To mark his induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame Sunday, David Ortiz gave a warm, wonderful, and gracious speech that paid loving tribute to family, coaches, teammates — and to the city of Boston.
The day before his induction — and a couple of days afterward when he met up with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu — Ortiz also wore a “HOESMAD” hat. The phrase on the hat connects to a song, “Hoes Mad,” by rapper Famous Dex, which, according to a promotional website, details the artist’s “disdain towards women who expect him to be committed to a relationship.” It’s irreverent street language that degrades women, and not every baseball player, Hall of Famer or not, would showcase it in Cooperstown or around the female mayor of Boston. Even at the height of his God-like status with the New England Patriots, quarterback Tom Brady kept his politically offensive red “MAGA” hat in his locker.
Through a spokesman, the former Red Sox slugger said he knew nothing about the origin of the “HOESMAD” phrase or the lyrics of the song and was so overwhelmed by Hall of Fame events that he wasn’t even sure what he was wearing. Whatever his state of awareness, it won’t matter to his adoring fans. He owns this city. To that sentence, you can insert the expletive he famously did, when five days after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, 2013, he took the field and the microphone and declared “This is our f---king city and nobody gonna dictate our freedom.”
Back in 1993, Larry Moulter, a veteran Boston political and business adviser, gave a quote to The New York Times that also became famous. “This is a town where there are three pastimes: politics, sports, and revenge,” said Moulter.
Today’s politics and revenge may seem rather dull compared with three decades ago, but Moulter stands by the quote. When it comes to sports, it more than holds up. Just consider how much the coronation of Ortiz dominated the news. And not just in the Globe, which is owned by John Henry, who also owns the Boston Red Sox. Big Papi is the big story in Boston — thankfully for his old team, which just fell into last place in the American League East. With attention diverted to Cooperstown and its afterglow, there was slightly less vitriol directed at the Sox. But, don’t worry, Alex Cora, it will ratchet up.
Back to Ortiz. Last week’s enshrinement in the Hall of Fame played out with deserved veneration for an amazing athlete, whose career, which included 541 home runs, was summed up on his Hall of Fame plaque with these words: “Powerhouse left-handed slugger who was at his best in the clutch, with legendary postseason performances that took the Red Sox from championship drought to three World Series titles in 10-year stretch.”
Yet his election to the Hall of Fame was not without controversy, since Ortiz had to address an alleged connection to baseball’s drug-cheating scandal. In 2009, Ortiz confirmed that he tested positive for a performance enhancing drug in 2003, but said it was an over-the-counter supplement. Major League Baseball did not implement a formal testing program, which subjected players to fines and discipline, until the spring of 2004. When Ortiz was elected to the Hall of Fame in January, he addressed the matter and said he had never failed an official test.
In the days leading up to Cooperstown, that history generated only a few headlines. Explaining why Ortiz made the Hall of Fame cut while other players accused of steroid use have not, Dan Good, author of a book about the baseball steroids era, attributed it partly to “likeability.” As he wrote, “‘Big Papi,’ with his megawatt smile, saw his sins atoned or ignored.”
Never underestimate the power of that smile. It also got Ortiz through the curious story of his shooting in 2019 in the Dominican Republic. According to a private investigation undertaken by former Boston police commissioner Ed Davis, Ortiz was shot point-blank in the back because, as the Globe’s Bob Hohler wrote, ” a notorious international drug kingpin whose path he crossed multiple times wanted him dead.”
Now, about that hat. It is marketed on the HOESMAD website, which features other merchandise that includes hoodies and a wide variety of T-shirts, including one that shows the smiling face of sex offender Bill Cosby.
Ortiz spokesman Joe Baerlein said that when he asked Ortiz about the hat: “He told me he is not being paid to wear that hat, that someone gave it to him and he has worn that hat occasionally, and until I informed him of the lyrics of the song, he had no idea about the content. He also mentioned how crazy the last week has been for him, being told where to go, who to meet with, and all of the Hall of Fame activities so he had to think for a minute about what he was wearing [when he met up with Wu]. He ended with, “How about those fans at Fenway last night.”
Ortiz, added Baerlein, has a special feeling for Boston. When they speak, the first thing Ortiz says is, “Tell me what’s going on in Boston. How’s the city doing? He does have this connection that’s engrained in him.”
As he should. He knows he owns this city, and he knows he can say, do or wear whatever he wants — as long as Boston lets him.