Tomase: Celebrating the Hall-of-Fame legacy of David Ortiz originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
For 15 years, we've been bludgeoned with steroid this and character that in every Hall of Fame debate, and I'm done. So today, let us simply celebrate David Ortiz.
The all-time Red Sox great cemented his baseball immortality on Tuesday as the lone member of Cooperstown's class of 2022. Ortiz appeared on 77.9 percent of ballots to earn enshrinement on his first attempt.
He celebrated with family, friends, and a familiar face -- beaming former Red Sox ace Pedro Martinez, himself a first-ballot inductee in 2015. The moment when the Hall's Jack O'Connell delivered the news via phone was pure joy, Ortiz thrusting both hands over his head, screaming, "YES!" and hugging Martinez and then his dad.
"I have so many great and wonderful times while I played," Ortiz said, "but this one, it's the type of baby that you just want to hold onto it and never let go."
Reacting with unfiltered emotion made perfect sense, because that's how Ortiz played for 14 years here, and it endeared him to the city like few others. Whereas Bobby Orr's otherworldly talent put him on an untouchable plane, and where Tom Brady established a carefully cultivated persona that kept him at arm's length from Joe Fan, Ortiz could grab a microphone and tell the world Boston was our bleeping city and mean it.
That a Latino player pulled this off in a region with an imperfect history on race spoke to his power to build bridges -- he'd eventually have one behind Fenway Park named after him -- as well as the sheer force of his personality.
And that personality is what we should be celebrating as much as anything he accomplished on the field. We love it when our athletes are larger than life, and Ortiz qualified in every way. It was right there in his nickname: Big Papi.
Ortiz played with passion, he played with a fiery competitiveness, and he played with a flair that could rankle opponents in the moment even as they almost universally adored him. Outside of David Price during his Tampa days, you won't find a big leaguer with a bad word to say about Ortiz outside the heat of the moment because he considered it his responsibility to be an ambassador for the game.
A common sight during opposing batting practice would be Ortiz chatting up rivals like Nelson Cruz or Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano. Even as it technically put his team at a competitive disadvantage, he'd offer encouragement to anyone. He remains a mentor to this newest generation of stars.
"I have been an advisor for so many guys like (Juan) Soto, (Fernando) Tatis Jr., Vladimir (Guerrero Jr.), even a guy like Nelson Cruz that's at the top of their careers, we had conversations," Ortiz said. "At the end of the day, I keep on telling those guys, it doesn't matter how good you get to be on the field. Stay humble, stay hungry, don't ever change, make sure that the fans go home happy, make sure that everybody around you is happy.
"To me, everybody counts. Everybody matters. That's why I treat people the way I treat people because that's how my parents educated me and taught me to be. It's not all about having the greatest talent. It's about how you use your talent with people."
Ortiz made baseball FUN, and the all caps are there to remind us that the game needs help in this arena. From spitting in his hands with a big clap, to a swing that measured equal parts jackhammer and scalpel, to his distinctively big-man gait that resembled a left tackle running a head-pumping 5.5 40 at the combine, Ortiz played with a style all his own.
He said the most memorable hit of his career was probably the grand slam during the 2013 ALCS that sent friend and former teammate Torii Hunter tumbling into the bullpen and not quite into the arms of officer Steve. But he easily could've picked either of his walk-offs vs. the Yankees during the 2004 ALCS comeback, or the series-clincher vs. Jarrod Washburn of the Angels, or his entire 2013 World Series, when he hit .688 vs. the Cardinals in what remains the most awesome display of offensive domination I have ever seen on that stage.
As Ortiz finished his second long Zoom press conference of the night, this one with the Boston media, he reflected on the improbability of it all. How did a kid from the Dominican who was released at 27 end up in Cooperstown?
"You're talking about what, 340 players?" he said. "You know how many players have played in a Major League Baseball game over the last 100 years and only 340 players are capable of being part of this pack. That's something that is amazing. . . . This is something -- I'm not going to lie to you -- that I never dreamed of."