Before we completely abandon the topic of the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame for another year, let us first look at one current Boston Red Sox player who has made himself an icon in Beantown. David Ortiz, AKA “Big Papi,” became a force in the American League almost immediately upon his arrival in Boston in 2003. The Minnesota Twins released Ortiz in December of 2002, and he signed with Boston as a free agent.
As a Twin from 1997-2002, Ortiz was just another player and one who played in over 100 games in only two of his six years. He hit .266/.348/.461 with 58 HR and 238 RBI in 455 games as a Twin. His total WAR was 2.6, an average of 0.4. Ortiz was mostly a DH there as well. His best season was 2002 when he hit .272, 20 HR, 75 RBI in 125 games. They released him after the season.
Ortiz moved to Boston and almost immediately became the hitter we now know him as. In his 11 Boston seasons, he has compiled a record of .292/.390/.572, 373 HR, and 1191 RBI. His average WAR is 3.8 with a high of 6.4 in 2007. His postseason numbers are even more astounding: .283/.402/.538, 17 HR, and 60 RBI in 82 games. In addition, many of those postseason home runs have come in the most clutch situations: game-tying grand slam, walk-off home runs, and the like. He was one of the most significant reasons the Red Sox have reached seven postseasons and won three World Series in the past eleven years. He did all this as primarily a designated hitter.
The first player inducted as primarily a DH was Frank Thomas this year, and he was very well-deserving. See why here. The next designated hitter to enter should be Edgar Martinez. He defined the role as we know it today. Martinez played in 2,055 games and only 592 of them — or parts of them — in the field. He hit .312, 309 HR, and 1,283 RBI in 18 years, all with the Seattle Mariners. He has missed the 75% yes votes needed in his first two years on the ballot, but he deserves induction.
Many fans and analysts question the validity of a pure designated hitter in the Hall of Fame. I do not. If the player performs the job that his team pays him to perform, then why hold that against the player? At first, the DH was meant simply to allow the pitcher to concentrate on pitching and add fan-desired offense to the game. Teams would use many DHs each year. Some still do now, but that role has turned into a starting position that few can really handle as well as Thomas, Martinez, and Ortiz did or still do. Harold Baines also comes to mind.
The designated hitter is a defined role, and Ortiz is defined as a DH just as the others mentioned are. The door is now open thanks to The Big Hurt. Ortiz has excelled in the role since 2003, and he will most likely excel some more in the final years of his career. His career numbers to date are .287/.381/.549, 431 HR, 1429 RBI, nine All-Star teams, six Silver Slugger awards, and six top-10 MVP finishes. He will certainly add to most of these totals. If we use the rule of thumb that says a Hall-of-Fame player dominated his position in his era, then David Ortiz fits that rule perfectly. He is a Hall-of-Fame-caliber designated hitter worthy of induction at his position.
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