David Ortiz enters Hall with a classic Papi speech

July 24th, 2022

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- For David Ortiz, the stage was never too big. The spotlight was never too bright. The biggest situations were the ones he thrived in.

His career was about moments as much as numbers.

On Sunday, nearly six years after he took his final ferocious cut for the Red Sox, Ortiz reveled in his crowning baseball moment. An iconic figure in two nations -- Red Sox Nation and the Dominican Republic -- Ortiz was formally inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot. This, on the strength of a 20-year career that included 541 home runs.

His speech, a memorable one as expected, featured him switching between English and Spanish to great effect and concluded with him highlighting the importance of supporting others: "When you believe in someone, you can change their world."

An estimated crowd of 35,000 -- many of them New Englanders and Dominicans -- gathered on an open field in Cooperstown on a scalding summer afternoon to cheer Ortiz on once more.

“Wow, Cooperstown!” Ortiz howled as he soaked in the excitement of the crowd.

Sitting behind him on the stage were 48 Hall of Famers, including the likes of Juan Marichal (the first Dominican elected to the Hall of Fame), Sandy Koufax, Johnny Bench, Cal Ripken Jr., Ken Griffey Jr. and Pedro Martinez.

Fittingly, that crowd was similar in size to most of the ones Ortiz played in front of in Boston.

Chants of "Papi, Papi, Papi!" filled the air as Ortiz got set to speak to the amped-up crowd.

When Ortiz was a player, as the crowd got the loudest and the opposing pitcher tended to get unnerved, he had the ability to remain the calmest person there.

That was again the case on induction day. Though Ortiz is known for his outsized personality, which was on full display last week when he was a playful sideline reporter at the All-Star Game, he struck a perfect tone on Sunday.

Not wearing one of the outrageous outfits he loves to pull out of his expansive wardrobe, Hall of Fame Papi was dressed nice but conservatively, wearing a navy blue sports coat and a red tie.

Sounding passionate and proud but not nervous, Ortiz showed his gratitude to the game and all those who helped him succeed at it.

For Ortiz, it all started at home. First, with his mom, Angela, who died in a 2002 car accident, and his father Leo, who remains a constant presence in his life.

Ortiz went on to build his own family at the same time he put together a Hall of Fame career.

“You guys are the engine that started this motor every day,” Ortiz said, as he looked to the section where his family was seated.

He acknowledged his wife, Tiffany, for all her love and support, even though the couple is in the process of getting divorced.

The path that took Ortiz to Cooperstown was hardly a straight line.

At 27 years old, the left-handed hitter was coming off his first 20-homer season as a platoon player for the Minnesota Twins. The reward for his increased production? An unceremonious release.

“The Twins didn’t release me based on talent,” said Ortiz. “They released me based on salary. They were a small-market team.”

On Sunday, Ortiz went out of his way to thank the Twins for teaching him how to compete at the highest level, and was thrilled to enter the Hall of Fame on the same day as Tony Oliva and Jim Kaat. He also gave a shout-out to Paul Molitor, one of the Hall of Famers sitting behind him. And Ortiz paid homage to the ultimate Twin and his most influential mentor, the late, great Kirby Puckett.

“I missed him so much and he taught me so much that when I went to Boston, I wore number 34,” Ortiz said.

That move to Boston is what changed everything for Ortiz. It was when he raised his game and eventually helped change the culture of a franchise.

Ortiz emphasized Sunday that it went both ways.

“That franchise made me the man I am today,” said Ortiz, whose civic-minded nature allowed him to become one with the city he played in for the final 14 years of his career.

There would be three World Series championships in Boston with Ortiz in the heart of the batting order, won in 2004, ’07 and ’13. It had been 85 years since a Boston team won it all when Ortiz arrived in ’03.

Ortiz thanked three of the managers he played for with the Red Sox in Grady Little, Terry Francona and John Farrell."

“Grady Little, I tried to move a runner over in a Spring Training game,” Ortiz recalled. “He said, ‘Hey big man, I don’t want you to move them over. I want you to bring them in. The rest is history.”

Francona and Farrell got a championship-driven slugger in Ortiz. Nobody in his era was better with the game or the season on the line.

“Terry Francona and John Farrell did nothing but build my confidence in those years,” Ortiz said.

Francona will be at Fenway managing the Guardians on Tuesday night when the Red Sox hold a tribute for Ortiz.

While there were countless players who helped Ortiz win those titles in Boston, he went out of his way to cite the ones who spent the weekend with him in Cooperstown. That list included Dustin Pedroia, Mike Lowell, Johnny Damon, Kevin Youkilis, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Trot Nixon, and, of course, Martinez.

When the speech was all over, the build-up of the last six months finally fell off of Ortiz’s shoulders.

So how was Ortiz so relaxed when he took the stage, batting seventh and last in the batting order of Sunday speeches?

“Believe me, it wasn’t like that the last couple of days. My agent, everybody was asking me about the speech, and this and that, like I’ve never talked before,” said Ortiz. “I’m like, ‘All I’m going to talk about is what I know. Relax.’ It was fine. It was good that I was left for last. That made it a little easier and I just went at it.”

As much as Ortiz has always loved the limelight, he admits he’s still getting used to the idea that he is now part of baseball’s most exclusive club.

“Man, I haven’t processed it yet,” said Ortiz. “It kind of takes me a minute. I’m so used to watching it on TV. I couldn’t believe I was sitting out there with all the superstars, the greatest.”