Almost immediately, buzz began to gain steam throughout the media and baseball community asking one very important question: Has Big Papi done enough to warrant enshrinement in Cooperstown?
Its a very compelling argument, considering the history Ortiz has with the Red Sox, his incredible October moments that led to the breaking of The Curse, his regular season success and his rise to stardom and popularity.
His raw numbers indicate that he’s done enough to be at the forefront of a Hall of Fame discussion. To go along with the 400 career home runs, Ortiz is also a 8-time All-Star, 5-time Top 5 MVP vote getter, has a career triple-slash of .284/.379/.547, has hit as many as 54 home runs in a season and has those two important World Series rings on his hand with a team that had long been without one.
However, there are two very important elements that are eventually going to keep Ortiz out of the Hall of Fame, fair or unfair.
The first, Big Papi doesn’t play a defensive position. As it currently stands, no player that has almost exclusively been a DH has ever been elected to Cooperstown. Edgar Martinez, the man who the award handed out for the best DH every year is named after, was the litmus test in his first year on the ballot last voting cycle. He garnered only 35% of the vote.
It is important to point out that Ortiz is a much more dangerous power hitter than Martinez ever was at any point in his career. Martinez was more of a doubles hitter who routinely hit for a good average and drove in near or over 100 runs. Ortiz has the ability to carry an above-average offense almost by himself (as we’re seeing this season in Boston). Martinez wasn’t that kind of hitter. He was as good as the pieces you put around him, while Ortiz is a guy you can use as your foundation.
Even with that said, its hard to predict how voters value a bat without the added element of defense. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of players in the Hall of Fame that played below-average defensively (Yogi Berra). There are also players that are in the Hall almost exclusively for their glove (Ozzie Smith). Personally, I think its unfair to judge a player based on what he doesn’t do, as opposed to what he does. Ortiz is an elite hitter, but is his hitting transcendent to the point that he should be in the Hall?
The hard truth is…he isn’t. When I view Ortiz’s career numbers, or anybody’s career numbers in regards to the Hall, you have to look at the whole package. Obviously, Ortiz was a late bloomer, failing to get much traction or playing time during his six years in Minnesota before being picked up by Boston. Once he arrived, he became a lock for 30+ homers and 100+ RBI. He had an incredible five-year peak from 2003-07, but you don’t make the Hall for a great five years (ask Dale Murphy).
During 2008-09, it really looked like Ortiz’s career was going to be over. He struggled to hit consistently, and didn’t break 30 home runs in either season. He also stopped scoring runs, and there were lots of debates that the Sox should take him out of the line-up completely. People started to believe that Ortiz’s numbers were an inflation from pitchers not wanting to face Manny Ramirez, and were more willing to give Ortiz pitches to hit.
The last three years (including this one), Ortiz has returned to his ’03-’07 prime. The whole story has to be better than eight strong seasons, though. That’s the harsh truth to getting in the Hall.
Then, there is also the connection to performance enhancing drugs. Voters have always been harsh with players connected to drugs (Mark McGwire), or even players that just happened to play in the same era as PED users (Jeff Bagwell). Papi has been a media darling since he came to Boston, but the questions are still there, so it would be interesting to see how it all played out.
At the end of the day, as the story stands right now, David Ortiz is on the outside looking in at the Hall of Fame. Could he earn himself a spot in the Hall? Its possible. But, he has more work to do.
By the looks of it, I highly doubt Ortiz is going to slow down any time soon.