Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with the imagery of an anthropomorphic television broadcast giving a tongue bath to a living baseball legend. But it made me giggle for five minutes, so here we are. If you watched Fox’s television broadcast of the 2016 All-Star Game, you might have noticed that they focused a little bit on David Ortiz. Who’s retiring, you know. After this season. This was, in fact, his last All-Star Game. Not sure if you caught wind of that.
Fox caught wind of that! In between clips from a three-hour documentary entitled David Ortiz: Where He’s Been, Where He’s Going they showed pitches, but only if they felt like it. It’s not just Fox, either, as ESPN said the name "Duvall" about twice during Adam Duvall’s entire first round, and one of those times was them yelling, "Hey, Duvall, can you cram it for a second? We’re talking about David Ortiz." It was all Ortiz, all the time.
I can explain this. You might not like it, but this isn’t something that was manufactured out of thin air. This was entirely predictable, and it’s not like Fox and ESPN are taking a shot in the dark, just guessing at the stories people want to hear. There are actually people clamoring for this, people who don’t follow the 24-second Twitter cycle and need to be gently reminded that Ortiz was/is great and will go away after this season. There’s a reason why he touches the imagination in a way that other players don’t, and it can be simplified into a single equation. This is the Greater All-Star Game Tongue Bath Equation:
That is, longevity with one team multiplied by career success, with the product divided by charisma and personality. The longevity doesn’t have to be with the player’s original team — just with the team that made him famous for about a decade or so. The success doesn’t have to be inner-circle Hall of Fame success, but it does have to be sustained throughout the player’s golden years. And it has to come with a personality, if not a general aura of eternal fame. It takes an extreme imbalance in one category to help lift the other categories into tongue-bath status. Let’s take some examples.
Ryan Howard has been with the Phillies for 13 seasons, but four of his last five have been abominable. The personality is pleasant enough, but nothing that’s going to carry a feature film in 50 years. He doesn’t come close to passing the Tongue Bath Test.
Ichiro is now on his third team, but he defined the Mariners for 12 seasons. He was successful for over a decade, and he’s in the middle of a glorious renaissance now. He’s probably the one player that everyone can agree to love right now, and he has a zippy personality. If he decides to retire next year, he gets the All-Star Game tongue bath.
Adrian Beltre has the personality, perhaps the best in baseball. And he has the raw stats, though you have to use the ones that include defensive prowess for maximum effect. But he has a longevity problem — he’s still been a Dodger longer than anything else, and nobody thinks of him as a Dodger. He’s almost equally split between the Dodgers, Mariners, and Rangers. That’s murder on the Tongue Bath Test, and he’ll need some more good years with the Rangers to overcome the deficit.
Albert Pujols is slumping a bit too much at the end of his career to be sure, and he’s not Captain Gregarious, so he’ll need to make it up in the other areas. He can’t do it with one-team longevity, so it’s the stats that he’ll need for tongue-bath status. He’ll be close. There are no guarantees.
Felix Hernandez will get there on all accounts, provided that he doesn’t have a low, slow, painful Steve Carlton-like decline. Justin Verlander probably won’t because while the arc of his brilliant career stretches into the sky, the return to the realm of mortals was swift and sudden. By the time he’s ready for a tongue bath, he’ll have been between meh and pretty good for over five years.
It works with historical players, too. Tony Gwynn had the longevity, the stats, and the charisma. Of course he was going to get special honors when he retired, as well as touching tributes when he was no longer with us. Derek Jeter had it all, too, and Mariano Rivera had enough of the first two to make for the relatively modest personality. Cal Ripken perhaps didn’t have the most ebullient personality around, but the record he set for consecutive games played acted as a proxy for personality, suggesting a hard worker who was absolutely peerless.
Lou Whitaker and Alan Trammell should both be in the Hall of Fame, and they were with the same team for 19 and 20 years, respectively, but they needed to get into more fights, or juggle, or something. Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio will join each other in the Hall of Fame one day, but they didn’t get the big All-Star sendoff for the same reason. They were just kind of there in a way that made it easy for fans to take them for granted.
Chipper Jones was just dull enough to get All-Star love without veering into total tongue-bath territory. If you stapled Rickey Henderson’s personality onto his, though, the 2012 All-Star ceremony wouldn’t have ended until Jeter’s final All-Star Game in 2014.
This doesn’t all mean that you have to love the David Ortiz Memorial All-Star Game Tribute, Presented by David Ortiz. Hey, live your life and love whomever you want to love. We all have opinions on this crazy spinning rock, man. But it was entirely and completely predictable. He has the longevity. He has the stats (you can't expect normal people care about dWAR, hush). And he has three times the personality.
Ortiz is the type of player who gets the gifts at every ballpark he visits for the last time. He’s the type of player who gets the extra attention when he retires. He is, you might say, the kind of player who gets a three-hour tongue bath during his final All-Star Game. They’re easy to predict, in general. Using this super-scientific equation, Ortiz might have been the easiest to predict of all.