The hallways of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum were nearly empty on a cold January morning. The only sound was a gentle tap-tap-tap in the Plaque Gallery, where a custodian was repairing a loose baseboard.
There is a reverential aura in the room, almost as if talking loudly would disturb Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb. But come July, there will be more of a celebration with David Ortiz at its center.
Ortiz is headed for the Hall of Fame, the announcement coming Tuesday night that he was the only player elected by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
The Red Sox icon is scheduled to be inducted July 24. At the age of 46, Ortiz is now a baseball immortal.
Fittingly, Ortiz’s plaque will be placed on the well-varnished oak walls of the gallery approximately 20 feet from that of his former Red Sox teammate and good friend Pedro Martínez.
The Hall of Fame has been collecting — and displaying — Ortiz memorabilia for years, cataloging a selection of bats, uniforms, spikes, and other keepsakes that suddenly have considerably more meaning and value.
Ortiz, who told the Globe last week that he has never visited Cooperstown, is eager to get a look.
“I know it’s a special place,” he said. “As a player, you try not to think about the future too much. But the Hall of Fame is the ultimate.”
That Ortiz just cleared the required 75 percent — he received 77.9 percent — is the story for now. It won’t be for long.
Joining Martinez, Wade Boggs, Carl Yastrzemski, and Ted Williams as the only Red Sox players to achieve first-ballot status ultimately will be what’s remembered, as will Ortiz becoming just the fourth player from the baseball-crazed Dominican Republic to gain entrance to Cooperstown.
“That means everything to me, representing my country like that,” he said.
A vast majority of voters understood that the story of baseball in the 21st century couldn’t be told without Ortiz as a main character. It’s a Hall of Fame, after all, and who’s been more famous than Big Papi in that time?
Ortiz may not be the best player in Red Sox history but he is surely the most impactful, given his outsized role in three championships, particularly with the historic 2004 team.
With the Sox trailing, three games to none, in the American League Championship Series against the rival Yankees, Ortiz won Game 4 with a home run in the 12th inning. A day later, his single in the bottom of the 14th inning won Game 5.
The Sox never lost again that October. Ortiz drove in 19 runs in 14 games during that postseason.
“If I had to say what was the biggest thing, it was winning in 2004,” Ortiz said. “A team like the Red Sox went 86 years with no championships, and we did it. Everything changed after that.”
Ortiz also helped comfort a bomb-scarred city in 2013, leading the Sox to a cathartic championship. He retired a few years later, still one of the most feared hitters in the game.
Now comes the diamond-studded cap on his career.
“The Hall of Fame, it’s something you learn about when you’re a kid,” Ortiz said. “It’s like a storyteller talking to you about a superhero type of thing. When people talk about the Hall of Fame to me, that’s how I feel. You’re telling me a story about superheroes.”
Ortiz’s career was a marvel. He had 541 home runs, 632 doubles, 10 All-Star selections, and finished in the top five of the American League MVP voting five times.
‘When people talk about the Hall of Fame to me, that’s how I feel. You’re telling me a story about superheroes.’
Among players with at least 50 career postseason plate appearances, Ortiz’s 1.372 OPS is a World Series record. In all, he hit .289 with a .947 OPS in 85 postseason games.
“We all know what he did on the field. That stuff’s easy to see. You can look it up and see all the numbers,” said Jon Lester, a teammate for nine seasons and two titles. “But to take on the role of a leader, not only in the clubhouse, but in that city — we all know how that city can be at times with just how hard they are and accountable that they make players.
“For him to do it day in and day out was pretty impressive to watch all those years.”
Ortiz already has a significant presence in the Hall, and that becomes clear when you leave the plaque gallery and explore.
Over the years, the Hall has collected 13 pieces of Ortiz memorabilia — “3-D artifacts” in curator-speak — and much of it was on display before the voting results were announced.
Ortiz’s jersey from the 2004 World Series hangs in the “Viva Baseball!” exhibit recognizing the vast impact Latin American players have had on the game.
Continue walking, and the spikes he wore at the 2016 All-Star Game during his final season are in a locker along with one of the commemorative baseballs used during the final regular-season game the Sox played that year.
A bat Ortiz used in the 2013 World Series is around another corner. Keep going and there are the spikes Ortiz was wearing in 2009 when he set the record for career home runs by a designated hitter.
