Baseball fans love to debate which players should make it to the Hall of Fame, and with the designated hitter position so prominent in the news at the moment, it got me to thinking about David Ortiz’s Cooperstown case. The Boston legend will be eligible to make it there in 2022, and there’s a strong argument he should wind up with a plaque in the museum.
Ortiz is one of the most feared hitters in recent memory, but his career began inauspiciously in Minnesota. As a Twin from 1997-2002, Ortiz amassed 1,693 plate appearances and batted .266/.348/.461 (106 wRC+) with 58 home runs. The Twins then cut ties with Ortiz, but at the behest of Pedro Martinez, the Red Sox signed Big Papi to a non-guaranteed contract in January 2003. Now, in terms of franchise-altering steals, that could rank in Boston sports lore with the Patriots getting Tom Brady in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
Ortiz was a smash success with the Red Sox from the jump, as he slashed .288/.369/.592 (145 wRC+) and put up 31 homers in 509 trips to the plate during his first season with the team. The Red Sox lost to the hated Yankees in the ALCS that year, but they and Ortiz frequently ruled the sport after that. During the rest of Ortiz’a career from 2004-16, all of which was spent in Boston, the Red Sox won three World Series. He was a 10-time All-Star and a .290/.386/.570 hitter (146 wRC+) who piled up 483 homers with the team during that span. Along with his regular-season accomplishments, Ortiz was a monster in the playoffs. When the chips were down in the fall, Ortiz was known to thrive. He was a World Series MVP (2013) and an ALCS MVP (2004 – the year the Red Sox overcame a 3-0 deficit against the Yankees) who appeared in 85 postseason games between his two clubs and hit .289/.404/.543 with 17 HRs.
As for the regular season, Ortiz ranks 65th all-time in wRC+ (140) and 182nd among position players in fWAR (51.0). He ended his career a .286/.380/.552 hitter who racked up the 17th-most homers ever, 541, and remained an elite hitter even in his last season. Ortiz’s amazing run didn’t come without issues, though. Back in 2009, the New York Times reported Ortiz tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in his breakout 2003 campaign. Ortiz vehemently denied those claims, as you’d expect, and commissioner Rob Manfred came to the slugger’s defense in 2016. Manfred said (via the Boston Globe) it was “entirely possible” Ortiz didn’t take PEDs, adding that “he’s never been a positive at any point under our (testing) program” that began in 2004.
Even if you’re OK with brushing off the PED questions when it comes to Ortiz’s Hall of Fame candidacy, are you willing to be as forgiving when it comes to a lack of defensive impact? For the most part, Ortiz was a full-time DH during his career, which some purists frown upon. For example, former Mariners superstar Edgar Martinez is one of the greatest DHs ever, but it took him until his final year on the ballot (2019) to get to Cooperstown. He’d have been a first-ballot pick for me if I had a vote, though, and the same applies to Ortiz. However, as Hall of Fame expert and FanGraphs writer Jay Jaffe explained in a piece for SI.com in 2016, “a spot in Cooperstown is no certainty” for Ortiz. Do you think it should be?
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