When the Red Sox agreed last month to sign David Ortiz to a two-year, $26 million contract extension, critics of the deal wondered whether it's realistic for the designated hitter to maintain his level of production beyond his 37th birthday.
Andres Galarraga is familiar with the doubters.
Galarraga belted 41 home runs in 1997 for the Colorado Rockies, including a grand slam off the Florida Marlins' Kevin Brown that ex-Red Sox first baseman Kevin Millar recalled Friday night as having landed in the upper deck at cavernous Pro Player Stadium in Miami. But after the season, seven months shy of turning 37, Galarraga wasn't re-signed, his prodigious power presumed to be on the brink of erosion.
"I heard that my whole career," said Galarraga, a guest at Ortiz' celebrity golf fund-raiser. "People say, 'Oh, you're getting a little old, you can't do it anymore.' I used it as motivation. If I heard people talking something, I have to work a little harder to show them I can still do it."
Sure enough, Galarraga signed a three-year contract with the Atlanta Braves and proved he had something left by hitting 44 homers in 1998.
As for Ortiz, Galarraga said doubters should beware.
After all, with the Red Sox choosing to let him play out his option in 2011, Ortiz batted .309 and slugged .554 with a .398 on-base percentage, his best numbers since 2007. He was even better in 2012. Playing on a one-year contract worth $14.58 million, he was batting .316 and slugging .609 with a .414 on-base percentage when he strained his right Achilles while rounding second base on July 16 at Fenway Park.
Ortiz missed all but one of the season's final 72 games, yet he still ranked second on the Red Sox with 23 homers and tied for fourth with 60 RBI. Once the Sox saw how much the lineup was lacking without him, giving the DH the multiyear contract he craved became a slam dunk.
But what about the future?
Including Galarraga, 21 players have hit at least 30 homers in the season they played at 37, with six topping the 40-homer plateau -- and they are not all steroid-era players. Hank Aaron hit 47 homers in 1971, while Babe Ruth and Hank Sauer each hit 41 in 1932 and '54, respectively. Within the past five years, Jim Thome and Raul Ibanez each hit 34 homers as 37-year-olds.
If Ortiz is able to recover from his Achilles injury -- he said Friday that he still isn't fully healed, although he expects to be healthy before spring training -- Galarraga believes he can join the club. And Ortiz has plenty of motivation. If he spends fewer than 20 days on the disabled list next season with a recurrence of the injury, his salary in 2014 will jump from $11 million to $15 million.
"I think the best way to do it is the way he's doing it right now, to stay in great shape," Galarraga said. "He's working hard for his body to stay healthy. That's the real key. When we get older, we have to work more hard because it's more difficult to get in shape. You have to do it all year round, even when the season's over. I think that's what he's doing."
Galarraga played until he was 43 despite missing the 1999 season while being treated for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Still, he returned in 2000 and batted .302 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI. And although he never topped 17 homers again, he finished his career with 399, 51st on the all-time list.
On July 4, he was passed by Ortiz, who took Oakland's A.J. Griffin deep for No. 400.
"As soon as he did it, I called him right away," Galarraga said. "I knew he was going to do it sooner or later. He's in great shape right now. I tell him he's going to get more than 500. I hope he stays healthy to do it for a long time more."
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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