Photographs or videos of Ortiz uncoiling his lefthanded swing are included in several exhibits, and he is one of the players featured in the 15-minute welcome film.
Go down some stairs and the Hall of Fame’s vault reveals more treasures and a few frivolities.
There’s a souvenir Ortiz watch the Sox gave away in 2006 along with an empty bag of “Big Papi’s Tortilla Chips” and a bottle of wine he endorsed 16 years ago.
There’s also the batting helmet Ortiz had on when he hit his 43rd home run of the 2005 season, setting a record for designated hitters.
The helmet is sticky with pine tar and there’s an inch-long crack on the side.
“I was going good that season and I kept using the same helmet,” Ortiz said. “I probably threw it when I struck out and cracked it, but I kept on using it.”
By 2013, as the Red Sox were in a playoff run that culminated with a championship, Ortiz’s teammates temporarily nicknamed him “Cooperstown.”
All he did that postseason was go 18 for 51 with 5 home runs and 13 RBIs in 16 games. Ortiz reached base safely in 19 of 25 plate appearance in the World Series.
By Game 6, the Cardinals gave up and walked Ortiz four times, three intentionally.
His career lasted three more seasons, but Ortiz’s performance that October stamped his Hall of Fame passport.
“We called him ‘Cooperstown’ for a reason,” teammate Jonny Gomes said. “He belongs there. I’ve never been around anybody like him before.
“In ‘13, he invited the entire team to his house every time we clinched something. Wives, kids, everybody. He had a way to connect with everybody in the room.
“He was pulled in so many different directions that season but always was as good as he could be on the field.”
Ortiz’s amplified personality can charm a toddler or the president. Without trying to be, he is inclusive.
In 2011, Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world at the time, had one request when he visited Fenway Park. He wanted to meet Ortiz.
“What’s up, man?” said Ortiz, who startled the armed guards with Slim when he burst out of the trainer’s room to say hello.
But Ortiz was a flawed protagonist at times. He was released by the Minnesota Twins after the 2002 season. The team decided he was not complete enough to merit a salary increase.
The Red Sox signed Ortiz to an inexpensive deal and made him earn playing time. Along the way, there were occasional bursts of anger directed at umpires, opposing pitchers who brushed him back, and even his managers.
In 2009, Ortiz was identified in a report as having tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance in what was intended to be an anonymous survey six years earlier.
Ortiz denied taking anything other than over-the-counter supplements. He was deemed clean for 13 seasons after baseball started a testing program in 2004, which backed up that claim.
So did commissioner Rob Manfred, who said in 2016 that the 2003 test had discrepancies in how the results were recorded.
But suspicions and assumptions dogged Ortiz.
The Hall has never instructed voters on how to appraise the Steroid Era. But signs in the stately red-brick building near areas devoted to all-time records inform visitors that the museum acknowledges steroids were part of the game, and the exhibits reflect that time.
Ortiz was primarily a designated hitter throughout his career, and that was a factor some voters held against him.
Lester blasted a hole in that argument.
“I think we’ve got to kind of get over that DH deal,” he said. “I get it. I understand it. But it wasn’t his choice. It’s punishing somebody for having a position called designated hitter. I think that’s unfair.
“In some of the biggest games, he played really good first base for the Red Sox. He would step in in the World Series for us at first base.
“I’ve never understood that argument. If you don’t want to have that position, don’t have the position available.”
Ortiz also was shot and badly wounded on June 9, 2019, while at a bar in the Dominican Republic. Three surgeries and a six-week stay at Massachusetts General Hospital followed.
Officials in the Dominican claimed the shooting was a case of mistaken identity, an explanation that has invited skepticism but did not seem to affect his Hall candidacy.
It has been an eventful life, far more than he ever expected. Growing up, Ortiz liked to tinker with junk cars and thought his destiny was to inherit the auto-parts store owned by his father, Leo.
On Tuesday, with his father at his side, Ortiz was told he was a Hall of Famer.
“You have to pinch yourself,” he said last week. “How did this happen to me?”
Read more about the Hall of Fame
- Dan Shaughnessy: David Ortiz’s election seems to be another sign of a shift in Hall of Fame voting philosophy
- Read David Ortiz’s statement on being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame
- Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens issue statements after falling short in Hall of Fame vote
- Watch the moment David Ortiz learned he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer
- See the final vote totals for the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame election
- How Boston Globe writers voted for the 2022 Baseball Hall of Fame