Anonymous steroid allegations aside, David Ortiz is worthy of earning a spot in Cooperstown in his first year on the ballot in 2022.
David Ortiz arrived in Boston a mediocre slugger who had just been given up on and left a true Red Sox legend.
When Ortiz signed with the Red Sox in January 2003 on a one-year, $1.25 million deal, the thought that he would one day be on the cusp of Cooperstown seemed far-fetched. Originally a member of the Mariners organization, he was the “player to be named later” in a 1996 trade with the Minnesota Twins for Dave Hollins. In six seasons with the Twins, during which he appeared in more than 100 games only twice, he never hit more than 20 home runs and was released in the winter of 2002.
Then he went to the Red Sox, where Ortiz, the player who couldn’t stick in the Twins lineup, became “Big Papi,” a cornerstone of a world championship team. In 2004, Ortiz and teammate Manny Ramirez led the Red Sox to a legendary 3-0 comeback against the New York Yankees in the ALCS before sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series for the club’s first title in 86 years.
There weren’t done there, either. Ortiz and the Red Sox went on to win two more World Series championships in 2007 and 2013. When he retired following the 2016 season, Ortiz ranked second in franchise history in home runs behind Ted Williams, and third in RBI behind Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. He hit a career-high 54 home runs in 2006, drove in more than 130 runs three straight years and batted above .300 seven times in 13 years.
From his arrival in Boston in 2003 until his retirement, Ortiz was second to Albert Pujols with 483 home runs and third behind Pujols and Miguel Cabrera in RBI and total bases. He ranked sixth in OPS among players with at least 3,000 plate appearances, trailing only Ramirez, Pujols, Cabrera, Mike Trout and Joey Votto; all of them, with the exception of Ramirez, are on a straight path to enshrinement in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
The apex of Ortiz’s career with the Red Sox came in 2013. On the morning of April 15, the Red Sox were playing their annual Patriots’ Day game against the Tampa Bay Rays when two terrorists detonated bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three people and injuring hundreds more.
The city was in shock and needed a hero. Ortiz proved to be it. “This is our f***ing city,” he said five days later when the Red Sox next played at Fenway Park. He put the team on his proverbial back, leading a roster that had finished last in the division the previous year to 97 wins. His eighth inning grand slam in Game 2 of the ALCS to tie the game is a moment that will live in the hearts and minds of a generation of Boston sports fans. In the World Series, which the Red Sox won 4-2 over the Cardinals, Ortiz hit .688, the best in history for a series that lasted at least six games.
It’s a resume that should make him a lock for Cooperstown. The election of Edgar Martinez in 2019 opened the door to full-time designated hitters earning a Hall of Fame plaque. Ortiz is the all-time leader among DHs in games played, home runs (more than 200 above second place), and RBI (more than 500 ahead of Martinez).
But for many voters, what Ortiz did in 2004 or 2013 won’t matter when he first becomes eligible next year. It’s what happened on July 30, 2009, the day Michael Schmidt of the New York Times published a report alleging around 100 players had tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. The list included Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez, Ramirez … and Ortiz.
The leak of the test results, which were supposed to remain anonymous, is enough to lump Ortiz, despite his on-field accomplishments, with noted drug cheats like Bonds and Roger Clemens, two all-time greats who have nonetheless struggled to even crack 60 percent of the vote. Ortiz denied ever taking PEDs when the report came out and said he was never told about the positive test at the time.
The supposed positive test came in 2003, before Ortiz’s best years with the Red Sox. He never tested positive again or was linked to PEDs in any way. But will that be enough for a significant chunk of baseball writers who have kept an entire generation from the Steroid Era out of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown?
It shouldn’t be.