BOSTON -- David Ortiz accomplished enough in his career to be considered not just a legend in Boston and the Dominican Republic, but also an icon for his hits on the field and his humanitarian efforts off it.
His number 34 was retired on the right-field façade at Fenway Park less than a year after he took his final at-bat -- an unprecedented move by the Red Sox.
A street and a bridge were named in his honor in Boston’s Back Bay.
And now, Ortiz is finally set to become eligible for the biggest honor a baseball player can receive.
Big Papi is on the Hall of Fame Ballot for the first time.
“The reality is that I’m excited,” Ortiz said in a recent interview with MLB.com. “You don’t hear people talking about the Hall of Fame every day. Not everybody gets in there on a daily basis. When your name pops up and you feel like you have the opportunity to be part of that elite group, it’s something that definitely makes you very excited.”
Alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs have impacted the HOF candidacy of both Clemens and Bonds to date. Alex Rodriguez was disciplined by MLB for PEDs late in his career and also admitted to earlier use in his career while with the Rangers.
In 2009, the New York Times reported that Ortiz was on a list of 103 players who tested positive for banned substances in survey testing conducted prior to the start of its official PED testing program, which began in ’04.
The weekend that Ortiz played his final regular-season series in 2016, Commissioner Rob Manfred said it was unfair to make judgments based on what were supposed to be anonymous tests in ’03.
“The list was supposed to be confidential. I take very seriously the commitment on confidentiality," Manfred said on Oct. 3, 2016. "It is really unfortunate that anybody's name was ever released publicly, Point 1. Point 2: I don't think people understand very well what that list was.
"There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If, in fact, there were test results like that today on a player and we tried to discipline them, there'd be a grievance over it. It would be vetted, tried, resolved. We didn't do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved, because we knew they didn't matter.”
Ortiz has been steadfast in saying he didn’t use PEDs.
“I think I did what I was supposed to while I played,” Ortiz said. “I think I took care of business the way it was supposed to be. Hopefully the voters consider that, and let’s see where we go.”
It will be interesting to see how heavily defense -- or lack thereof -- plays into how Ortiz does on his first Hall of Fame ballot. Though Ortiz had a first baseman’s mitt that he’d dust off for Interleague games in National League parks and the World Series, he was mostly a DH in his career.
While that was once a stigma for players trying to get into the Hall of Fame, Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines are recent examples of players who made it to Cooperstown starting more games at DH than any other position.
Early in Ortiz’s career, it was hard to imagine he’d ever be in the Cooperstown conversation.
Playing for the Twins from 1997-02, Ortiz was a platoon player who slashed .266/.348./.461 with 58 homers and 238 RBIs in 1,693 plate appearances.
The Twins released him on Dec. 16, 2002, and the Red Sox signed him a month later to a modest one-year deal at $1.25 million. Though the baseball universe didn’t know it yet, the legend of Ortiz was about to begin in that first season in Boston.
Surrounded by elite hitters in their primes in Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra, Ortiz studied their work habits and what made them great, and then he developed his own routine. With improved mechanics and increased playing time, Ortiz finally harnessed his hulking frame and emerged into one of the most feared hitters in the game over his marvelous 14-season run in Boston.
That run included a trio of World Series championships (2004, ’07 and ’13) -- the first three for the Red Sox since 1918. While there were many contributors to Boston’s renaissance, Ortiz was at the center of it, bashing 483 of his 541 homers for Boston. Only Ted Williams hit more homers in a Red Sox uniform than Ortiz.
In a 20-year career, Ortiz had a slash line of .286/.380/.552 and added 632 doubles and 1,768 RBIs.
How good was Ortiz right until the end? Ortiz’s 1.021 OPS in his final Major League season -- at age 40 -- led baseball.
In the postseason, Ortiz often put his team on his sizable back. His heroics in the 2004 American League Championship Series were franchise-altering. The Red Sox trailed that series, 3-0, to the Yankees. No team had come back from that deficit in October.
Ortiz walloped a walk-off homer to stave off a sweep in the 12th inning of Game 4. He looped a walk-off single into center the next day in the 14th inning of Game 5, moving the series back to the Bronx.
And in Game 7, the Red Sox finally exorcised their demons against the Yankees, with Ortiz setting the tone by unloading for a two-run homer in the first inning.
Then there was 2013. The Red Sox were four runs down and four outs away from trailing the Tigers, 2-0, in the ALCS. Ortiz stepped up and belted a grand slam against Detroit reliever Joaquin Benoit that sent Torii Hunter sprawling into the Boston bullpen. The Tigers never recovered.
In that 2013 World Series -- the last one Ortiz played in -- he had a Fall Classic for the ages, hitting .688 (11-for-16) with two doubles, two homers, six RBIs, eight walks and a 1.948 OPS as the Red Sox won in six games over St. Louis.
On Jan. 20, 2022, Ortiz will find out if his barrage of heroics will be enough to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“I know there’s a lot of guys who have been on the ballot for a while, and they haven’t gotten to the point that they want,” said Ortiz. “It’s gonna be my first time on it, so hopefully things go well.”