And same with the Yankees. And all of sudden, the evil would let loose. I think to avoid all this stuff, Major League Baseball passed all these rules to warn people or throw them out of the game if they throw at people on purpose.”

MLB‘s push to temper physical contact between players with disciplinary action sent the right message, at least as far as Ortiz is concerned.

“You come with your kids and family and you see players fighting 30, 40 feet away from you,” he said. “What is the mentality your kids are going to take away from that? You came to watch a baseball game. Not fighting. My kids questioned me and were asking, ‘Hey, Dad. What’s going on?’ That’s not the memory you want them to take home.

“It happens now but not as much. Now, we’re concerned about being suspended, missing games. MLB is on top of it big time. When a guy like me gets suspended for five or 10 games, it affects my ballclub. It affects me at some point, too. That’s not the image you want the fans to see.”

Another factor that has calmed tempers between the Red Sox and Yankees is the fact they have not met in the playoffs since Boston celebrated its Game 7 victory of the 2004 ALCS in the Bronx after erasing a 3-0 series lead. It could be said the victory was so devastating to New York that it had to tear down its old stadium and build a new one.

“I didn’t think we had that series won until the final out,” Ortiz said. “We were supposed to lose from day one. If I tell you after Game 5 or 6 we had them beaten, I’d be lying to you.”

As he did when he chose an Ultimate All-Star Team of His Era’s Biggest Stars for B/R in July, Ortiz spoke with reverence and respect about ex-Yankees Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who were also key figures in the post-2000 act of this drama. The Red Sox honored both players with elaborate—if cheesy—ceremonies during their final stops at Fenway Park in 2014 and 2013, respectively.

“Mariano and D.J. were there forever,” Ortiz said.

He scoffed at the perception that Jeter wasn’t as tough as he was talented.

“What do these people want?” Ortiz said. “He was the one player you wanted to watch as another player. You cannot ask for more than he brought to the table. I’m talking about competing against him. Watching him play. Watching him handle his business.

“In my mind, he’s going to be the first player to go into the Hall of Fame with 100 percent of the vote. … Well, he should be. He did it all. The guy was perfect. Everything. The way he was as a player. The way he handled his business. The way he handled the media. The way he dealt with the fans. This guy was extraordinary.”

Ortiz’s farewell tour has morphed into a six-month-long episode of Antiques Roadshow. Among the items he has amassed are a custom surfboard plastered with an image of Ortiz at the 2016 All-Star Game courtesy of the San Diego Padres, 34 pounds (Get it?) of salmon from his original franchise (the Seattle Mariners), a giant bottle of cabernet from the Oakland A’s, cowboy boots and a giant belt buckle thanks to the Texas Rangers and the Baltimore bullpen phone he destroyed during an epic outburst in 2013.

“I’m keeping all that stuff in my garage. But I’m running out of room,” he said.

Red Sox vs. Yankees has morphed into its next chapter. A Boston fan buried a No. 34 Ortiz jersey during the construction of the new Yankee Stadium in 2008. It was later removed.

The Red Sox swept the Yankees in Boston two weeks ago. When the so-called experts write the history of the 2016 Red Sox, Hanley Ramirez’s three-run walk-off homer against New York on Sept. 15 could well be considered the final turning point. Boston hasn’t lost since and rides into the Bronx on an 11-game winning streak.

“You see the talent the Yankees have called up this season? The talent that we have here? The rivalry is going to continue,” Ortiz said. “They’re rebuilding that team very quickly. Talk about Mookie [Betts], [Xander] Bogaerts, Junior [Jackie Bradley]. The talent is there. These kids are still in the learning process. When you see the way Starlin Castro has been playing and behaving. And [Dellin] Betances. The way they’re doing things now. And that [Gary] Sanchez kid. You have a future Jorge Posada behind the plate. He has all the tools to be a great player.”

Ortiz told reporters in Boston on Sept. 16 that he expected to get booed (as reported by’s Scott Lauber) during his New York farewell but added that there is respect between himself and the Yankees faithful. He had a slightly more favorable forecast for his reception in the Bronx when asked about it by B/R here following the Red Sox’s 2-1 win over the Rays on Friday.

“Everywhere we go, we have a lot of fans. Getting into Fenway is tough. Every game is pretty much sold out. So our fans go everywhere we go,” said Ortiz, who was loudly cheered before every plate appearance here this past weekend.

Even in New York?

“Oh, yeah. Everywhere.”

As far as the departed A-Rod goes, Ortiz said in August he has taken the road of “forgive and forget.” Their once-deep friendship cooled after Rodriguez acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs and his lawyer apparently attempted to implicate Ortiz as a PED user in 2014.

“I’m not going to start naming all the other players, but some of them are God-like in Boston right now, and people seem to forget that,” Joe Tacopina told ESPN Radio back then.

Tacopina later said he was not referring to Ortiz.

Ortiz tested positive for PEDs during MLB’s pilot program in 2003. He maintained to B/R that he never knowingly used any banned substances or tested positive for PEDs since 2003.

Thankfully, the A-Rod-Ortiz feud did not end in a duel with pistols on the grass in the Bronx or at Fenway Park.

“I’ve known A-Rod for a long time,” Ortiz said. “I’ve been a friend. I have a good relationship. He got confused and did things the wrong way with me and a lot of people. But it’s forgotten. If there is something God would like me to do, it is forgive.”


Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist who writes the “Obnoxious Boston Fan” column for the Boston Herald. He covers baseball for Bleacher Report. He Tweets @RealOBF and @BillSperos.

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