This past Saturday, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz became the 27th member of the 500-home run club when he crushed a 2-2 fastball from Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore.
Ortiz’s moonshot was also his 34th home run of the season. This is the ninth season Big Papi has slugged at least 30 home runs, the most in Red Sox history, breaking Ted Williams’ record of eight seasons.
With all these milestones, Ortiz has made it loud and clear that he is a Hall of Fame-caliber player. The numbers, traditional and advanced, are there.
Five hundred home runs and counting. 1,628 runs batted in. A triple slash line of .284/.378/.547. A career wRC+ of 138 (well above league average), .378 on base percentage, and .925 on base plus slugging percentage (OPS).
Oh, and three World Series rings.
Ortiz might just be one of best postseason hitters in the history of baseball. He was the primary reason the Red Sox pulled one of the greatest comebacks in sports history, coming back from three games down to defeat the Yankees in the American League Championship Series and later capture their first World Series title since 1918.
Big Papi hit .387 with three home runs and 11 RBI in that ALCS series and hit .308 with a homer to defeat the Cardinals in the World Series. He did more of the same in 2007, hitting .369 in the postseason for the Sox’ second World Series ring of the decade.
However, his 2013 World Series performance is what stands out the most to me. Ortiz was a one-man wrecking crew, wreaking havoc on the Cardinals pitching staff. He hit .688 in 25 plate appearances, adding two home runs, eight walks, and six RBI while striking out just once.
It was the greatest performance I have ever seen from a hitter. He hit everything and hit it hard. It was otherworldly. He could not be stopped and claimed the World Series MVP award for his efforts.
That performance in 2013 is what convinced me Ortiz was a Hall of Famer. The milestones he’s reached this season just make this argument a lot easier. There have been few players in professional sports that have changed the course of monumental games by themselves. Ortiz is one of them.
Often times, postseason success carries more weight than it probably should. Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco inked a monster contract after leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory two seasons ago and has not done much since. The Sox are guilty of it too, signing third baseman Pablo Sandoval to a five-year, $95 million deal after he led the Giants to another World Series title with a huge postseason. Let’s not talk about how that deal has looked so far.
But Ortiz is an exception. Without his heroics, there is not a chance the Sox win the ALCS in ’04. While the lineup he had around him was good, I doubt those 11 RBI and three homers are coming from somewhere else.
Same with 2013. Even in an uncharacteristically bad ALCS against the Tigers, Ortiz saved the day with one of his most memorable moments; a game-tying grand slam in the eighth inning off Joaquin Benoit. Big Papi’s homer helped propel the Sox to a crucial Game 2 victory. The Sox would go on to win in six games and take the World Series in six games as well.
Without Ortiz, the Sox likely lose Game 2 of that ALCS series. Who knows how it shakes out from there. Even if they did reach the World Series, there is no way the Red Sox take down the Cardinals without Ortiz’s video game-like numbers in the lineup.
Ortiz’s Hall of Fame case is all there, and it is a darn good one. The career numbers and postseason heroics speak for themselves. Despite all of that, getting into Cooperstown will not be easy for Big Papi.
Historically, it has been tough for designated hitters to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The closest comparable player to Ortiz in Hall of Fame right now is Frank Thomas, who was inducted in 2014. However, Thomas only spent 58 percent of career as a DH, a much lower amount than Ortiz.
Perhaps a more accurate comparison is Hall of Fame hopeful Edgar Martinez, one of the first full-time designated hitters. The former Mariners slugger has similar numbers (.312/.418/.515) with less success in postseason. Last year, Martinez received just 27 percent of the vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, and has never received more than 40 percent since appearing on the ballot. Players need at least 75 percent of the vote from BBWAA to be inducted into Cooperstown.
There is also Ortiz’s failed performance-enhancing drug test in 2003, before Major League Baseball implemented the suspension system it has today for PED use. Since then, Ortiz has never failed a drug test and managed to hit 411 home runs. Despite how he has distanced himself from this test, which was revealed years after it happened, it may be held against him like it has with many players in the steroid era.
Despite all of this, it is clear that Ortiz’s talent deserves to be immortalized in Cooperstown. Through his mammoth power and clutch hits, he has become the designated hitter all teams strive to have. And soon enough, Cooperstown will have him too.