Big Papi comes to Cooperstown

Written by: Bill Francis

David Ortiz, a Boston legend with a batting pedigree the envy of any slugger over the past 25 years, has been added to the powerhouse roster of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The 46-year-old native of the Dominican Republic, Ortiz became the 58th player elected to the Hall of Fame on his first Baseball Writers’ Association of America ballot. The Hall of Fame Class of 2022 – which included six electees from a pair of Era Committees – will be inducted on Sunday, July 24, in Cooperstown.

Ortiz received 307 of the 394 votes cast for a percentage of 77.9 in results announced on Tuesday, Jan. 25. Candidates must appear on at least 75 percent of all ballots cast to earn election.

The Hall of Fame revealed the final member of its Class of 2022 live on MLB Network, with Hall President Josh Rawitch announcing the results to a nationwide audience.

“Our final member of the 2022 class is a feared slugger who performed his best on the biggest stage, winning three World Championships,” Rawitch said. “Today, David Ortiz becomes the fourth Dominican-born member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

“David, welcome to Cooperstown.”

Only a few hours after Ortiz received the much-anticipated phone call informing him that he had joined baseball immortals, the Hall of Fame’s newest electee took part in a Zoom media conference call.

“First of all, I really want to thank the baseball writers for giving me the opportunity to be part of this elite group of players. The Hall of Fame is something that I really never dreamed of it,” Ortiz said. “I was the type of player that I knew I (had) the talent, but all I was looking for was the opportunity to be able to be an everyday player. God, at some point, he came through once I got to the Red Sox and the rest is history.

“I feel so thankful and grateful for being able to accomplish what I was able to accomplish and have the career that I had. I always blame it on the fans. The fans got the best out of me. The Red Sox fans, I want to thank all of them very much.”

This year’s BBWAA ballot featured 30 players, including 13 first-year candidates. Of the 394 ballots cast, 296 votes were needed for the 75 percent threshold necessary for election. With the addition of Ortiz, the total number of Hall of Fame electees increased to 340.

“My day was kind of smooth until like noon,” Ortiz said with a laugh. “You know when you go to the gym for first time, then you jump on the bicycle and you want to go for 30 minutes but after the first two minutes you feel like they were the longest. That's exactly how my day felt this afternoon. But I was with my kids and family and basically they make everything go smooth. At some point we were just receiving the news.

“I thought just getting into the Hall of Fame no matter what was important. I know so many great players that didn’t get in on the first ballot, but down the road they did. They find it a fun way to get in. I learned not so long ago how difficult it is to get in on the first ballot. It's a wonderful honor to be able to get in. It’s something that is very special to me. I can't imagine how New England is feeling about one of its babies getting into the Hall of Fame today.”

Ortiz played in the majors for 20 seasons (1997-2016), spending his first six seasons with the Twins before signing a free agent deal with the Red Sox prior to the 2003 campaign.

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A 10-time All-Star, seven-time winner of the Silver Slugger Award as a designated hitter and an eight-time winner of the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award, Ortiz ended his career with 541 home runs (17th all time), 1,768 runs batted in, 1,419 runs scored, 632 doubles, 2,472 hits, a .286 batting average, a .380 on-base percentage and a .552 slugging percentage. He finished in the top 10 in AL MVP voting seven times.

With the Red Sox, for whom Ortiz would play the final 14 seasons of his career, he helped the franchise, who had gone since 1918 without a World Series title, to a trio of Fall Classic crowns in 2004, 2007 and 2013. Overall, he would help lead Boston to the postseason eight times, taking home Most Valuable Player honors in both the 2004 American League Championship Series and the 2013 World Series.

“I was always concerned about going home without a trophy. And it happened a few times,” 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 got my back all the time. If I was born again, I would like to get the opportunity to play for them again because they educated me not only as a player but they educated me as a human being.

“What is going on in that organization is perfect for a guy like me. You go into places with this type of ideas, thinking that it is the best, but then once you start seeing things around you, you kind of start changing your mentality. It played out very well for me.”

Arguably one of the greatest clutch hitters in Red Sox history, Ortiz is the franchise’s all-time leader in walk-off home runs (10) and walk-off RBI (17). One of only five players to record as many as 10 seasons with at least 30 homers and at least 100 RBI for a single team (joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron, and Albert Pujols), Ortiz had his No. 34 retired by Boston in 2017 and was elected to the Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2020.

On his 40th birthday – Nov. 18, 2015 – he announced that 2016 would be his last year and put together one of the best farewell seasons of any hitter with 38 homers and a .315 batting average while leading the Junior Circuit with 127 RBI, 48 doubles and a .620 slugging percentage.

At 46, Ortiz becomes the youngest current Hall of Famer – a little more than nine months younger than 2018 electee Vladimir Guerrero.

Asked when he really began thinking about being elected to the Hall of Fame, Ortiz said: “Pretty much the last year out of the five years. The first four years I was very relaxed and I wasn't paying attention to any of it, but as the time got closer people started just making this noise.

“I'm in the Dominican Republic right now and back in my country this is something that is it's a very big deal. I know it's a very big deal everywhere, but here we have a way to celebrate baseball because it's in our blood. In the Dominican, baseball, we live through it. It's part of who we are.”

The 2011 recipient of the Roberto Clemente Award, presented to those who best represent the game of baseball through positive contributions on and off the field, Ortiz – today a special assistant to Fenway Sports Group – gave an impassioned speech in front of the Fenway faithful on April 20, 2013 prior to Boston’s first home game following the tragic events at the Boston Marathon five days earlier.

Ortiz’s previous Cooperstown claim to fame was winning the home run derby at the 59th Hall of Fame Game played at Doubleday Field on May 23, 2005. Prior to the exhibition contest between the Tigers and Red Sox, Ortiz took advantage of the hitter-friendly dimensions of the historic ballpark to wallop eight home runs in 10 at-bats, including knocking the first six pitches he swung at over the fence. A number of Ortiz’s shots even landed on the houses surrounding the bleacher seats in right field.

When asked if he surprised himself with his power display, Ortiz replied with a laugh: “Yes, I did. I just woke up. I guess I (woke) up lucky today. When I get into it, I can put some out there.”

Others on the 2022 BBWAA ballot who received votes on more than 50 percent of the ballots included Barry Bonds (66%), Roger Clemens (65.2%), Scott Rolen (63.2%), Curt Schilling (58.6%), Todd Helton (52.0%) and Billy Wagner (51.0%).

Ortiz will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame at 1:30 p.m. ET on Sunday, July 24 on the grounds of the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown along with Era Committee electees Bud Fowler, Gil Hodges, Jim Kaat, Minnie Miñoso, Tony Oliva and Buck O'Neil, who were elected in December.

Ford C. Frick Award winner Jack Graney and BBWAA Career Excellence Award winner Tim Kurkjian will be honored during Induction Weekend at the Awards Presentation.

Bill Francis is the senior research and writing associate at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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