How Good Are David Ortiz’s Hall of Fame Chances?

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz watches his solo home run against the Orioles in the sixth inning Monday. (Elise Amendola / Associated Press

Monday night, David Ortiz hit the 536th home run of his illustrious career.

That number, 536 may feel familiar to some baseball fans. There’s a reason for that, Mickey Mantle, one of the most popular baseball superstars of all-time finished his hall of fame career with 536 home runs.

With almost three weeks remaining in what is ostensibly David Ortiz’s final season, there’s an awfully good chance that Ortiz will finish with more than 536 home runs, and thus break his current tie with Mantle for 17th all time in home runs.

Were Ortiz to catch absolute fire for the final few weeks, he might have a chance at catching Mike Schmidt whose 548 home runs are 16th all-time.

Odds are he’ll finish somewhere between Schmidt and Mantle. Home runs are not the only statistical category where Ortiz ranks quite high. His 1,752 runs batted in places him 22nd all time.

There’s more of course.

There’s the postseason. Ortiz is a legend, not just among Boston Red Sox fans, but the vast majority of major league baseball fans who have watched in amazement as Ortiz has repeatedly come up big when his team has most needed him to.

The walk off home run to beat the Angels in 2004, the back-to-back walk-off hits in Games 4 and 5 of the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees no-less. A pair of home runs off David Price in Game 2 of the 2013 ALDS. The outrageous grand slam to tie Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers.

A 2013 World Series for the ages when Ortiz slashed .688/.760/.1.188 with two home runs, six RBI’s and eight walks, en route to a no-doubt-about-it World Series MVP award.

Those are just the postseason exploits, which means there’s a lengthy list of regular season walk-offs and big-hits that haven’t even been mentioned.

All of this might make one think that David Ortiz is going to be a no-quesitons-asked, first-ballot Hall of Fame baseball player.

It might not be that simple though.

For all that Ortiz has going for him, and he’s got plenty. There will always be two factors that will probably have a negative influence on hall of fame voters.

The first is that he’s been a designated hitter for almost all of his career. Let’s be honest here, defense is important. Could Ortiz have been a good defensive player, most likely at first base? Perhaps, but how would having to play the field as opposed to sit on the bench every half-inning have impacted his offensive production?

Maybe Ortiz would have gotten hurt more often? Maybe he’d be a little more fatigued and his offense would have lagged a bit? Maybe the wear and tear on his body would have meant that he’d already be a former player, as opposed to one on the verge of riding off into the sunset. Maybe he’d be retiring as one of the greatest first basemen of all-time?

There are a lot of “maybe’s” but what we can be certain of is that designated hitters are, and probably should be held to higher standards of offensive production, than players who had to play defense.

I recently spoke at length with ESPN Baseball and Tennis Writer Howard Bryant.

Bryant is a hall of fame voter, and while discussing Ortiz’s status as a career DH he basically said that if you’re going to spend your career as only a hitter “you better be one of the baddest hitters on the planet.”

To that end, Ortiz has held up his end of the bargain. In fact Bryant sees Ortiz as having an extremely good chance at making the Hall of Fame. Aside from being a DH, Bryant points to only one other reason for voters to vote against Ortiz.

Performance Enhancing Drugs.

Ortiz has never officially tested positive for PED use. He’s rumored to have tested positive when major league baseball conducted survey tests that were supposed to remain anonymous back in 2003. The accuracy of those tests is questionable, as are the rumored results, but that didn’t stop leaks from revealing rumored positive tests of multiple major league stars, one of which was David Ortiz.

Ortiz has steadfastly denied any use of performance enhancing drugs. This past March, he told ESPN’s Hannah Storm that he felt the rumor lacked credibility.

“That was a situation that I didn’t create,” Ortiz said in the interview, which aired Monday on ESPN. “It came out of someone that nobody knows. It was a newspaper that popped up with that, (but) you don’t know that person who came out with that. I don’t know that person that came out with that. (It was) anonymous. To me, it had no accountability.”

No one will ever know for sure whether or not Ortiz used performance enhancing drugs, and if he did use them no one will ever know to what extent. That’s a problem that has plagued numerous players over the last 10 years.

Ever since the players from what has become known as the PED Era have started to gain Hall of Fame eligibility there have been sure-fire hall of famers kept out, while others with less impressive resumes have gained entry.

Mike Piazza was a rumored PED user, but he never tested positive and this past year he was inducted in the hall.

Bryant sees PED use in terms of three separate tiers.

The first tier is occupied by players that simply have no chance at overcoming rumors of, or have admitted to, or tested positive for PED use.

Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez are all on that level. Each player would be an absolute no-doubt hall of famer, but PED use has all but eliminated each of them from any chance at gaining entry.

The second tier is occupied by players that certainly have hall of fame credentials, but have also been linked to PED use enough or even admitted to use,  that their chances have been diminished. Yet they still have a chance at eventually gaining entry.

Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Gary Sheffield are all names Bryant mentioned as being on that tier. For Bonds and Clemens there’s little doubt that they used PED’s, but both players had such amazing careers and posted such amazing numbers that there’s a chance as time passes that eventually they end up being named on 75 percent of submitted hall of fame ballots, and thus gain entry to Cooperstown.

Then there’s a third tier. This is a place occupied by players who have very little real evidence of PED use and will most likely eventually gain hall of fame entry.

Jeff Bagwell was mentioned by Bryant, as was David Ortiz.

Ortiz has numbers, he’s got a legendary and well-deserved reputation for clutch heroics.

Not only has Ortiz had huge hits, he’s got a huge personality and is a real presence in the New England area and throughout the pro sports universe.

Ortiz’s post marathon bombing tragedy speech at Fenway Park in April of 2013 will be forever remembered, not just by fans of Red Sox baseball, but by hundreds of millions of Americans.

Then there’s Ortiz’s final season. If Ortiz follows through on his intended retirement, his 2016 season will be remembered as quite possibly the finest final season in major pro sports history. Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Jayson Stark joined a growing chorus of sports writers to ponder just how good Ortiz’s farewell season has been.

Stark’s column reiterates the theory that yes, David Ortiz is at the tail end of what will most likely be remembered as the greatest retirement season in major league and possibly major American pro sports history.

Ortiz’s season isn’t over yet. Not only could he finish 2016 with 40 home runs, which would be just the fourth time in his career that he’s topped the 40-mark, but he could also end up with a career highs in doubles and slugging percentage.

That’s not all of course. In spite of a tough loss to the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday night, the Red Sox are still two games ahead of pack in the American League East. The postseason is a very real possibility and the Red Sox have had quite a bit of notable success in the playoffs with Ortiz on their roster.

A fourth World Series title, along with a whole host of new Ortiz postseason heroics would most likely cement his hall of fame status, although according to Bryant, Ortiz’s chances are already very, very good.

Bryant declared David Ortiz “the greatest DH of all-time.”  That sounds like a guy who will be heading to Cooperstown.

It is easy for fans and writers such as myself to speak about how we think Ortiz should be, or deserves to be in the hall of fame. It is entirely different when a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, someone with an actual vote who receives a hall of fame ballot on an annual basis speaks highly of Ortiz’s chances and hall of fame worthiness.

If 2016 really is David Ortiz’s final season, then dedicated Red Sox fans should start to think about booking trips to Cooperstown for June of 2022.

 

About the Author

Ben Shapiro
Red Sox columnist for ESPN New Hampshire. Originally from Western Massachusetts, I currently live in New York City with my wife and dog. I've previously written for Huffington Post, Bleacher Report and MassLive.com

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