I thought it would be best while temperatures were running a little high not to weigh in on the "Is David Ortiz a Hall of Famer?" debate.
There has to be at least some separation from last Wednesday, right? A slight pause as we step away from an astonishing World Series performance. In 90 percent of World Series past, Jon Lester would have been an obvious and very deserving MVP. Ortiz was so dominant, such a titanic figure that Lester was never even considered. A .688/.760/1.188 line will do that.
And since we've seen Ortiz on Letterman, leading the duck boats, on the cover of Sports Illustrated and finishing a solid third in the mayoral election (quick -- name me the two guys ahead of him, and I'm not accepting Bland Middle-Aged White Guy No. 1 or Bland Middle-Aged White Guy No. 2 as an answer).
So it's easy to get swept up in the Ortiz hysteria. Making a yes or no call on a Hall of Fame candidacy at the absolute peak of hysteria seems a misstep. Nine days later and we have entered the start of the decline phase of the (again, deserved) victory lap. It's about time to get away from montages and speeches and crying fans and adoring teammates and take a look at this question:
If David Oritz retired today, would he be worthy of a spot in Cooperstown?
First, let's put the PED stuff to the side, at least for the moment. We'll return to it -- who knows, maybe Ortiz will finally get the answers he claims he's been seeking regarding the failed test while we do so -- but let's just focus on the numbers for now.
Ortiz has a career regular-season line of .287/.381/.549. He's hit 431 homers and knocked in 1,429 runs. He has led the league in six categories -- RBIs twice, homers, OBP and total bases once each. He's finished in the top five in MVP five times and just picked up his sixth Silver Slugger Award (most by a DH and 11th all-time at any position) this week. Before we even wade into the postseason stuff, we are looking at a legitimate candidate. This isn't Mark Lemke, in case you weren't sure.
Here's where it all gets tricky, of course. The BALCO era makes it almost impossible to figure out what it all means. You think Ortiz's career OPS of .930 is impressive? So do I. It is 38th all-time, ahead of guys named Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson and Mike Schmidt. But Ortiz's OPS+ -- adjusting for ballpark and era -- is 139. Not too shabby by the longest shot, but 80th all-time, behind guys like Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Vladimir Guerrero and Larry Walker.
Put it another way: Do you think Carlos Delgado is a Hall of Famer? Nope. He won't break 20 percent his first year on the ballot. But, if I may borrow a phrase from Dennis Rodman, guess what? His regular-season resume is almost identical to Ortiz.
Ortiz: 431 HR, 1,429 RBIs, .287/.381/.549, five top-five MVP finishes, career OPS+ of 139.
Delgado: 473 HR, 1,512 RBIs, .280/.383/.546, three top-five MVP finishes, career OPS+ of 138.
Juan Gonzalez -- and remember, we are talking only numbers here -- won two MVPs and had a career slugging percentage of .569 and OPS+ of 132, in Ortiz's neighborhood. He was on the Hall of Fame ballot for two years, receiving a total of 53 votes.
You want one more example? This guy was screwed out of an MVP and had four other top-eight finishes. Ortiz has led the league in six categories? Our guy led the league in six categories in one season and seven other categories in his career. His career OPS+ is 144, 48th all-time. He was also on the ballot for just two years, bowing out in 2007 with 3.5 percent of the vote.
Albert Belle. Is it that simple? Beloved vs. jerk? Is that worth 70 extra percent of the votes?
Well, there is also the postseason. There's a couple of myths worth swatting away. Playoff greatness has not been, historically, a tiebreaker for Hall of Fame voters. There isn't a player (voted) in the Hall of Fame on the strength of his October work. Bill Mazeroski was a veterans committee pick in 2001, and I'm sure that doesn't happen if he pops out to second against Ralph Terry in the ninth inning of Game 7 in 1960.
But Reggie Jackson would have been in the Hall of Fame if he had never played a game in October. There was no precedent -- nothing even close -- for keeping a guy with 563 homers out of Cooperstown when he was elected in 1993. Same with Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax. The postseason only augmented already established greatness, it wasn't created in October. Curt Schilling and Jack Morris are on the outside looking in for that very reason (though I think Schilling's regular-season numbers are hugely underrated and are close to being good enough on their own).
Now Ortiz has a brilliant playoff record, obviously. He is not the greatest World Series hitter in history -- that would be Lou Gehrig, who has a career .361/.477/.731 line in seven World Series, six wins -- but he's in the top three or four. And if it's close, that should absolutely be factored in when it comes time to vote. But I'm just not sure how close it currently stands.
Finally, the PED issue. I have no idea if Ortiz is currently taking anything, but I have the same suspicions we all harbor. Trust will never fully exist, and it shouldn't. Ortiz was linked to PEDs and is hitting at an historic level in his late 30s after there was concern that an Achilles injury could shorten his season. That's the reality, as is the reality that he's passed all tests since the reported 2003 failed test.
I don't look at degrees of guilt. If you want to leave Ortiz off your ballot permanently because of PEDs, no problem here as long as you are consistent and leave all other offenders off. Same the other way -- you can't vote Oritz in just because he's Big Papi and leave the other guys out.
So that means Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez (a significantly better hitter than Ortiz -- the numbers aren't close) and Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro and Gary Sheffield and all the rest. That includes the players who have "the whiff" of steroids without actual proof, a list headed by two players who should be inducted well before David Ortiz gets his chance: Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza.
And one more: the best regular-season DH in history, Edgar Martinez. Not sure why Ortiz has wrestled this title away. Martinez has a higher career batting average by 25 points, a higher OBP by 37 points and a .933-.930 career OPS edge. Also this: His career road OPS is .926, 30 points better than Ortiz. Martinez was twice the hitter Jim Rice was and will never get to have his day in Cooperstown. Why? Not flashy, and buried in the BALCO era.
David Ortiz is a fascinating Hall of Fame case on several levels. PEDs, what is personality worth, the weight of the postseason. The guess here is that he eventually will earn induction. It'll take a few years, but it'll happen. And he won't be the worst player in the Hall of Fame, not even close.
But if I had a vote it would still be a "no." The regular-season numbers just aren't good enough to separate Ortiz from the dozens of guys on the outside looking in.