“Next stop,” David Ortiz said, waving his bat, “would be Cooperstown.”
While Ortiz himself — a seven-time winner of the AL MVP — seems legitimate for induction in Cooperstown at some point, it’s likely that he won’t be on the list of first-ballot HOFers in his second year of eligibility. And for that, I blame:
In 2005, when he got his first invitation to Cooperstown for a ceremony, the megarich Ortiz — a Cooperstown paragon in six teams at age 39 — got into a steakhouse the day before the ceremony, where he was photographed with another Big Papi, Josh Hamilton, and Bonds’ then-wife, Kimberly Bell. Bonds and Bell were booed, by a crowd that included players like Barry Larkin and Manny Ramirez and — given his body of work — thought to be of Ortiz’s ilk.
So I asked Ortiz later about it: “What was the meaning of that picture?” The way he said it: “Is that something good or bad? I don’t know.”
He also noted in that same interview that the Red Sox clubhouse in 2005 was “not so good, honestly, and I’m a little tired of this all around.”
Good question. Ortiz wasn’t known as the most serious player in the Red Sox clubhouse, so maybe his explanation didn’t make sense. (And some of the hoopla surrounding the Bonds/Bell/Ortiz photograph was amicable: Hamilton offered Ortiz a fist-bump, and Ortiz offered Bonds a little squeeze on the cheek.)
But any Sox fan who was there that weekend recalled Ortiz as joking around throughout his weekend at the Baseball Hall of Fame. The concept of him being a big fish in a small pond wasn’t one that even he denied: The other HOF-bound player, Tom Glavine, told reporters that Ortiz was “such a likable guy.” So, was he offended by the attention in his maiden trip to Cooperstown? Was he offended by the boos from those in attendance who knew a little about his history? Or did he understand what the photos meant — or didn’t — in relation to the modern day acceptance of Bonds?
For some odd reason, he, and the Sox organization, thought the entire conversation was. And so, in 2019, we have Ortiz, a potential first-ballot Hall of Famer, five years removed from his 2004 World Series championship, trying to figure out how to explain himself on the eve of another big Hall of Fame weekend.
Let’s be clear: There is no good reason for Ortiz to get into Cooperstown that winter. This Hall of Fame ceremony isn’t supposed to be about second chances. It’s supposed to be about the bigs, the big season, the biggest moment.
Since that 2005 edition of the Hall, Ortiz had it easy. Nobody saw him much in the bigs, but wherever he was, he’d be respected. If he hit like Ozzie Smith — a stat he did hit consistently — the hits would pile up. If he hit like Dan Quisenberry — a pitch he came close to hitting at all times — the dingers would pile up.
Even when he started to regress, he was able to make the most of it, calling it “a little s**t year” because he was so rested. He always was finding new ways to throw a bloody sock into a haystack, to get his team going, to get himself going. He kept it fair.
So imagine what Ortiz might’ve been like this year, playing in an age when so many players just were known as “players” — they were not treated as players. They were feted as athletes.
Could Ortiz still come back to put up All-Star numbers this year? Probably. But you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a year he was under more scrutiny than this one.