David Ortiz makes his debut on the Hall of Fame ballot this year, joining former rival Alex Rodriguez. The slugger started his career with the Minnesota Twins, but he is most known for the 14 years he spent with the Boston Red Sox, of course. Big Papi, as he is famously known, was arguably the greatest designated hitter in the history of the game. Add that with how much of a beloved player he was in Boston and his clutch postseason performances, Ortiz has a strong case.
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David Amèrico Ortiz Arias was originally signed by the Seattle Mariners in 1992 out of the Dominican Republic. The Mariners then traded the young prospect to the Twins in 1996. He would fly up the system and make his major league debut in 1997. The Twins were cautious with him, as he only played about half the 1998 season. This was due to his less than subpar defense at first base. Despite not playing much, Ortiz hit .277 with nine homers and 46 RBI in 86 games. He was essentially a “Quadruple-A” player in 1999, as he spent the year in the minors bashing Triple-A pitching.
Big Papi fully started to break out in 2000, and by 2002 he cemented himself as a great hitter, hitting .272 with 20 homers and slugging .500. But despite that, the Twins made a move they probably regret to this day. Following the 2002 season, Minnesota cut Ortiz, and the Red Sox picked him up on a one-year, $1.25 million contract.
Although he never won an MVP, he finished in the top five of voting each of the next five seasons. He had two more top ten finishes later in his career (2013, 2016), was a 10-time All-Star, and was a seven-time Silver Slugger award winner. Ortiz led the league in homers once, in 2006 with 54 of them, and led the league in RBI three times, with 148 in 2005, 137 in 2006, and 127 in 2016. Ortiz didn’t have much of a decline. He led the league with 48 doubles, 127 RBI, a .620 slugging, and 1.021 OPS at the age of 40 in 2016.
There are a lot of numbers Big Papi put up that set him apart. One of them is that he had 10 100-RBI seasons, which only 12 players in history did more often. His 541 homer runs rank 17th most all-time and his 1,192 extra-base hits rank eighth all-time. If you put Ortiz at first base, his 56.7 offensive WAR is 21st among first basemen. What gives the legendary slugger even more of a boost? That would be his impressive postseason stats.
In 85 career postseason games, Ortiz hit .289/.404/.513 with 22 doubles, 17 homers, 61 RBI, and 51 runs. He was a huge part of the Red Sox breaking their curse in 2004. Ortiz was a big facilitator to the 0-3 ALCS comeback against the New York Yankees that year. In that series, he went 12-for-31 with three homers and 11 RBI in the seven games. One of his homers was a walk-off bomb in the 12th inning of Game 4, and he hit a walk-off single in the 14th inning of Game 5 to send the series back to the Bronx. His performance earned him the ALCS MVP. The slugger also helped the Red Sox win World Series in 2007 and 2013 (World Series MVP).
Being a designated hitter could be a penalty, even though it shouldn’t be. Guys like Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas had to wait a while to get in. But they did eventually get in, while Martinez got in his final year on the ballot. The bigger penalty could be his connection to performance-enhancing drugs, which has seen players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens fail to get in. Major League Baseball conducted a supposed “anonymous” survey of drug testing to see if PED testing needed to be put in place for the 2004 season. A report in 2009 then came out that Ortiz was one of the players who had tested positive, but the slugger denied it. He never tested positive during his career from 2004 to retirement. The whole test in 2003 is murky waters and very hard to trust.
Big Papi was the same type of larger-than-life, feared player that Bonds was. Every time he stepped into the box, opposing pitchers feared him, backed up by his 209 career intentional walks. His offensive numbers – from when he arrived in Boston, in the regular season and the postseason – until he retired, make him very worthy. Ortiz was a big part of completely turning a franchise around and bringing them back from the dead. He was loved by the Fenway faithful, and Yankee fans loved to hate him. But even in that sense, his respect was earned and he deserves all the lore. Bonds, Clemens, and others should get in first, but Ortiz should 100 percent get the call to the hall.
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