In the end, the big man with the garrulous personality was the boy in the toy store handed carte blanche to help himself. With Hall of Fame Red Sox teammate Pedro Martinez’s arm around him and his cell phone on speaker, David Ortiz got the call he finally suspected would come—but not necessarily on his first try.
The man whose real coming-out party was a mammoth game-winning home run to finish what the Red Sox started improbably enough, in Game Four of the 2004 American League Championship Series, stopping a Yankee sweep and launching the Red Sox to four straight wins, a pennant, and a World Series sweep, was overwhelmed at last.
Before Ortiz was elected, twelve Latino men were elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers Association of America, and three who played in the Negro Leagues before the Show colour line was broken were chosen by committees designated to consider Negro Leagues greats. The most recent Era Committee votes elected Tony Oliva and Minnie Miñoso, too.
Ortiz now makes eighteen Latinos in the Hall of Fame and four from the Dominican Republic. His fellow Dominican Hall of Famers are Martinez, Juan Marichal, and Vladimir Guerrero. Guerrero told the Cooperstown gathering in 2018 that he was aware his election could open a door for other Dominican-born greats to follow. Big Papi probably gave the door a blast open comparable to any he’d hit in the biggest of his big moments in a Red Sox uniform.
He’s also the first full-time designated hitter to reach the Hall of Fame on his first BBWAA ballot. It took Edgar Martinez ten tries to make it, before he finally and deservedly punctured any longtime bias against full-time DHs. (Frank Thomas didn’t become primarily a DH until the tenth of his nineteen-season career; Harold Baines—the most mistaken Hall pick of the past decade—didn’t get to primarily DH service until his eighth of 22 seasons.)
But if Martinez should have ended up failing and gone to an Era Committee for second and third looks, Ortiz would likely have blown the bias away. It doesn’t denigrate Martinez to say that, between the Hall’s now two fullest-time DHs, Big Papi has a big advantage on the depth and height charts, according to my Real Batting Average metric:
|Hall of Fame DH||PA||TB||BB||IBB||SF||HBP||RBA|
Among the four Hall of Famers recognised as designated hitters first, the average RBA is the same as Martinez’s. (Baines, in case you were curious, has an RBA 71 points below that average.) Ortiz’s 28 points above the average is topped among the Hall DHs only by Thomas’s +45 points. (Thomas’s RBA: .654.)
It’s not their fault that their teams didn’t deliver unto them as many chances for the big moments that Ortiz’s Red Sox delivered unto him. It’s certainly not fair that we’ll never know how they would have acquitted themselves if they had been. Ortiz’s postseason RBA is sixteen points higher than his regular-season career RBA, and he was even more of a one-man highlight show in the postseason than he was in the regular season, which was often enough and then some.
“It’s a next-level type of thing,” Ortiz said after getting The Call. “You don’t see this every day. You don’t receive this phone call every day . . . I have so many great and wonderful times while I played, but this one, it’s the type of baby that you just want to hold onto it and never let go.”
Just the way those who knew and played with and even against him hold onto and never let go of their encounters with him. Short-time Red Sox teammate and now Cubs manager David Ross is one. Grandpa Rossy will tell you one minute that Ortiz was a mentor who counseled him to hit according to your nature (If you’re a fastball hitter, don’t miss the fastball; if you hit breaking balls, crush the breaking ball) and the next that there might not have been a body big enough to contain his heart.
“The heart was as big as the baseball skills,” Ross says. “He had parties after every playoff win. Everyone was invited. Ownership, his pastor. He’s a special human being. When he stepped out of the dugout, everyone knew he was there to put on a show. Pretty special presence that he brought.”
“He treated everybody with a high level of respect,” says his former Red Sox teammate Gabe Kapler, currently the manager of the National League West-defending Giants. “He was a very normal guy who reached a high level of performance and superstardom that nobody expected . . . A moment was never too big for him. He was never too wound up . . . He was a very in-control man, a very thoughtful man. Very measured. That measured, calm heart rate helped him succeed in those moments.”
Not even when it came time to put an entire city on his back in the immediate wake of the terrorist act the Boston Marathon bombing was in 2013. But I say again: beware the odds that Big Papi won’t be able to resist the temptation to holler from the Cooperstown podium, This is our [fornicating] Hall of Fame! If he can’t, who could blame him?