Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Legend of Big Papi

I have been compelled to get back to writing to discuss the 500 Home Run club’s newest member, David Ortiz. The other day while listening to a popular talk radio show discuss his candidacy for the MLB Hall of Fame, there were some arguments on both sides of the issue. To me, there is no question that David Ortiz belongs in Cooperstown. His history of postseason heroics and overall offensive numbers put him in company with the already enshrined. More importantly, he is one of a shrinking number of athletes who is embraceable public figure and has given back and grown the game. If I were to have been able to weigh in on this radio show, these would have been my case for David Ortiz.

One of two arguments against David Ortiz relates to steroids. In 2003 when performance enhancing drug use was widely used throughout baseball (and all sports), David Ortiz and many other baseball players participated in a test for Major League Baseball where no penalties for a positive test were levied. In 2009, partial results of the test leaked and Ortiz tested positive during this baseline test. To this day, Ortiz has not received clarification as to what the test results were as the report is sealed. In a written essay that Ortiz published in the spring of 2015, he cited that since the alleged failed test in 2003, he had been tested in excess of 80 times without a single failed test.

This argument is confusing and seems based on partial truths rather than concrete fact as the information in 2009 was first reported by the New York Times but fragmented that could be considered irresponsible journalism as the full details of the report remains unknown even today. Adam LaRoche (among others) has received an exemption from the rules surrounding steroids and takes medication to help him fight attention deficit disorder – an ingredient of LaRoche’s medication is a banned substance. One of many unusual circumstances that could have caused this failed test. It wasn’t until 2005 that Major League Baseball appeared before congress and the national awareness was raised.

Ortiz has not ever been suspended for steroids. Ortiz has now hit 412 of his 501 home runs starting in 2004 – present. The New York Times leaked information without knowing all of the facts. Major League Baseball will never share the actual truths behind his 2003 test. Move on from this issue.

The Designated Hitter
The second argument against Ortiz is that the nature of the Designated Hitter rule in the American League causes him to be a less active part of the game as compared to a player who is also responsible for playing defense. This argument is old and overplayed – it is part of the rules of the American League. Whether or not you personally like the Designated Hitter role in baseball is the same as asking someone their preference between chocolate and vanilla. Purists prefer the National League and new age baseball fans prefer offense.

Additionally, the precedent has recently been changed amongst voters in the Hall of Fame. Specialists such as closers are now entering the Hall of Fame for their contribution to get the last out of a game. Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor both spent substantial time as designated hitters and they are both enshrined. David Ortiz was the best player at his position for more than a decade with the hardware to prove it – 6 Silver Slugger awards, top-5 MVP voting for 5 consecutive years and 9 All-Star selections. Forget this argument, it is part of the game.

Clutch Hitting
Now to the fun side of the argument – why Ortiz belongs in the Hall of Fame. Consider the following statistics:
-        .455 career batting average in the World Series. This is the 5th highest of any player with 25 or more plate appearances – Ortiz has 59 plate appearances and players 1-4 do not exceed 31
-        .688 batting average in 2013 World Series is the second highest of all time, again his 25 plate appearances dwarf the 15 appearances by leader Billy Hatcher who was 12-15 in the 1990 World Series for the Cincinnati Reds.
-        17 career playoff home runs rank 7th all time.
-        Teams he played for are 3-0 in the World Series.

I ask myself this, without David Ortiz, are Red Sox fans still being tormented by a team without a World Series since 1918? More than likely. 2007 was a special team that was incredibly deep with talent and could have had a chance. When I think about 2004 or 2013, there is no way that the Charles River would have been lined with Sox fans celebrating a championship in early November without David Ortiz. In 2004, the greatest sports comeback of all time was lit by Ortiz’s heroics in Game 4 and Game 5. In 2013, let me reiterate that Ortiz hit .688 in 25 World Series at-bats. In both circumstances, Ortiz won the series MVP.

Fun with Numbers
As Ortiz continues to add to his resume, his 501 home runs, 578 doubles and 1,630 RBI’s land him in the elite category. He will finish his career in the top-25 in each of those categories. There is no argument that his power figures make him as one of the most prolific power hitters in the history of the game. He also has more base hits (2290) than four other members of the 500 Home Run Club - Willie McCovey (2211), Mike Schmidt (2234), Harmon Killebrew (2086) and Mark McGwire (1626). He will pass Jim Thome (2328) and Eddie Matthews (2315) very shortly and could very easily eclipse Mickey Mantle (2415), Sammy Sosa (2408), Frank Thomas (2468).

The Man

David Ortiz has been active in the Boston community through the years. He has appeared in many commercials for Major League Baseball and for a lengthy period of time has been a face of the sport. He has a foundation (David Ortiz Children’s Fund) dedicated to giving back to children in both Boston and the Dominican Republic. His energy and excitement about baseball has illuminated Boston and Major League Baseball now for 13 seasons – remember his ski goggles and big smile in the 2013 World Series? Once he does decide to hang up his cleats, he will be remembered not only for his big hits, but for building the game and providing it with a larger than life figure.

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