MLB

David Ortiz may become a Hall of Fame DH. He also may be one of the last.

As of Tuesday, he was listed on 83.9 percent of the publicly known ballots.

Baltimore Orioles' J.J. Hardy, left, tags Boston Red Sox's David Ortiz, right, at second base after Oritz tried to reach on a single in the twelfth inning of a baseball game in Boston July 6, 2014. Michael Dwyer/AP Photo


On Tuesday, David Ortiz will either be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility or come very close: As of Tuesday, he was listed on 83.9% of the ballots that were publicly known, above the 75% needed for induction. If and when Ortiz gets in, he would join a small group of inductees who spent a good chunk of their careers as a designated hitter, among them Paul Molitor, Frank Thomas, Harold Baines and Edgar Martinez.

He also might be one of the last designated hitters enshrined in Cooperstown, at least for the foreseeable future, and not because of any backlash toward players who only hit and don’t play the field (that debate seemingly was settled with the induction of Baines and Martinez in 2019, and with Ortiz’s strong candidacy). Instead, it’s because of the evolution of the position, with teams often not settling on one DH and instead spreading that job out to multiple players. This trend might only intensify if MLB adopts the universal designated hitter in the next collective bargaining agreement, as many expect.

Advertisement:

Ortiz played 2,028 of his 2,408 career games at DH, the most games at the position all-time and nearly 400 more than the second-place Baines. The players below Big Papi on the list either already have been inducted into the Hall of Fame or don’t have much of a case. Don Baylor won the 1979 AL MVP while playing 65 games as a DH and eventually played 1,287 games at the position (sixth all-time). His Hall of Fame candidacy petered out in the 1990s. Hal McRae, third in games played at DH behind Ortiz and Baines, was one of the first designated hitters to receive acclaim. He finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in 1976, a season in which he played 117 games at DH, and fourth again in 1982, when he played 158 games at DH. He never received serious Hall of Fame consideration. Chili Davis, Travis Hafner and Billy Butler, Nos. 8-10 on the career DH games-played list, aren’t Cooperstown material. Martinez, Thomas and Molitor, Nos. 4, 5 and 7, are already in.

Victor Martinez had a nice career, 44% of which was at DH. He even finished second in the 2014 AL MVP voting for the Detroit Tigers while mainly playing the position. He’s not getting to Cooperstown. Also unlikely is Nelson Cruz, who has received MVP votes as a DH over the latter portion of his career but seems like a Hall of Fame long shot (and has played more games as an outfielder, anyway). Albert Pujols almost certainly will be a Hall of Famer, but he played only 19.3% of his games at DH.

Advertisement:

Only Shohei Ohtani, who is mainly a DH when he isn’t pitching, would seem to have a chance if he keeps up his miraculous ways, and that probably won’t be for many years. But he’s a special case, obviously.

The designated hitter’s imperial era, in other words, would seem to be over, at least in terms of Hall of Fame candidates. And moving forward, teams seem more inclined to shuffle numerous players into the DH role. In 2021, only two players – Ohtani and J.D. Martinez – had more than 600 plate appearances as a DH. In 2016, Ortiz’s final season, that number was seven (and Carlos Beltr├ín was close to making it eight that year with 593 plate appearances).

“I think if you can have a David Ortiz, every team in baseball will take a guy like that, right?” Atlanta Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos said in November. “And if not, then people like to move guys in and out and so on, so it all depends. I think just like anything else, I think it all depends on the player.”

Said Oakland Athletics GM David Forst: “My first thought if the NL has the DH is, thank God our pitchers don’t ever have to hit again. I mean, there’s a lot of ways to fill that spot. You’re seeing fewer and fewer teams have a dedicated designated hitter. A lot of teams are valuing the versatility on their roster.”

Advertisement:

Ortiz may have broken the mold for designating-hitting Hall of Famers. He’s 17th all-time in career home runs (541), 12th in doubles (632) and eighth in extra-base hits. In postseason play alone, he hit .289 with a .404 on-base percentage and .543 slugging percentage, with 22 doubles, two triples, 17 homers, 61 RBI and 51 runs. Sure, he barely played in the field, but there are plenty of Hall of Famers who have gotten in almost solely for their plate prowess and not because they were at all good in the field. And yes, Ortiz’s name was on a list of players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in a 2003 survey of MLB players that was supposed to remain confidential (the New York Times revealed its existence in 2009). But he never tested positive after that, and Commissioner Rob Manfred has said there are “legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives” with regard to the 2003 list.

Ortiz is probably headed for Cooperstown, and there might not be another comparable designated hitter for many, many years.

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com