RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: Why David Ortiz is easiest Hall of Fame vote in years

RED SOX INSIDER

Finally, a reason not to feel terrible about my Hall of Fame ballot.

For the last decade, the process has revolved around the candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the two greatest players of their generation, but suspected steroid cheats with more baggage than JetBlue.

Every year, I've checked their names through gritted teeth, weighing their immense talent vs. the catastrophic damage they did to the game. I've likewise held my nose and voted for the trollish Curt Schilling despite his embrace of divisive rhetoric, because he's the best postseason pitcher ever. I don't feel great about it, but their careers command it.

That's about to change, and good riddance. All three are leaving the ballot, whether they're inducted or not. They now become the problem of the veteran's committee after turning what should be a joyous process for fans, players, and media into a defensive "how dare you" slog.

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Every once in a while, though, a player appears whose legacy transcends BALCO, bad behavior, and bilious bombast.

That player is David Ortiz, and I can check his name without reservation.

Yes, he appeared on a list of players who may have tested positive for PEDs in 2003, per a 2009 story in the New York Times. And yes, he spent the bulk of his career at designated hitter, providing value only on one side of the ball, so to speak.

Don't care. If David Ortiz isn't a Hall of Famer, then just close the building. He was an offensive force, the face of a bleeping city, and a monster on the biggest stage. We called him Big Papi, but his teammates called him "Big Pun" for Big Punisher, and he was a force of nature.

 

It's impossible to pick one career-defining highlight because he provided so many. Ortiz talked it and then he walked it. He earned his place in Cooperstown.

John Tomase on Ortiz's HOF credentials.

While the primary driver of enshrinement is obviously performance, there should be room to recognize the power of personality, too. Ortiz was one of the sport's most colorful stars for more than a decade, carrying the Red Sox to their first title in nearly a century in 2004, and then playing a pivotal role in two more championships before calling it quits at the top of his game in 2016.

Ortiz spoke loudly and carried an even bigger stick. He was a throwback star who'd call out opponents and then take them deep, feud with reporters and then make up, embrace his adopted home even when times were tough.

There's a reason Ortiz was asked to speak in the wake of the Marathon bombing, and it's because he symbolized Boston. While his short improvised speech is most remembered for its profanity, his final line with a defiant fist in the air -- "Stay strong!" -- echoed the rallying cry that galvanized the city.

In a time when many athletes, but especially baseball players, stay focus-grouped and guarded in public, Ortiz wore his emotions unfiltered. Sometimes this got him in trouble, like when he interrupted a press conference to complain about the official scorer costing him an RBI, but the good far outweighed the bad. We knew Ortiz in ways that, say, Mike Trout or Mookie Betts remain mysteries, and that tightened our bond not just with the player, but the team and the sport. Baseball needs more of that.

It also needs big stars who embrace the big stage. Just as Tom Brady wouldn't be Tom Brady without all those Super Bowls, Ortiz wouldn't be Big Papi without his legendary playoff performances. He single-handedly carried the Red Sox past the Yankees in the Curse-shattering 2004 ALCS with back-to-back walk-offs. He hit .370 during the 2007 postseason run to another title. His performance during the 2013 World Series against the Cardinals might be the single most dominant Fall Classic ever as he hit .688 en route to MVP honors.

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His postseason resume is so sterling, we didn't even mention the series-ending walk-off home run against the Angels in 2004, the rally-starting three-run homer vs. the Rays down 7-1 and facing elimination in 2008, or the "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!" grand slam that sent Torii Hunter tumbling into the bullpen during the 2013 ALCS.

It's impossible to pick one career-defining highlight because he provided so many. Ortiz talked it and then he walked it. He earned his place in Cooperstown.