Why David Ortiz should be one of the easiest yes votes for the Hall of Fame

Jim Davis
In three World Series, David Ortiz batted .455 with a 1.372 OPS.

Oh, there will be suspense.

David Ortiz may get the call of a lifetime from the Cooperstown, N.Y., area code Tuesday afternoon. There’s also a reasonable chance that he will not.

He has done well on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballots that have been revealed; as of Monday morning, he had received 83.7 percent of the vote on the 168 public ballots tracked by Ryan Thibodaux on his @NotMrTibbs twitter account. Seventy-five percent is required for election.

But Thibodaux’s tally accounts for only 45.4 percent of the voters, and the unrevealed ballots often tend to tilt conservative, quirky, or downright inexplicable. There’s a reason many voters choose the anonymous route. Their choices don’t hold up to scrutiny.


The suspicion here is that Ortiz’s hopes of becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer will come down to a couple of votes.

But I do know this: David Ortiz should have been one of the easiest yes votes in recent Hall of Fame history.

The case for him is simple, and close enough to unassailable that, as I see it, the most efficient approach to filling out a ballot is to put the obvious check next to his name and move on to the more compelling debates about the candidacies of Andruw Jones, Billy Wagner, and Scott Rolen. (Note: I don’t have a vote yet. I believe I will get mine in Dustin Pedroia’s first year of eligibility. I’d have voted for the maximum candidates 10 this year.)

Ortiz hit 541 home runs, 17th all time. He is tied with Ken Griffey Jr. for eighth all-time in extra-base hits (1,192), trailing only Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Alex Rodriguez. In three World Series, all of which the Red Sox won, he batted .455 with a 1.372 OPS. He broke curses, and uttered a memorable one when this city needed catharsis in April 2013. And did baseball have a better ambassador?


Maybe it is because we live in a sports culture in which a bridge-dwelling troll like Skip Bayless can make millions by spouting insincere hot-takes, but too much of the dialogue around Ortiz’s candidacy was about what he couldn’t do — and one particular thing that he was suspected of doing. Let’s address that first.

The performance-enhancing drug question hangs over Ortiz for a couple of reasons. 1. He was extraordinary at pulverizing baseballs for the Red Sox after being only pretty good at it for the Twins earlier in his career. 2. He, along with three other players, was revealed to be among the 104 who tested positive in Major League Baseball’s anonymous drug-testing survey in 2003.

For some, that is enough to brand him as a PED guy and punish him if not outright exclude him when it comes to the Hall of Fame. But to do so ignores the nuance of the situation, not to mention MLB commissioner Rob Manfred’s words on the matter: “Even if your name was on that list, it’s entirely possible that you were not a positive. I don’t think anyone understands very well what that list was.”

Yet the vagaries of Ortiz’s situation haven’t stopped some from slapping the “PED” scarlet letters on him and lumping him in with the likes of Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez, who failed multiple times after testing was implemented, or Bonds, who if you read “Game of Shadows” was not just the best ballplayer of his generation but also apparently the savviest PED user.


It’s understandable to suspect Ortiz of PED use. It was prevalent in the game, and more than likely was prevalent among players inducted into the Hall of Fame over the last 20 years. But to cite him in the same breath as some of the superstars who have lingered on the ballot because of PED ties is to ignore nuance, not to mention Manfred’s practical instructions on how Ortiz should be considered.

The other anti-Ortiz arguments are not nearly as intense, and easily dismissed. Don’t like that he’s a designated hitter? C’mon, it’s not like this is a new thing in baseball; it was implemented in 1973, almost 50 years ago, and the Red Sox’ first DH, Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, is 84 years old now.

Besides, I’ll take a player with no defensive value over one, like Frank Thomas, who occasionally played the field detrimentally. If you’re anti-specialist as a rule, how did closer Mariano Rivera become the first unanimous inductee? Do you plan to keep Adam Vinatieri out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame because he’s a kicker? Edgar Martinez, who briefly owned a third baseman’s mitt before committing to a life of slugging, is in. Ortiz should be too.

The other annoying anti-Ortiz argument that I’ve heard is that we’re exaggerating the importance of his postseason performance. If you’re going to suggest October baseball carries only slightly more weight than a block of random games against, oh, three AL West teams in mid-June, all I can say is that 3 million people don’t show up to watch a duck boat parade after midsummer sweeps of the Rangers and Mariners, you know?


The parallel isn’t perfect, but Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case to me is similar to Reggie Jackson’s — a big-swinging, home-run-blasting, larger-than-life October icon with enough charisma to light up the entire ballpark on the darkest night.

Jackson received 93.6 percent of the vote in 1993, his first year of eligibility. Ortiz deserves to be in a similar suspense-free range, but he won’t be. From the perspective of someone who was fortunate to witness his entire career here, that’s a shame.

He was not the best hitter in Red Sox history. That’s Ted Williams, of course, the best hitter who ever lived. But he was the most important. He delivered the do-or-die postseason hits that Ted, Yaz, Jim Rice, and Mo Vaughn (who walked so Papi could trot) never quite could. The Red Sox signed Ortiz after the Twins dismissed him 20 years ago this week. It is one of the most important days in the history of the Red Sox.

Allow me to reiterate the words I wrote about him in 2005, after a regular-season walkoff homer against the Orioles, when, amazingly, so many of his clutch moments were still to come: “He is the greatest clutch hitter you, your dad, your granddad, and in all likelihood, your unborn children will ever see. He’s Big Papi, larger than life, bigger than the biggest moments.”

If David Ortiz comes up short Tuesday, damned if it won’t be one of the first times.


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