Edgar Martinez came up less than 5% short of the votes needed to secure enshrinement into the baseball Hall of Fame this past week. It’s was Martinez’s penultimate year on the ballot, as he looks to become the first primary designated hitter to be elected to the Hall of Fame. While some recent inductees like Frank Thomas (2014) and Jim Thome (’18) had significant plate appearances at DH, Martinez spent nearly 15 seasons as a primary DH and would be (if enshrined) the only player in the Hall with ‘Designated Hitter’ listed as the position on his plaque.
At first glance it’s hard to look at a career .312 average and a .933 OPS over 18 seasons and not think of those as HOF numbers. However, with only one year of eligibility left on the writer’s ballot, there is a realistic chance that the player who was once widely considered to be the greatest DH of all time doesn’t get in.
Sure, there are a few arguments that can be made for keeping Martinez out of the hall; he was never the best player on his team (he played with Ken Griffey Jr, Alex Rodriguez and Ichiro Suzuki), and the limited postseason experience with no World Series appearances. The main argument for keeping Martinez out is the 309 career home runs.
He played during the height of the “Steroid Era”, and while many of the long balls hit during that time can be attributed to performance enhancing substances, there was never even a whisper of Martinez being linked to PED’s. While that argument should give merit to his HOF case, the aforementioned Griffey, Thomas, and Thome were also players from that era that who were cleared of PED suspicion, and subsequently inducted in their first year of eligibility. T
he biggest argument for keeping Martinez out is that his only job was to hit – and while the .312 career BA and an average of 41 doubles per season are impressive – the serious drop off in the power department has caused much hesitancy from the writers. It seems that the DH is held to a different standard among voters.
How much should we read into the case of Edgar Martinez when examining the case for David Ortiz when he becomes eligible in 2021?
After being released by the Minnesota Twins following the 2002 season, David Ortiz was determined to prove them wrong and would take advantage of the opportunity provided to him by the Boston Red Sox.
In the 14 seasons that followed, “Big Papi” would go yard 486 times (giving him 541 for his career) hit .290 with a .956 OPS, while making 10 All-Star games, and providing some of the most clutch hits in baseball history en route to winning three World Series titles. David Ortiz not only took the crown as the best DH of all time, but he will go down in history as one of the best hitters in baseball history. Period. On a team filled with unique characters and personalities with other future Hall of Famers, it was Ortiz’s star that shined brightest. His postseason heroics in the 2004 ALCS and his performance in the 2013 World Season cemented his legacy as a clutch performer on the biggest stage.
In 2009 a report came out that linked David Ortiz to a positive PED test in an informal report that listed players who tested positive for performance enhancers in 2003. A large number of players were listed in this report, including some of the games biggest stars at the time. MLB, afraid that performance enhancing was getting out of hand and in response to the negative feedback from fans and media, implemented mandatory, random testing for all players starting with the 2004 season. Ortiz would go on to play 13 more seasons under MLB’s mandatory testing guidelines and take dozens of PED tests per season – never once testing positive.
He claimed that he was unaware of taking any substance that would have triggered a positive result back in 2003 and, like many players, would question the validity of the report. Throughout his career Ortiz would be vocal and critical of players that tested positive, and would demand stricter and more frequent testing procedures.
While the whirlwinds of suspicion engulf Hall-eligible players like Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and former teammate, Manny Ramirez, Big Papi has excelled PED free. The BBWAA and it’s members that vote for the HOF have been stricter with players from the Steroid Era. Even though players like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza never tested positive, the voters listened to the whispers and did not vote them in on the first ballot, but eventually put them in just a few years later.
While David Ortiz may not get in while in his first year of eligibility, his career is absolutely HOF worthy – regardless of position played. It is because of the excellent career of Big Papi as a designated hitter that Edgar Martinez may find himself on the outside looking in – certainly not the other way around.