The rise of Ortiz from scrap-heap bench player to Hall of Famer is an unlikely and entertaining story, and engagingly told in Papi: My Story. Starting with his early life in the Dominican Republic, when he looked up to faraway greats such as Ken Griffey Jr., and concluding with his 2016 retirement tour, the memoir is largely a straightforward narrative of Ortiz’s time in baseball. Those looking for a deep dive into the inner life of a baseball star or the intricate strategies of a modern franchise will probably be disappointed. As the unpolished reflections of one of the few ballplayers to redefine a club, though, it works perfectly ... it’s in that voice that the memoir’s true strength lies. Freed of the beat reporters and columnists who normally filter the interaction between player and fan, Ortiz shines when he discusses the unique circumstances of playing baseball in the league’s harshest spotlight.
Mr. Holley writes crisp, straightforward and organized prose, moving swiftly from the player’s childhood in the Dominican Republic to his early failure with the Minnesota Twins and then, at Boston, his eventual dominance. Yet the book sounds a lot like Mr. Ortiz’s voice, especially when it comes to the people the player adores—the pitcher Pedro Martínez, for example—and the ones he dislikes ... Mr. Ortiz also talks about his 2003 positive drug test, revealed in 2009. Like most writers who have covered sports for years, I’m skeptical when athletes make claims of innocence. With Mr. Ortiz, my heart’s too big.
Two warnings: Those who prefer their profanities out of earshot might consider covering their eyes through parts of this book and those looking for a salacious tell-all will be disappointed ... It’s no surprise that Ortiz resents the sportswriters who asked him about performance-enhancing drugs (which he vehemently denies ever using), particularly the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy, 'that [expletive] still walks around like he owns the team.' It was surprising, at least to me, that Ortiz had so little respect for the team’s management ... Given all that, maybe it’s a wonder Papi endured so well and so long. Now his many fans have a book in which the hitter looks back at his extraordinary run and what made it go.
Ortiz appears positive, constructive, and determined to succeed, and though he deploys a few vulgarities for effect, nothing upsets his cheerful optimism. There are a few intriguing behind-the-scenes anecdotes, but Ortiz offers little self-critical thought. Readers who have already canonized Big Papi will be reassured, but those who hoped to meet a more rounded, multidimensional human will struggle to find him here.