Red Sox: One voter who could cost David Ortiz on Hall of Fame ballot

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 09: David Ortiz exits the field after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 09, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - SEPTEMBER 09: David Ortiz exits the field after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch before the game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees at Fenway Park on September 09, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

One Boston writer didn’t vote for Red Sox icon David Ortiz

With just over two weeks until the announcement of the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame class, over half of the ballots have been submitted. The early results show Boston Red Sox icon David Ortiz achieving the votes necessary for enshrinement. It’s Big Papi’s first year on the ballot, and while he’s almost a certain Hall of Famer, getting elected on the first ballot is an honor reserved for the true greats of the game.

75% of the vote is required for induction, and Ortiz is currently over 83%, according to Hall of Fame tracker Ryan Thibodaux. If Ortiz continues trending near his current pace on the remaining ballots, the July 24th enshrinement ceremony might be the biggest party Cooperstown, NY has ever seen.

Taking away everything else that’s considered when deciding the worthiness of a players HOF candidacy, Ortiz’s career numbers alone present a solid case for first ballot induction. Ortiz was a solid, if unremarkable, player over the first six years of his career in Minnesota. He hit .266 with 58 home runs, compiling an .809 OPS over 455 games with the Twins.

He was non-tendered after the 2002 season, and the Red Sox took a flier on him based on the recommendation of fellow Dominican Republic countryman Pedro Martinez. He spent the next 14 years in Boston, cementing a legacy that will end in Cooperstown, even if it’s not in 2022.

Ortiz would finish his career as a member of the 500 home run club (541), at one time a number that represented “automatic” enshrinement into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was a 10-time All-Star and was a key player on three World Series Champion teams. He’s arguably the greatest postseason hitter ever, and certainly the most “clutch”. His postseason accomplishments include an ALCS MVP (2004) and a World Series MVP award (2013). Beyond the counting stats, accolades, and awards, Big Papi was a media darling, and a true superstar in the sport at a time when baseball was slipping in the American sports hierarchy behind The NFL and NCAA football, and the NBA.

The Baseball Hall of Fame is voted on by the writers of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA). While on the field accomplishments account for decent amount of the criteria for HOF worthiness, a player’s relationship with the media plays a huge role in determining if they’ll be elected to the Hall early on in their time on the ballot, or if they’ll have to wait deeper into the 10 year period that a player can be on the ballot to hear their name called.

Ortiz’s former teammate, Curt Schilling, put together a HOF career on the field, but his awful relationship with the media has him on the outside looking in as he makes his tenth and final appearance on the ballot this year. As previously mentioned, Ortiz was a media darling, and it’s his popularity among the BBWAA voters that will likely propel him to first ballot enshrinement.

The BBWAA is an interesting collection of baseball writers, and with the availability of written media content extending beyond local and national newspapers and magazines in recent years, the Baseball HOF voters now come from a diverse and wide ranging spectrum of media outlets and include voters with ties to multiple generations of the game.

For players like Ortiz, support for their HOF enshrinement can be certain from the BBWAA voters in their local and regional media markets. While Ortiz was the face of the Red Sox franchise for nearly a decade and a half, he was also the face of the city of Boston, beloved by the citizens of New England on the same level, or perhaps greater, than iconic Boston athletes like Larry Bird, Bobby Orr, and Tom Brady. That love and admiration extends to Boston sports media, who are known to be harsh critics of even the greatest players representing their city.

On Tuesday, January 11th, The Boston Globe revealed that all seven of the BBWAA HOF voters on their staff have submitted their ballots for the 2022 Hall of Fame induction. In doing so, they made the results of each voter’s ballot public. Their theme was that the HOF ballot had no “slam dunk” candidates for automatic enshrinement.

The seven Boston Globe writers with votes are Peter Abraham, Bob Ryan, Alex Spier, Bob Hohler, Tara Sullivan, Dan Shaughnessy, and Michael Silverman. Six of the seven put Ortiz on their ballot. The lone exception was Shaughnessy.

With over 400 BBWAA Hall of fame voters representing different media markets and media outlets, Shaughnessy is firmly a member of the “old guard”. He considers “first ballot” induction to be a sacred honor, reserved for the truly elite players that have accomplished not only outstanding achievements on the field, but have displayed exemplary behavior off the field both in their playing days and in their time away from the game. He’s certainly not the only one, though the number of voters with that mindset seem to be shrinking.

