Big Papi is in! Red Sox legend elected to Hall

January 26th, 2022

When David Ortiz went on one of his patented postseason tears in 2013 -- saving games at times and the season at others -- his teammates went from calling him “Big Papi” to “Cooperstown.”

As the results of the 2022 Hall of Fame voting became official on Tuesday, that Cooperstown moniker bestowed on him all those years ago never seemed more appropriate.

Known for his late-game heroics as a player, Ortiz got into the Hall of Fame in the earliest inning possible, being selected his first time on the BBWAA ballot.

It was a joyous moment for Ortiz, who celebrated his crowning baseball accomplishment in his native Dominican Republic. The gregarious former slugger -- who went from a platoon player in Minnesota to an icon in his 14 seasons (2003-16) in Boston -- will be formally inducted at a ceremony in Cooperstown, N.Y., on Sunday, July 24, at 1:30 p.m. ET on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center.

By getting 307 votes, which amounted to 77.9% of BBWAA members who submitted ballots, Ortiz joined other Red Sox icons like Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski and his close friend Pedro Martinez to make it to the Hall of Fame on the first try. A player needs 75% of the votes to get elected to the Hall.

This was not an honor Ortiz took lightly.

“I saw so many great players and they didn’t get in on the first ballot. It’s a wonderful honor to be able to get in on my first rodeo, it’s something very special to me,” said Ortiz. “I can’t imagine how New England feels about one of their players getting into the Hall of Fame today.

“I’m not even going to tell you about the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is a country that breathes baseball and everyone is going crazy right now. It’s amazing. It's amazing to be part of this pack on the first ballot. It’s something very special.”

Ortiz is the fourth Dominican-born player to get elected to the Hall, joining Juan Marichal, Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero Sr.

With his wide smile, booming voice and bling-filled wardrobe, Ortiz was one of the most productive and charismatic stars of his era.

Serving as primarily a designated hitter -- arguably the best of all-time -- did not slow Ortiz’s march to Cooperstown. By comparison, Edgar Martinez, another stud DH, finally got in two years ago -- on his 10th and final year on the ballot.

Early in Ortiz’s career, it was hard to imagine he’d ever be in the Cooperstown conversation.

For the Twins from 1997-02, Ortiz played almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers and 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.

Ortiz knew what the Red Sox were about to find out -- that he was a player about to come into his own. There was a hint of that in ’02, when Ortiz belted 20 homers and had an .839 OPS while getting a modest 412 at-bats.

“The Minnesota Twins let me go based on salary, because that was my best year over there without ... getting [much] playing time basically,” said Ortiz. “They didn't let me go because I didn't have the talent. People get this all twisted. It was a small market.”

It’s easy to forget that Ortiz didn’t start out like he wanted to with the Red Sox, as he jockeyed for playing time with Kevin Millar, Shea Hillenbrand, Bill Mueller and Jeremy Giambi under manager Grady Little.

Disenchanted with a lack of playing time early in that ’03 season, Ortiz’s agent, Fern Cuza, actually asked general manager Theo Epstein if his client could be traded. But after Hillenbrand was dealt to the D-backs at the end of May, a full-time lineup spot opened for Ortiz, who spent the rest of his career as one of the most feared hitters in the game.

“The one thing that I’m most proud of is that I was able to perform at the highest level while I played for the Red Sox,” said Ortiz. “It's a lot of pressure over there. I know we changed things around.”

When Ortiz got to the Red Sox, he learned the art of great hitting from new teammates like Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra.

Big Papi became a civic treasure forever in Boston when he spoke passionately during a pregame ceremony at Fenway Park five days after the Marathon bombings in ’13.

“This is our [bleeping] city,” Ortiz bellowed to the Fenway crowd. “And nobody is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

Ortiz’s brilliant run in Boston 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.

Winning consumed Ortiz.

“I was always concerned about going home without a trophy,” Ortiz said. “To be honest with you, I was lucky enough to have the right teammates, I was lucky enough to have the right coaches, I was lucky enough to play for the right organization who had my back all the time.”

In the regular season, he was an utter force in those Red Sox years, bashing 483 of his 541 career homers to go with a .956 OPS. Only Williams hit more homers in a Red Sox uniform than Ortiz.

But it was in the postseason that Ortiz took it to another level.

During Boston’s glorious championship run of 2004, the one that snapped the epic title drought, Ortiz ended three of Boston’s 11 wins with a hit -- two of them homers. Ortiz was the MVP of that storied ALCS against the Yankees in which the Red Sox became the first team in history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in the postseason.

Then there was 2013. The Red Sox were four runs down and four outs away from trailing the Tigers, 2-0, in the ALCS with Justin Verlander looming as the Detroit starter in Game 3. 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.

Ortiz still revels in that moment, calling it the most memorable of his career.

“It was one of those moments that it's hard to not talk about it,” said Ortiz. “We played the Detroit Tigers, one of the best teams in baseball at the time. You’re facing [Max] Scherzer, he’s dealing at his best and all of a sudden with one swing everything changed and we ended up winning it all. Winning the World Series is hard -- everything you have to do to win it.”

In the World Series that year -- 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.

While on-field accomplishments like those were for the ages, Ortiz experienced a different kind of euphoria on Tuesday.

“This is a next-level type of thing. You don't receive this phone call every day,” Ortiz said. “I accomplished so many wonderful things during my career, I won so many championships, I got so many good hits, I put so many smiles on people's faces.

“But this is something where you don't receive that type of phone call on a daily basis. You're talking about what, 340 players [in the Hall of Fame]? You know how many players have played in a Major League Baseball game over the last 100 years and only 340 players are capable of being part of this pack. That's something that is amazing.”