Cooperstown Justice: David Ortiz
The man they call Big Papi has been the embodiment of baseball in Boston for nearly a decade and a half. There had been some rumblings that the end was near for the great David Ortiz over the course of the 2015 MLB season, but Red Sox Nation got their definitive answer on Wednesday regarding the retirement plans of their beloved slugger. Ken Rosenthal reported on twitter Tuesday morning that 2016 would be the final go-around for Boston’s David Ortiz, and the newly turned 40 year-old confirmed in an announcement on his birthday the following day that he plans to hang ‘em up at season’s end.
As sports fans, we experience a wide range of emotions when our heroes reach the twilight of their playing careers, and we all go through the similar stages of mourning whenever any popular athlete decides to call it quits. We look back on fondest memories surrounding his or her career, we try imagine the landscape of the game without the player’s presence in it, and my favorite part, we stack his or her credentials up against other contemporaries to see if there is enough to warrant a meaningful spot in history.
David Ortiz will become eligible for the Hall Of Fame in the year 2020, but it’s unlikely will we be seeing his likeness enshrined on a plaque upon his first ballot. As reported by Buster Olney in a column on Wednesday, the procedure for voting for the baseball Hall of Fame is flawed; so much so that the Senior Writer for ESPN has given up his privilege to cast a ballot of his own. It seems as though the rules in place regarding a player’s years of eligibility, the number of votes required to stay on the ballot, and the limit of votes per ballot have hindered the writers’ ability to ensure that the right players get in. An induction into the Hall of Fame is like being accepted into baseball’s greatest fraternity, and the Hall itself has refused to make the necessary alterations to the voting process in an effort to deny some of the more questionable players their day in the sun at Cooperstown. It’s become an issue of morality, and these hindrances have not only put all of the public blame on the part of the writers, but has also inadvertently penalized several players that are more than deserving. It is because of this, that I feel compelled to provide a dose of Cooperstown justice for one of the greatest players of this generation.
David Ortiz will have one more year to pad his baseball resume, but Papi has already accumulated over 2000 hits, 1500 RBI, and 500 home runs over the course of his career, three high-water marks for a great deal of Hall-hopeful players. Granted, being a member of the 500 Home Run Club isn’t an automatic ticket into Cooperstown like it used to be prior to the steroid-era, but that is just the tip of the iceberg for Big Papi’s career. Those impressive numbers were backed up by plenty of accolades including five straight years of finishing in the top-5 for the AL MVP, nine All-Star game selections, and six total Silver Slugger awards, which is more than any other designated hitter in the history of the game.
The man essentially legitimized the position of DH by being one of the most feared hitters of his time, and I have yet to mention his impeccable postseason reputation. In three World Series and 59 total plate appearances, Ortiz’s slash line was a staggering 455/.576/.795. He has a ring for 2004, 2007, and 2013, accomplishing something that eluded the vast majority of the legendary players to dawn the Boston Red Sox uniform. Ortiz also had walk-off hits in back-to-back games to help the club overcome a 3-0 deficit against the rival Yankees in the 2004 ALCS en route to breaking an 86-year curse over the storied franchise.
The numbers speak for themselves, but as a fan has viewed the entirety of Ortiz’s playing career, they don’t paint the full picture of Big Papi’s impact on baseball. He has been an ambassador for the game, particularly for Dominican born players, and has meant just as much to the city of Boston as say a Bill Belichick or Tom Brady. Ortiz delivered a powerful and passionate speech to the Fenway faithful following the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013 and followed through with another unprecedented World Series performance and another ring for the city he’s called home since 2003.
All of the knocks against Ortiz’s legitimacy of being a first-ballot Hall Of Famer feel a little narrow minded to me as well. He will no-doubt be hurt by not playing the field, but with Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor getting in the Hall having spent a large portion of their careers as a DH, it seems unfair to keep the greatest designated hitter of all-time out. Whether or not he played the field is irrelevant because his mighty bat was enough to effect a game. With closers and other relievers getting voted in as well, it seems as though we’re just splitting hairs with this DH issue. Ortiz also appeared on a list of players that supposedly failed a PED test back in 2003, but that’s his only real link to the steroid-era. Papi’s health has not deteriorated at the same rate we’ve seen known offenders decline in the past — as evident from his 37 homer 2015 campaign — and personally, I’m a firm believer in the old adage “piss or it didn’t happen.” All jokes aside, we really don’t need the numbers at all. The main question we should ask when deciding if someone is hall-worthy is whether or not that player was dominant in his or her generation. When it comes to Big Papi, I think we can all agree that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes.”
Big Papi has stated that he doesn’t necessarily want the “Goodbye-Tour” that Derek Jeter received during his final season, but instead, that he will return in 2016 to take one last run at a World Series title. Despite finishing in last place in their division the last two seasons in a row, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Red Sox win it all next year. Boston has already gone from worst to first when they were crowned champs back in 2013, but with most of the club’s stock placed in their promising young players, the Sox are still mostly unrealized potential. For them to reach October, and be a force once they get there, they will need to rely on Ortiz just as they have since he joined the team back in 2003. Here’s to one last season of great career for Big Papi.