BOSTON – In the eyes of Frank Thomas, David Ortiz didn’t become the top designated hitter on the planet purely by accident.
“To have success at that position, you’ve got to work on a lot of things during the game that people don’t see,” explained Thomas while watching the Red Sox take batting practice prior to Game 6 of the World Series. “You’ve got to stay mentally focused and you’ve got to stay loose to get up there and jump into a ballgame like you’re 100 percent ready to go.”
Thomas amassed 521 home runs over a stellar 19-year career. Though he started out as the starting first baseman for the Chicago White Sox, he eventually shifted to full-time DH duty in 1998. The two-time American League MVP ended up swatting 269 home runs in a designated-hitter capacity.
Now 45 and still giving off the aura that he could step in the batter’s box today, Thomas said that viewing Ortiz strictly as a DH only does him a disservice. No doubt the player nicknamed “The Big Hurt” is basing his reasoning on Ortiz’ performance during the three World Series games contested in St. Louis, when the Boston slugger amassed seven hits in nine at-bats.
“David has played enough first base that he’s able to stay sharp,” Thomas pointed out. “It’s good for him to do that in the World Series, but I’m sure his body is sore right now. After talking to him the other day, he said ‘You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do at this time of year.’
“This is his third time on this stage, so he knows what to expect. Plus, he’s always been good in the postseason,” Thomas added. “He was prepared mentally. Plus he did a great job (defensively at first).”
Thomas explained why it’s best to look at Ortiz through the lens of a complete hitter.
“When you can hit, you can hit. He’s one of those guys who’s been able to do that for a long time,” said Thomas. “What he’s doing right now, I’m not surprised. If (the Cardinals) continue to attack him in the strike zone, he’s going to hit.”
The run that Ortiz is currently enjoying as someone who’s less than a month away from his 38th birthday is similar to the fountain of youth Thomas got to drink from at the same exact age. As a 38-year-old in 2006, Thomas hit 39 home runs and drove in 114 runs. The following year at age 39, Thomas amassed 26 round trippers.
“Between the ages of 36-39, I was a much better hitter than I was as a younger kid,” Thomas said. “I never tried to hit home runs, they just happened with me. My goal was to use the whole field and that is what David does. That’s part of successful hitting in the big leagues.”
Lately, there’s been discussion that Ortiz may merit Hall of Fame consideration once he calls it a career.
“That’s not up to me, but he’s still got to reach some numbers that he’s got to get to in order to achieve that,” said Thomas, “but I think he’s on a good pace to get there.”
Follow Brendan McGair on Twitter @BWMcGair03