During the 2015-2016 offseason, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz announced that 2016 would be his final season in professional baseball. As such announcements normally do (at least with players of his caliber), Ortiz’s declaration of future retirement sparked much conversation about whether or not the man known as “Big Papi” would or should be inducted into the Hall of Fame post-retirement.
While this is mostly a futile and untimely argument — Ortiz has all of 2016 to finish playing, and then another five years until he’s on the ballot — it’s sometimes interesting to have these discussions just for the sake of discussion. If you’re really committed to making an argument, however, I think there’s a pretty good case to be made for Ortiz as a Hall of Famer. My version of that argument is what follows.
1. He’s one of the best clutch hitters of the divisional era.
There were two outs in the inning and a runner was on first base. The score was 5-4, in favor of the Houston Astros, in the bottom of the ninth. Astros’ closer Luke Gregerson was struggling with his control in the inning, but had gotten ahead in the count 0-1 after David Ortiz had fouled off a first pitch sinker high in the strike zone. The next pitch was also a sinker, but this time it was low, and Ortiz dropped his bat head on it and smoked a line drive to left-center field.
Astros’ center fielder Jake Marisnick attempted to make a game-ending diving catch but came up well short, then took a moment to find the ball after it ricocheted off the base of Fenway Park’s Green Monster. Meanwhile, Xander Bogaerts came all the way around to score from first and Ortiz hustled into third base with a game-tying triple.
Ortiz wasn’t done, however. Two innings later, again with Bogaerts on first base, Ortiz took a 1-2 wild pitch from Astros reliever Michael Feliz, allowing the runner to move up to second base. On the next pitch, Ortiz crushed a changeup 413 feet into the center field triangle, giving the Red Sox a wild walk-off victory.
This is the most recent example of Ortiz’s late-game heroics, but there are plenty more stories just like it. According to ESPN’s John Buccigross, Ortiz has the third-most walk-off RBI of any player in MLB’s divisional era:
When it comes to walk-off hits, Ortiz is tied for the MLB lead in that category since 1977.
Additionally, Ortiz owns the MLB all-time lead in postseason walk-off hits with three, all of which came during Boston’s magical 2004 postseason run, which culminated in the franchise’s first World Series title since 1918. Which is a good segue to my next point:
2. He was instrumental in bringing the 2004 World Series Championship to Boston.
While not every player who means a lot to a city is Hall of Fame-worthy, Ortiz’s impact on the Boston Red Sox franchise and the city of Boston as a whole adds a level of impact to his resume. While his lifetime .295/.409/.553 postseason batting line is impressive by itself, Ortiz’s performance in Boston’s historic 2004 postseason run is the stuff of legend.
Ortiz’s best performance came when the Red Sox needed it most, during the final four games of their improbable comeback against the rival New York Yankees in the American League Championship series. In games four through seven, Ortiz went 6-for-19 with three home runs and nine RBI, including walk-off hits in back-to-back nights in games four and five. Ortiz’s heroics earned him the honor of winning the ALCS MVP award following the Red Sox win in Game 7.
Ortiz remained hot going into the World Series, adding four hits and four walks in 17 plate appearances, including a three-run home run in his first career World Series at-bat. This gave the Red Sox a 3-0 lead in the first inning of game one, a lead they would never look back from, as they cruised to a 4-0 series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, capturing their first World Series title since 1918.
Overall in the 2004 postseason, Ortiz hit .400/.515/.764 over 68 plate appearances, launching five home runs, driving in 19 runs, and walking 11 times.
3. He’s simply one of the best power hitters of all time.
This may seem like an outlandish statement, and if I heard someone say this a week ago, I might have been skeptical myself. However, the game-winning double on Saturday previously mentioned in this post was Ortiz’s 600th of his career. One more will tie him for 14th all-time, sharing the spot with none other than Barry Bonds.
However, with his 600th career double, Ortiz joined the exclusive 600 double, 500 home run club. While this is obviously a rare accomplishment, I don’t think many fans were aware exactly how exclusive this club is.
Yeah. There are only two other men in history to accomplish the feat Ortiz accomplished on Saturday. That, in and of itself, is astounding, but when you consider exactly who Ortiz shares this accomplishment with, it becomes even more impressive.
Ortiz has been doing it for a long time too. His nine 30 HR/100 RBI seasons tie him for tenth-most all time. Should he be able to replicate those numbers in 2016 (spoiler: he’s on pace to do so), it would tie him with Rafael Palmeiro, Hank Aaron, and Lou Gehrig for seventh-most all-time behind Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez. His first 30/100 season came back in 2003 as a 27-year-old. His last came in 2015 as a 39-year-old. He has a legitimate chance to do it again in 2016 at age 40. Forty years old, hitting 30 homers with 100 RBI (something nobody has ever done, for the record)!
With all things considered, David Ortiz was never a complete ballplayer, or even a complete hitter, really. However, his body of work and career accomplishments reflect this true fact: he is one of the best sluggers the game has ever seen, and he remains one of the best in baseball even in the twilight of his career.