Ortiz voted into Hall of Fame on first try

Fellow Twin Hunter stays on ballot; Nathan, Morneau, Pierzynski drop off

January 26th, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS -- Twenty years ago, a young slugger named David Ortiz completed a stint with the Twins and moved to the Red Sox, where he became one of the most feared sluggers in baseball. On Tuesday, he took his place among the very greatest to play the game as a first-ballot selection to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Ortiz spent the first six seasons of his career in Minnesota, but was notably released before he accumulated his three World Series titles and most of his 541 career homers in Boston. "Big Papi" (known as "The Big O" while with the Twins) will become another part of a Minnesota-centric Class of 2022 that already features Twins legends Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, who were elected via the Golden Days Era Committee last month.

Kaat, Oliva and Ortiz will become the 10th, 11th and 12th former Twins enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

"[I thank] the Red Sox and even the Minnesota Twins, where I played at the beginning of my career," Ortiz said following his election. "I learned so many things to carry over later on in my career."

Among the four other former Twins on the ballot, only Torii Hunter received the five percent of votes necessary to remain eligible for future elections. He will return to the ballot for a third year after he was named on 5.3 percent of ballots, while first-timers Joe Nathan (4.3 percent), Justin Morneau (1.3 percent) and A.J. Pierzynski (0.5 percent) will fall off the ballot.

Originally signed out of the Dominican Republic by the Mariners in 1992, Ortiz arrived in the Twins' organization as a Minor League player to be named later in a '96 trade that sent Dave Hollins to Seattle. Ortiz made his big league debut as a 21-year-old with the Twins in '97 and hit 58 homers through the 2002 campaign, mostly as a part-time player.

Though Ortiz hit 20 homers with 75 RBIs and an .839 OPS in 125 games in '02, the Twins released him following the season.

"My last year in Minnesota, I hit 20 homers without even playing," Ortiz said. "I kept on telling people, 'What did you think was going to happen once somebody just let me go out there and hit?' 'Go ahead, kid. Play. Show me what you've got.' I had a lack of opportunity when I was in Minnesota for so many reasons. I'm always going to thank the Minnesota Twins, because the one thing that I learned in that organization was that opportunity is not out there every day."

"There wasn't any one thing [leading to the release]," said then-Twins general manager Terry Ryan to MLB.com in 2016. "If you look at [Ortiz’s] numbers across the board, they were very respectable. And not that it was totally about money, but we were a little bit strapped. That would be a good excuse, but it wasn't that entirely. It was just a bad error in judgment of a guy's talent. How about a mistake?"

Ortiz caught on with the Red Sox, helped to end Boston's World Series drought in 2004, and, as they say, the rest is history. He still did carry one notable marking of his time in Minnesota with him for the rest of his career, as he switched to the uniform No. 34 in Boston to honor the relationship he formed with Kirby Puckett while with the Twins.

"Kirby Puckett was the guy who basically inspired me in so many ways when I was in Minnesota," Ortiz said. "Kirby was a friend. He was a father. He was a brother."

Hunter's vote total receded from the 9.5 percent he received on last year's ballot, but the fan favorite center fielder will be back on the ballot for the Class of 2023. Though it was likely a long shot for Morneau and Pierzynski to remain on the ballot beyond one season, Nathan might have had a shot to stick around, considering the continued candidacy of fellow closer Billy Wagner. Instead, the longtime Twins closer fell less than a percentage point shy of remaining eligible.

Nathan is eighth on the all-time saves leaderboard with 377, two spots behind Wagner, who was named on 51 percent of the ballots this year and will return for an eighth season of eligibility.

"What an absolute honor it is to be on the ballot," Nathan said last week, before the announcement. "Above and beyond all, to even think about that is crazy to me. ... I think it's hurting me, the fact that they limited it to 10 [players], when there's a loaded ballot like this year. This is probably going to be a tougher year for me to stay on. All I can do is hope that I do get to stay on this year."