David Ortiz should not have to wait long to receive his call to the hall.
The longtime Red Sox designated hitter, a three-time World Series champion and one of the most clutch hitters in baseball history, will appear on Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot for the first time when it is officially released Monday.
This year’s vote will be a fascinating one. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling, all of whom likely would have gotten in long ago if not for their various steroid and character-related issues, will be on the ballot for the 10th and final time. Joining them for the first time is Alex Rodriguez, who also would have been a slam dunk first-ballot selection if not for his confirmed performance-enhancing drug use.
Voters are going to have some difficult decisions to make, but Ortiz shouldn’t be one of them.
Ortiz has a strong case for being the greatest DH in baseball history. He batted .286 with 541 home runs and 1,768 RBI while posting an OPS of .931 for his career. He was a 10-time All-Star, had seven top-10 MVP finishes and finished strong with an outstanding final season in 2016, hitting 38 home runs with 127 RBI and an MLB-best 1.021 OPS at age 40.
Then there were the playoff heroics. The three walkoff hits in the 2004 playoffs, including on back-to-back nights in Games 4-5 of the ALCS against the New York Yankees. The famous grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS, which Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter hurdled over the bullpen wall trying to prevent. His epic showing in the 2013 World Series, when he hit .688 with a preposterous 1.948 OPS to earn World Series MVP honors.
And for whatever it’s worth, Ortiz was and remains one of the faces of baseball. By the end of his career he was probably second only to Derek Jeter in terms of being a household name nationally, and even to this day he is one of the sport’s most prominent figures, both as a TV commentator and as a prolific commercial pitchman.
All of that being said, Ortiz’s case isn’t airtight.
Hall of Fame voters have historically looked down on DHs, and advanced statistics tend not to favor the position either due to their lack of defensive contributions. There isn’t much Ortiz can do about the second point, but the fact that Edgar Martinez has already been enshrined should make his road easier among voters who might have previously hesitated to support a DH.
The bigger problem might be the voters who hold his positive drug test in a 2003 anonymous drug survey against him.
That test has dogged Ortiz since it was revealed in a 2009 New York Times story, even though it’s unknown whether Ortiz actually used a performance-enhancing drug. Baseball’s current drug-testing program wasn’t instituted until 2004, and even MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has publicly backed Ortiz and urged Hall of Fame voters not to hold the test against him.
“Whatever judgement writers decide to make with respect to players who have tested positive or otherwise been adjudicated under our program, that’s up to them. That’s a policy decision. They have to look into their conscience and decide how they evaluate that against the Hall of Fame criteria,” Manfred said in 2016.
“What I do feel is unfair that in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong.”
Voters will have plenty of serious questions to grapple with. Should Bonds and Clemens’ rumored steroid use permanently overshadow their overwhelming career accomplishments? How do you weigh Schilling’s on-field legacy as one of baseball’s great big game pitchers against his off-field legacy as an outspoken bigot. What should we even make of A-Rod at this point?
They shouldn’t overthink things with Ortiz. He belongs in the Hall of Fame.
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