Shaughnessy has been a columnist for the Boston Globe for over 40 years. In his time covering the great teams and great players in Boston, he’s made a habit of making his writing as much about him as it is about the athletes he’s writing about. Over four decades, Shaughnessy has made his name as recognizable to the New England sports fan as the players he covers. While there’s no denying that the story of Boston sports can’t be told without the mention of Shaughnessy, the writer who’s covered them for so long, he’s been overly critical throughout the years as he’s shaped his niche as a sports writer in the region. In doing so, he’s drawn the ire of the Boston sports fan, a large number who openly express their disdain for his commentary, but who also have made his columns the most read among a stable of regional peers who are award winning and nationally recognizable in their own right.

Now, Shaughnessy has once again made the story about himself. Ortiz, even with the statistical achievements, memorable postseason moments, and universal admiration from fans and media, was not considered a lock to be inducted on the first ballot.

One of the reasons for denying Ortiz automatic induction is that, as a primary DH, no player before him has ever been elected to the HOF on the first ballot as just a hitter with no positional value. While Edgar Martinez was elected on his tenth and final appearance on the ballot, the argument against putting him in sooner was solely based on him being a career DH. Harold Baines, who played the majority of his career as a designated hitter, was elected to the HOF by the Veterans Committee ahead of Martinez’s final year on the ballot, paving the way for Martinez to finally meet the 75% threshold for induction. Martinez and Baines were both inducted as part of the 2019 Hall of Fame class. Of course, Ortiz was a far superior player to Martinez and Baines statistically, and a true superstar on a level neither could match. His induction should finally put the DH stigma to rest.

The bigger topic surrounding the induction of Ortiz is a failed Performance Enhancing Drug (PED) test in 2003. The testing was supposed to be anonymous, and none of the players with a positive test faced any punishment from MLB, who was conducting the testing to gather data as a result increased suspicion of rampant PED use in the game. The results were leaked, and Ortiz was on the list. While the list of players who tested positive was leaked, what they tested positive for was not. PED’s cover a wide range, from anabolic steroids to non-FDA approved ingredients in workout supplements and energy drinks. MLB would institute a PED testing policy ahead of the 2005 season, with regular, random testing for all of it’s players in the major and minor leagues.

Ortiz denied ever knowingly using PED’s, and has been vocal throughout his career in the game and his time in retirement as a strong anti-PED advocate. He never produced a positive test under MLB’s PED testing policy.

Shaughnessy did opine that he thought Ortiz would get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the 2022 enshrinement class based on the current results and the voting trend for this year’s ballot. He sighted consistency for leaving Big Papi off his ballot, having never voted for a player with ties or suspicion with regard to PED’s.

Ortiz is joined on the ballot for the first time by Alex Rodriguez, considered by many to be the best overall shortstop to play the game, and owner of 696 career home runs among several other statistical categories that place him among baseball history’s elite. However, Rodriguez tested positive multiple times under MLB’s PED policy, with his final positive test resulting in an unprecedented full season, 162 game suspension.

Rodriguez has spent his post-career rehabbing his image, working in the media as color commentator for ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball game of the week, and alongside Ortiz as a studio analyst for the MLB on Fox. As a result, his name has appeared on nearly 50% of the ballots, a number much higher than any other player with firm PED ties has ever received on the first ballot, but he’s projected to fall well short of the 75% required for induction.

Appearing on the ballot for the tenth and final time are Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, arguably the greatest pitcher and hitter of all time, and while each has a reasonable shot at induction, it’s likely that their high profile PED use will keep them from enshrinement. Shaughnessy, in keeping consistent, did not vote for Rodriguez, Bonds, or Clemens (or Manny Ramirez, Sammy Sosa, or Mark McGwire).

While Ortiz is currently trending toward induction, there are still more than enough ballots remaining for him to fall short of the 75% total required for enshrinement to the Hall of Fame. While the history of baseball’s HOF voting has seen players inducted, and left out by the slimmest of margins, the odds of Ortiz falling short of induction by a vote are long, but not totally improbable. While Shaughnessy has gone on record saying he believes that Ortiz will be elected as part of the 2022 class, having him fall short by a single vote would probably be his preferred outcome. Those familiar with his body of work know that the story would become more about himself than Ortiz in that scenario, and that’s just the way he likes it.

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