Graphic by David Jakacky

After one of the most controversial baseball Hall of Fame ballots in history had been cast and counted, only one player had been selected to join the multitudes of talent in the plaque room of the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown: David Ortiz. Referred to by some as the greatest designated hitter of all time, the Boston Red Sox legend was a guaranteed selection the moment he retired in 2016, but most had not expected him to be a first-ballot choice. 

Spending 20 years in professional sports as an athlete is an accomplishment on its own, and Ortiz made sure to make the most of his years of playing experience. Breaking into the league with the Minnesota Twins in 1997, a 21-year-old Ortiz was a budding first base prospect that looked to have a bright future in the league. After spending five seasons in the Twin Cities, the Red Sox were able to lure him in with a one year, $1.25 million contract prior to the 2003 season. 

The chance was enough for Ortiz, who hit 31 home runs and snatched up 101 RBIs in his first full season in Boston, setting him up to return the following season on a $4.5 million deal. The second contract proved to be some of the best business general manager Theo Epstein conducted during his time in Boston, with Ortiz raking in 41 long bombs and driving home 139 runs in total during the year. His spectacular batting carried the Red Sox in their epic 3-1 series comeback against the New York Yankees in the 2004 ALCS. Their win against the Yankees led them to the World Series where they captured their first World Series title since 1918, beating the Cardinals in four games and seeing Ortiz pick up his first World Series MVP award. 

Ortiz, or “Big Papi,” as Red Sox fans had grown to call the slugger, only continued to improve in Fenway Park. Ortiz’s 2006 season could be considered the best of his entire career, as he led the American League in home runs, RBIs, walks and total bases. The very next season, Ortiz and his team returned to the World Series and took down the Colorado Rockies, earning Ortiz his second World Series ring after only five years with the team. 

2008 was a less than stellar year for Ortiz, due to a partially torn muscle in his wrist that was revealed midway through the year, forcing him to feature in only 109 games that season. While he managed to play over 40 more games in the 2009 season, his numbers were nearly the same as the year before, causing concern among members of Boston sports media and fans alike.

The following three seasons all saw Ortiz’s quality of play decline significantly, culminating with an Achilles tendon injury he suffered while rounding the bases following an Adrian Gonzalez home run midway through 2012. The injury brought to light the reality that Ortiz may have left his best baseball years behind him, with the shadow of retirement looming heading into the 2013 season. Being the hard-working player he had been his entire career, Papi didn’t let these injuries get the best of him. 

He returned to his previous form in the 2013 season, hitting 30 home runs and earning over 100 RBIs like he had formerly done, headmanning a hungry Red Sox group into the postseason. Again, Ortiz’s late-game heroics carried the Red Sox, when he was able to hit a towering grand slam into Fenway Park’s bullpens in game two of the 2013 ALCS to tie the game up at five in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Red Sox went on to win the series and eventually captured their third World Series title in Papi’s tenure with the club. His heroic efforts earned the Dominican his second World Series MVP trophy.

While his numbers continued to rise, including leading the majors in doubles, slugging, OPS and RBIs in 2016, David Ortiz announced his official retirement from baseball at the conclusion of that very season. Only a year later, Ortiz had his number retired by the Boston Red Sox in a July ceremony at Fenway Park. The confirmed selection of David Ortiz to Cooperstown is an instrumental step in telling the story of baseball in the Hall of Fame, with Ortiz responsible for some of the most memorable moments in baseball’s history.