David Ortiz was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first turn on the ballot, while steroid-tainted stars Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were denied entry to Cooperstown in their final year under consideration by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
Ortiz, a clutch slugger and 10-time All-Star over 20 seasons mostly with the Boston Red Sox, was named on 77.9% of ballots unveiled Tuesday night, clearing the 75% threshold needed for enshrinement. He’s the fourth primary designated hitter voted into the Hall.
“It's something I really never dreamed of it,” Ortiz said. “I was the type of player, I know I got the talent, but all I was looking for was the opportunity to be an everyday player.”
Big Papi was among baseball’s most recognizable faces through the 2000s and 2010s. His enormous grin endeared him to fans, but the Dominican’s hulking frame menaced pitchers, especially in the late innings. Three of his 23 career game-ending hits came during Boston's drought-breaking 2004 postseason, when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years.
Ortiz batted .286 with 541 home runs with Boston and Minnesota while making 88% of his plate appearances as a designated hitter, the most by anyone in the Hall. He passes Edgar Martinez, who was a DH for 71.7% of his plate appearances. Frank Thomas and Harold Baines are the only other Hall members to DH more than half the time.
He's the fourth Hall of Famer born in the Dominican Republic, joining Juan Marichal, Pedro Martinez and Vladimir Guerrero.
The left-handed hitter was signed by Seattle as a teenager and traded to Minnesota as a minor leaguer. He made his major league debut with the Twins in 1997 but hardly looked like a future Hall of Famer there. He was released in 2002, signed a free agent deal with Boston and slugged 31 homers the next season.
Ortiz said he joined the Red Sox to figure out what made stars like Martinez, Manny Ramirez and Nomar Garciaparra great.
“Once I figured it out, it was going to be a wrap,” Ortiz said. “That team was surrounded by so many superstars, and I went in there like a sponge ready to learn.”
Martinez was with Ortiz in the Dominican Republic when he got the news Tuesday.
“This guy behind me?” Ortiz said, motioning at Boston's former ace. “This guy was like a father to me.”
Ortiz also has performance-enhancing drug baggage, but enough voters chose to ignore a positive test that came during survey testing in 2003 that was supposed to be anonymous. Ortiz has denied using steroids, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said in 2016 “I think it would be wrong” to exclude him from the Hall of Fame based on that lone test.
“I never failed a test, so what does that tell you?” Ortiz said.
The three-time World Series winner has remained in public view in retirement as a studio analyst for Fox Sports’ postseason coverage. He was briefly sidelined in 2019 after being ambushed and shot in the Dominican Republic. His recovery required three surgeries, and doctors removed his gallbladder along with parts of his intestines and colon. He returned to the air during the postseason four months after the shooting.
Ortiz will be enshrined in Cooperstown, New York, on July 24 along with era committee selections Buck O’Neil, Minnie Miñoso, Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Bud Fowler.
Bonds, Clemens and Curt Schilling were all rejected in their 10th and final year on the BBWAA ballot. Bonds is the sport’s career home run leader and Clemens won a record seven Cy Young Awards, but voters denied them the game’s highest honor over suspicions they used PEDs. Bonds got 66% of the vote, and Clemens was at 65.2%.
“My family and I put the HOF in the rear view mirror ten years ago,” Clemens said on Twitter. “I didn’t play baseball to get into the HOF. I played to make a generational difference in the lives of my family. ... Then focus on winning championships while giving back to my community and the fans as well. It was my passion.
“Hopefully everyone can now close this book and keep their eyes forward focusing on what is really important in life,” he added.
Schilling’s support dropped off sharply after he finished 16 votes shy in 2021. Many voters chose not to back the right-hander due to hateful remarks he has made in retirement toward Muslims, transgender people, journalists and others.
Schilling asked the Hall to remove him from this year’s voting, but he remained an option. He was named on 58.6% of ballots, down from 71.1% last year.
“I say it every year and especially this year, focus on who did get in," Schilling said on Twitter. "@davidortiz deserved a 1st ballot induction! Congratulations my friend you earned it! #bigpapiHoF”
Bonds, Clemens and Schilling are done on the BBWAA ballot, but they will be considered again next year by the Today’s Game era committee. The 16-person committee of Hall members, executives and veteran media members will convene next December to consider players who played between 1988-2016 who are no longer eligible for BBWAA selection.
Among other first-timers on the ballot, Alex Rodriguez and Jimmy Rollins got the most support.
Rodriguez won three MVPs and hit 696 homers, fourth most of all time, but also has PED use clouding his case. He was banned by Major League Baseball for the entire 2014 season after violating the league’s drug policy. Voters named him on 34.3% of ballots.
Rollins, a four-time Gold Glove winner with Philadelphia, appeared on 9.4% of ballots and was the only other first-timer to earn the 5% necessary to remain under consideration. Joe Nathan, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Howard were among 10 one-and-done players.
The only others to earn more than 50% support were third baseman Scott Rolen (63.2%, up from 52.9%), first baseman Todd Helton (52%, up from 44.9%) and reliever Billy Wagner (51%, up from 46.4%). Outfielder Andruw Jones also made gains, rising to 41.1% from 33.9%.
Next year’s ballot will introduce a new wrinkle of controversy when Carlos Beltrán joins the list. The nine-time All-Star was punished by MLB prior to the 2020 season and fired as manager of the New York Mets for his leading role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.
Beltrán is likely to be joined on the ballot by John Lackey, Jered Weaver, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jayson Werth.
This article was originally published on January 25, 2022.