Red Sox: David Ortiz deserves to be in the Hall of Fame

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23: Former Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz #34 reacts during his jersey retirement ceremony before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Fenway Park on June 23, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JUNE 23: Former Boston Red Sox player David Ortiz #34 reacts during his jersey retirement ceremony before a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Fenway Park on June 23, 2017 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /

Legendary Red Sox slugger David Ortiz is one of the all-time greats

The 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot announced Monday night features no lack of star power. Controversial holdovers Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Curt Schilling make their 10th (and final) appearances on the ballot, while some of the biggest names of the 2000s – Ryan Howard, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, Tim Lincecum, and more make their first appearances. Others, such as Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, and Andy Pettitte come with just as much baggage as Bonds and Clemens. No name on the ballot is bigger, or means more to Boston Red Sox fans, than that of David Ortiz.

Considered one of the greatest designated hitters of all time, Ortiz collected 2,472 hits, 632 doubles, 541 home runs, and 1,768 RBI during his 20 MLB seasons (14 with Boston).

For those unfamiliar with the David Ortiz story, a quick rundown — signed by the Seattle Mariners as a 17-year-old in 1992, Ortiz first made a name for himself in 1996, besting Mariners stars Ken Griffey, Jr. and the aforementioned A-Rod in an impromptu home run derby contest after an exhibition game pitting Seattle minor-leaguers against the big-league club was rained out.

Traded to the Twins later that year, Ortiz was called up in 1997, spending parts of six seasons in Minnesota. While Ortiz put up respectable numbers as a Twin (.266/.348/.461, 58 home runs), he was never able to fully solidify himself as an everyday regular, due in part to two separate fractured wrist injuries. After a strong second half in 2002, Ortiz finished with 20 home runs and 75 RBI, career highs at the time. Rather than offer Ortiz arbitration, the Twins released him that December. From there, the legend of Big Papi really begins.

It might not have ever happened if not for another Red Sox legend – Pedro Martinez. During the 2002 offseason, the two bumped into each other at a restaurant in their native Dominican Republic. Upon learning that Ortiz had been released by the Twins, Pedro reached out to multiple Red Sox officials, and not long after, Ortiz was on his way to Boston on a non-guaranteed contract. Ortiz credits Martinez with saving his career.

Even after making the team out of spring training, playing time was hard to come by during the first half of 2003. It wasn’t until Jeremy Giambi underperformed and was benched that Ortiz became the everyday DH in Boston. Ortiz went torrid in the second half, blasting 21 home runs in 63 games. When all was said and done, Ortiz finished the season batting .288 with 31 home runs and a .961 OPS. Finally given the chance to solidify himself, Ortiz finished 5th in MVP voting.

2004 saw an even more dangerous Ortiz. Slugging 41 home runs and driving in 139 runs, Ortiz’s 2004 highlight reel is packed with iconic moments. A mammoth All-Star Game home run. The ALDS Game 3 walk-off home run. Plus, the first World Series Championship for a tortured franchise since 1918.

The years that followed proved that Ortiz was going to go down as one of the great Red Sox of our time. Nine more All-Star games. Six more silver sluggers. A franchise home run record. Two more World Series rings, one them fueled by Ortiz’s own “this is our f***king city” speech and World Series MVP performance in 2013.

It was no coincidence that the dawning of the 21st century Red Sox dynasty coincided with Ortiz’s establishment as one of the premier hitters in baseball. With Ortiz and Manny Ramirez batting third and fourth, they formed the basis of one of the most potent heart of the orders Major League Baseball ever saw.

Ortiz became one of the first Red Sox players since 2001 (the year Ramirez signed an 8-year, $160-million contract with the Red Sox) that could match, or even, exceed Manny’s statistical output. Not to mention their immense impact on Boston fans and the media, Ortiz in particular. The cynicism that has long existed in Red Sox Nation went away just a little bit, with each Manny and David home run, or every Ortiz walk-off base hit, or even after every World Series title (though it’s never entirely gone away, has it?) Ortiz became the face of a winning culture in Boston, with his larger than life personality and litany of clutch moments.

With all of that in mind, how will Big Papi fare on his first Hall of Fame ballot? For me, there is no question about Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case. His numbers alone merit induction. Critics may point to him “only” being a designated hitter, but there isn’t a better designated hitter in MLB history better than David Ortiz – as a designated hitter, Ortiz appeared in 2,027 games, and collected 2,191 hits, 485 home runs, and 1,569 RBI.

But, the David Ortiz experience isn’t just about the numbers. What Ortiz means to Boston and to Red Sox fans transcends how many doubles he hit or balls slashed over the Green Monster. The connection that he made with each and everyone one of us made Big Papi feel like one of us. Whether it was running onto the field to celebrate in an army helmet and ski goggles or hitting his 500th home run, no one else in baseball had the magnetism and charisma that Ortiz carried with him.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case is a long disputed positive PED test, resulting from the 2003 MLB steroid testing survey. Ortiz denies ever knowingly taking any performance-enhancing drugs, but the Hall of Fame candidacies for peers Ramirez and Rodriguez (not to mention players such as Bonds and Clemens) have been damaged by failed tests, suspension, and rumor. Ortiz’s candidacy may seem more legitimate to voters as he never failed another test and MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has gone on record to say that the 2003 test results should not be seen as wholly and totally accurate.

Whether Ortiz makes it in on his first ballot or not, I firmly believe that he will take his rightful place in Cooperstown, bearing a Red Sox hat on his plaque. Red Sox fans are eternally lucky that we could have such a representative in the Hall of Fame. And to think, it might not have happened, if not for that chance meeting in a restaurant 20 years ago.

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