I phoned this one in from the Boston airport. Not mailed. Just phoned.
BOSTON — A lot of people are going to be asking that question this morning. Anyone answering “no” had better bring a good argument, because they’re on the much tougher side of the battle today than they were a year ago.
First, though, let us set aside the World Series and look at Ortiz’s overall case. Don’t worry: we’ll get there in a minute.
David Ortiz is a career .287/.381/.549 hitter. He has 431 homers and 1429 RBI. His OPS is .930 and his OPS+ — which adjusts him to the level of his competition, his era and the ballparks in which he hits — is 139, which means (for quick and dirty purposes) that’s he’s 39% above the average hitter. These numbers place Ortiz comfortably within the range of current Hall of Famers. Is he inner-circle? Not really, but his not borderline on the numbers either. There are many worse hitters than Ortiz in Cooperstown whose primary argument for induction was their offensive output.
The Designated Hitter Factor
Of course Ortiz is offensive output and offensive output alone. He has played a mere 263 of his 1514 career games in the field, spending the rest of his time as a designated hitter. Not having any defensive value does take away from his overall value, but the notion that just because one has zero defensive value means one has no Hall of Fame case is silly. The DH has been part of the game for 41 seasons. It is not some novelty anymore. Relief pitchers are routinely inducted to the Hall of Fame now and they are specialists too. Many — specifically, one-inning closers — are the sorts of specialists that have only existed since the 1980s, really. If no one knocks them for not being all-around players no one should knock the DH. And the fact is that, with the possible exception of Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz has been the greatest DH in baseball history. And for what it’s worth, Martinez should be in the Hall too.
The Playoffs Factor
I don’t necessarily believe that there are clutch hitters. Meaning, guys who can be predicted to do well in tough spots and on big stages before the fact. But there is no escaping the fact that Ortiz has done well in tough spots and on big stages throughout his entire career.
In three World Series he has hit a mind-boggling .455/.576/.795 with 14 RBI in 14 games. Is he some freak of nature in this regard? Not really, as his career playoff line — including division series and league championship series — is almost identical to his batting line since he joined the Boston Red Sox. But that’s not to diminish his playoff performance. We notice what he does in the playoffs far more and are usually amazed. The fact that he has basically done that for his entire Red Sox career and some people think he is undeserving of the Hall tells us that we are underrating his regular season performance.
The Performance Enhancing Drugs Factor
The ultimate objection to Ortiz’s candidacy will be that he was once associated with performance enhancing drugs. Specifically, his name was leaked — but never confirmed — as one of the 103 players who tested positive for banned substances during baseball’s trial drug testing in 2003. Drug testing that (a) was, by design, not to result in discipline; and (b) was supposed to remain anonymous but which had its anonymity compromised by over-zealous federal investigators.
You may have a personal rule that, if someone who took PEDs, they should not be in the Hall of Fame. We’ve handled these arguments here several times before and have shown them to often be disingenuous and unfair. Maybe nothing will change your mind, but know that there are already Hall of Famers who took PEDs and know that the accusations made against Ortiz are perhaps the thinnest that have been lodged against any player. And know that, in the past decade, he has never tested positive for PEDs.
So: He’s a Hall of Famer, Right?
You bet your bippy he is. The numbers certainly bear this out. And he still has a lot of gas left in the tank so he’ll be providing value for a few years yet, adding to his case. But you can be statistically illiterate and see this guy’s value as a player. His mark on the game is indelible. Numbers aside, Ortiz has killed it in the World Series. He clearly carried the Red Sox this year. He is clearly the leader of one of the best teams of his era.
When I have a tough call on a Hall of Fame candidate, I ask myself: “Can you tell the story of baseball in the era in which he played without including him?” If the answer is no, it’s hard to argue against his Hall of Fame case. And in Ortiz’s case, that answer is clearly no. The man should go to Cooperstown the first year he’s eligible.
BOSTON — In October 2012 John Farrell had just finished a 79-83 season managing the Toronto Blue Jays. Which was worse than his first year as Blue Jays manager. There were rumblings that the Red Sox might want to hire him to replace Bobby Valentine and most Blue Jays fans were OK with that. He hadn’t shown them anything, they felt, and they could probably do better.
In October 2012 Shane Victorino had just posted his worst offensive season in six years. And he finished it up in Los Angeles of all places, having been traded to the Dodgers in midseason. It was the Phillies’ way of telling him “no, we don’t need you anymore and we’d rather not even have to pretend to be interested in your services when you hit free agency this offseason.” With several outfielders on the free agent market it seemed that Victorino would have to scrounge for a job, let alone a decent free agent deal. Some folks even suggested that he may be done as an effective major leaguer.
In October 2012 the Boston Red Sox had just finished one of the most nightmarish years in their history. Indeed, it had extended back 13 months to their 2011 collapse, in which the Sox had snatched ignominy from the jaws of victory, and lasted all 2012 long. Bobby Valentine was hired, lost control of his team from almost the get-go, and then “led” the Red Sox to a 69-93 record and a last place finish.
What a difference a year makes.
Wednesday night, as he accepted his World Series MVP trophy, David Ortiz said that, as the year began, he didn’t necessarily think that the Red Sox could win a World Series championship. But that started to change once Farrell returned to the Red Sox (he was the pitching coach from 2007 to 2010), Ortiz said. Always a prickly personality, if David Ortiz says you got his attention, you’ve truly made an impression. And Farrell certainly had an impact. A team that couldn’t stay out of the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in 2011 and 2012 went about their business quietly and confidently in 2013. You have to give credit for that to John Farrell.
You have to give Boston general manager Ben Cherington credit for Victorino. Not many people thought a three-year, $39 million gamble on Victorino was a good one. Indeed, it was widely mocked. Part of the mocking was because, in most people’s minds, Victorino was a center fielder who had lost his center fielder’s skills. Signing him to play right field — which he played spectacularly — ended up being a master stroke. Victorino hit .294/.351/.451 and stole 21 bases as well. And while injuries and fatigue sapped him somewhat down the stretch, he drove in seven runs with two swings of the bat — a Grand Slam in the ALCS and a bases-clearing double in Game 6 of the World Series — that iced the Sox’ pennant and World Series title.
And this Sox team? Yes, they technically went from last place to first in the space of a year, but it’s not the sort of team we normally praise as a worst-to-first team. That’s usually reserved for teams which have had long histories of futility and then wildly surpassed expectations. No one expected the Sox to win the World Series as the season began, but most thought they’d be respectable. And most knew that with the brains in their front office and the resources at their disposal, the Sox wouldn’t be down for long.
But in some ways their accomplishment was even more improbable than that of your typical worst-to-first team. There was rot and negativity and shame in Boston a year ago. There were players who could be excused for looking a year ahead to free agency. People who, if they were betting the smart money, would never have bet on this team to flush out all of the toxins of 13 bad months, regroup and put forth an effort as dominant as the one they showed throughout this past year.
A year passed, but time doesn’t always heal all wounds, and even when it does, it doesn’t usually do it so quickly. But John Farrell, Ben Cherington, Shane Victorino and several others put in the energy that fought back the entropy. And because of it they will spend the next year as World Series Champions.