With One More Walk-Off, Big Papi Trots Into Cooperstown

The David Ortiz Bridge, on Brookline Ave., above the Mass Pike, connects the Fenway Park neighborhood to Kenmore Square in Boston. From there it’s about four hours to Cooperstown, N.Y., soon to be home to another lasting marker of Ortiz’s outsize legacy.

Ortiz, whose slugging and swagger helped the Boston Red Sox become the most successful franchise of the new century, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday. In his first year on the ballot, Ortiz was the only candidate to clear the 75 percent threshold needed for election, collecting 77.9 percent of votes from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

The election was the 10th and final verdict by the writers on the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, longtime superstars whose records have been tainted by connections to performance-enhancing drugs. Bonds, whose 762 home runs are the most in Major League Baseball history, received 66 percent of the vote, while Clemens, who won a record seven Cy Young Awards, got 65.2.

Two other prominent names also dropped off the ballot: Curt Schilling, who had more than 3,000 strikeouts, and Sammy Sosa, who hit more than 600 homers. Schilling, who has joked online about lynching journalists, collected 58.6 percent of the vote, and Sosa, who has strong ties to steroid use, got only 18.5 percent. Like Bonds and Clemens, they could still be elected in future years by small committees.

Ortiz will be honored at a ceremony in Cooperstown in late July with Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, who were chosen by committees in December. Four others were also elected then and will be inducted posthumously: Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Minnie Miñoso and Buck O’Neil.

Ortiz received 307 of 405 writers’ votes to become the second Hall of Famer from the curse-breaking Red Sox. He joins Pedro Martinez, also a native of the Dominican Republic, who was inducted in 2015. Their 2004 team won the franchise’s first title in more than eight decades — a cosmic penalty, perhaps, for the infamous sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

As a burly, affable, left-handed power hitter, Ortiz cut a Ruthian figure, with a similar appetite for big moments. In three World Series — all victories — he hit .455 with a 1.372 on-base plus slugging percentage, both records among hitters with at least 50 plate appearances. Ortiz was named most valuable player of the World Series in 2013, when he went 11 for 16 with two homers and eight walks against St. Louis.

In electing Ortiz on the first try, most voters chose not to penalize him for his link to the steroid era: a positive test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, when baseball conducted survey testing (without penalties) that was supposed to have remained anonymous. In 2016, just before Ortiz retired, Commissioner Rob Manfred cited “legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives,” and Ortiz has maintained that he never knowingly cheated.

Ortiz was named the most valuable player of the 2013 World Series. He helped lead the team to three championships in 14 seasons.Credit…Elsa/Getty Images

In any case, Ortiz achieved almost all of his success during the testing era, which began with penalties in 2004. Traded by Seattle as a minor leaguer in 1996 and released by Minnesota six years later, Ortiz found stardom in Boston, making 10 All-Star teams and winning seven Silver Slugger Awards as a designated hitter. He had 541 career home runs, 1,768 runs batted in and a .286 batting average, with a .380 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage.

Manny Ramirez, who teamed with Ortiz in the middle of Boston’s lineup for much of the 2000s, had better overall statistics but failed again to reach Cooperstown. In his sixth appearance on the ballot, Ramirez collected only 28.9 percent of the vote, reflecting many writers’ stance on players who served suspensions for steroid use.

The Hall of Fame has never given specific guidance on how to evaluate the so-called steroid era, but the institution instructs writers to consider not only players’ on-field records, but also their “integrity, character and sportsmanship.” It is up to individual voters to interpret what that means, and some have distinguished between drug use in the eras before and after testing. (The New York Times does not permit writers to vote.)

Barry Bonds passed Hank Aaron as M.L.B.’s career home run leader in 2007. He finished his career with 762 homers, but his Hall of Fame candidacy will now be left to eras committees.Credit…Eric Risberg/Associated Press
Roger Clemens won 354 games, struck out 4,672 batters and received a record seven Cy Young Awards. Like Bonds, he failed to gain election in 10 years on the writers’ ballot.Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Ramirez was suspended twice, and Alex Rodriguez once. Rodriguez, who hit 696 career homers, has crafted a surprising public comeback, becoming ubiquitous on television and social media. But he has not persuaded the writers to ignore his misdeeds, and received 34.3 percent of the vote in his first appearance on the ballot.

As a Yankee in 2009, Rodriguez admitted to past steroid use and asked people to “judge me from this day forward” at a news conference. But he soon returned to banned drugs, admitting to investigators that he used performance-enhancing drugs from 2010 to 2012, leading to a suspension for the 2014 season.

Among other candidates on the ballot, Scott Rolen, a third baseman, continued to gain momentum toward eventual election. Rolen, who spent most of his career with Philadelphia and St. Louis, got 63.2 percent of the votes, up from 52.9 percent last year and 35.3 percent in 2020. There are only 17 Hall of Fame third basemen — the fewest for any position — and Rolen won eight Gold Gloves.

Todd Helton is on a similar trajectory, reaching 52 percent, up from 44.9 last year and 29.2 in 2020. While Helton played his home games in the hitters’ paradise of Colorado, his .316 average, .414 on-base percentage and .539 slugging percentage were extraordinary; the only players to top all three figures (with at least 3,000 plate appearances) are Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams.

Schilling had been trending toward election, gathering 71.1 percent of the votes last year, more than any other candidate. Known for being one of baseball’s premier October performers, Schilling has since amplified his rhetoric on social media, and asked the Hall of Fame to remove his name from the ballot because he did not respect the writers. The Hall denied the request, but another also-ran finish did it for him.

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