David Ortiz, “Big Papi”, joined the Boston Red Sox in January of 2003, shortly after being released by the Minnesota Twins. The rest, as they say, is history. With two World Series championships in Boston, after an 86-year-drought, Papi has become a legend with the Red Sox. With Ortiz and Boston currently up three games to two on the St. Louis Cardinals in the 2013 World Series, Papi sits one game shy of his third championship and a potential ticket to Cooperstown.
Baseball, more so than any of the other major sport, defines itself on numbers, history, records and the prestigious Hall of Fame. As it continues to try to close the door on the Steroid Era, sports writers serve as gatekeepers to keep athletes out of the hall who would have certainly received enough votes in almost any other era. As Ortiz inches closer to the end of his career, the conversation begins on whether or not he has a seat waiting for him and whether his numbers are good enough to warrant entry. The first time I thought of Ortiz and the Hall of Fame, my reaction was an immediate “of course he does!”. I mean, he’s Big Papi! But, after listening to respected journalists within the sport discuss his legitimacy as a potential Hall-of-Famer, my sentiment didn’t seem to be widely accepted.
Just last week, Tim Kurkjian, an ESPN Baseball Analyst and quite possibly the most respected Hall of Fame voter, chimed in on ESPN Radio that he did not feel Ortiz was currently Hall of Fame worthy
I realized that Ortiz had several things working in his favour: playing for a storied franchise, winning multiple championships and widely being viewed as clutch on the biggest stage. But the measure to get the call to Cooperstown can be sobering for many players long into their retirement. Edgar Martinez, widely viewed as the greatest Designated Hitter until David Ortiz, has been unsuccessful in getting voted into the Hall of Fame after four attempts. In Martinez’ best year on the Hall of Fame ballot he received 36.5% of the vote, less than half of the required 75%. Using Martinez as a comparison, given their time spent as a designated hitter and career stats, Ortiz entry to the Hall of Fame becomes less of a certainty.
Their batting statistics are fairly even to this point, with Ortiz having an advantage in the power categories. Ortiz has nine all-star game appearances to Martinez’ five, and both share five Silver Slugger awards. But taking into consideration the fact that Martinez is receiving less than half of the required vote with his numbers, it would appear that Ortiz too would fall well short.
However, sports writers love their intangibles, and the 2013 World Series is a platform for Big Papi to not only bring the numbers, but intangibles as well. Ortiz is hitting .733 in this World Series with two doubles, two home-runs and six RBIs. Carlos Beltran also robbed Ortiz of a sure grand slam in Game 1 that would have added to these already ridiculous numbers. But it’s more than just the stats: Ortiz was captured in the Red Sox dugout during Game 4 giving a speech to his players about getting back to their game and loosening up on the diamond. Ortiz’ teammate, Jonny Gomes, equated the moment to a group of kindergarteners listening and looking up to their teacher. Ortiz is the leader of this team and has taken charge both on and off the field. These are the moments that live on throughout the history of the sport. Provided you win.
If the Red Sox can finish off the Cardinals and win their third World Series championship in nine years, it will give Ortiz his third World Series and a certain World Series MVP award. Maybe in the end it won’t be enough to secure the remaining 30-35% of the vote that Ortiz will need to get into the Hall of Fame, but it should.
The only blemish on his career is the fact that his name appeared on the infamous Mitchell Report, indicating he tested positive for something. Nobody knows what he tested positive for, and it lacks any context. What we do know is that Ortiz has been a staunch defender of his reputation and has continued to bring it up years later when it’s not on anyone’s radar, still defending himself.
McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Palmeiro, etc., do not seem to be going out of their way to broach the subject.
If the Red Sox are victorious, it will be interesting to see how it affects his outlook on punching a ticket to Cooperstown. It might not be enough given the way the votes have gone lately, but it should be.
Big Papi is worthy.
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Main photo credit: Keith Allison via photopin cc