EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 8, 2013

How great is David Ortiz? Cabrera, Baines weigh in

On Pro Baseball
Christopher Smith

---- — Detroit Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera, the most dangerous hitter in all of baseball, reflected on the first time he ever saw Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz play in person.

Cabrera was wowed.

“The first time I seen him in person was ‘03,” Cabrera told The Eagle-Tribune before Wednesday’s game at Fenway Park. “We came in here to play and they scored like 22 runs.”

Cabrera then was a rookie with the Marlins. Actually, the Red Sox won 25-8 in the first game of that series. Ortiz went 3 for 4 with a double, homer, walk, hit by pitch, three RBIs and four runs in the rout.

Cabrera chuckled when talking about that game. Little did he know he was about to see his Tigers get crushed by the Red Sox behind another immense performance from Ortiz. The Red Sox won Wednesday’s game 20-4 with Ortiz going 3 for 5 with a double, two homers, four RBIs and three runs.

Ortiz’s double, which was sandwiched between his two homers, was the 2,000th hit of his career.

“He can hit for power, average, he drives a lot of home runs,” said Cabrera, who last year became the first player to win the Triple Crown since Boston’s Carl Yastrzemski in 1967.

Is Ortiz the greatest DH ever? Both Cabrera and former DH Harold Baines weighed in on that topic.

In June, Ortiz passed Baines for the most hits ever by a DH (then 1,689). Baines wouldn’t go as far as calling Ortiz the best DH ever.

“He’s the greatest in his era,” Baines said. “There was Hal McRae before me and then Edgar Martinez.”

Hall worthy?

Ortiz’s 2,003 hits through Friday is a significant total considering he is a middle-of-the-order hitter who gets walked often (1,076 walks). He also has 427 homers.

So is Ortiz a Hall of Famer? After all, he’s been a dominant hitter since 2003 — that’s 11 years.

Two factors might prevent him from receiving the needed 75 percent vote:

First, Ortiz was one of about 100 players to test positive for performance enhancing drugs in 2003.

Secondly, no designated hitters have been voted in, obviously the concern being they aren’t complete players.

Cabrera doesn’t think the positive PED test should hurt his chances.

“No, because back in those days the testing was not strong,” Cabrera said. “He’s a great person, man. Whatever happens, what he did in baseball was very amazing.”

Baines didn’t have an opinion on the PED test. He did say he thinks Ortiz is a Hall of Famer.

“His numbers speak for itself,” Baines said. “Just like Edgar (Martinez) is. But when you have writers that don’t believe the DH is part of the game, then it’s tougher to get in.”

Edgar vs. Big Papi

Martinez played 552 games at third base, 28 games at first base and 1,403 games at DH during his 18-year career. He stroked 1,607 hits as a DH, which is third most behind Ortiz and Baines.

Martinez hasn’t received more than 36.5 percent of the vote in his four years on the ballot.

Martinez and Ortiz, arguably the two greatest DHs of all-time, have similar numbers.

Martinez finished his career with a .312 batting average, .418 on-base percentage, .515 slugging percentage, 2,247 hits, 309 homers, 514 doubles and 1,216 RBIs in 8,674 plate appearances.

Ortiz entered Friday with a career .287 average, .381 OBP, .549 slugging percentage, 2,003 hits, 427 homers, 512 doubles and 1,415 RBIs in 8,163 plate appearances.

Baines said about Martinez, “He was a good ballplayer. He used the whole field. Obviously, he wasn’t just a DH. He played third base, too. But later in his career he was a DH because of injuries. Most players, that’s what makes them become DHs because of injuries.”

Ortiz, like Martinez, has used the whole field in recent years while improving his hitting against southpaws.

“I think any ballplayer wants to hit both right-handers and left-handers and he does a very good job with both,” Baines said.

“He only has to do half the job. Not play defense. He can do a little more studying than most guys can do.”

Penalized by writers

After leaving Martinez off his Hall of Fame ballot in 2011, Boston Globe baseball writer Peter Abraham wrote: “Edgar Martinez will go down as one of the best designated hitters in history. But if he spent his career at third base or first base, he’s a borderline Hall of Famer. Being a career DH means you’re a lousy fielder, not worthy of extra consideration.”

Should borderline DHs be penalized because they don’t play the field?

“It’s part of baseball,” Baines said about the DH. “Why not reward them for it? If there wasn’t a DH, then that’s different. ... It is (part of the game).”

Cabrera thinks it’s challenging because the DH has to sit so much.

“I don’t know how the DHs do it,” Cabrera said.

“They sit for a couple innings and then go back and hit. To me, that’s amazing.”

Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia feels the same way. He said he is a better hitter when he’s completely involved in the game.

Cabrera said about DHs not winning MVP awards or being inducted into Cooperstown: “It’s unfair. I remember the year he (Ortiz) had when he had like 150 RBI and like 40-something home runs.

He should be the MVP and all this stuff but they didn’t give it to him because he’s a DH. That’s not fair. Sometimes you’ve got to give it to players like that because when you pull those kind of numbers as a DH — to do that, that’s amazing.”

Follow Christopher Smith on Twitter @SmittyOnMLB