We can’t say that Big Papi’s quest for 500 career home runs is the only reason to pay any attention to the Red Sox for the remainder of the season.
But there aren’t many others.
Well, we have the young’uns. Xander Bogaerts is quite obviously a keeper, and it is fun to monitor his development. His lack of power is a puzzlement, for sure, but baseball being baseball, that probably means he will have a two-homer day before the season concludes.
There’s still nothing not to like about Mookie Betts. Blake Swihart likewise has star potential, and then there is always the hope that Jackie Bradley Jr. will be written in as the center fielder. My pulse quickens whenever the greatest defensive center fielder the Red Sox have ever had trots out toward the flagpole in the top of the first. Oh, yes. Call me crazy, but I think there even appears to be a slight chance that Rusney Castillo actually is a major league ballplayer.
But it would be ridiculous to suggest that the marquee attraction until the final game won’t be David Ortiz. Baseball remains a numbers game, and 500 bombs is a significant number. It’s still a pretty exclusive club.
It would also be ridiculous to suggest that any of however many home runs there are left in his 2015 bat will be considered meaningful. As Dan Shaughnessy pointed out the other day, the Red Sox are in the midst of prolonged garbage time, and one reason — by no means the only one — garbage time commenced as early as it did was that Ortiz was channeling his inner Mario Mendoza for far too much of April, May, and June.
Ortiz is hitting now, and he is crushing the ball. No cheap home runs for him. He’s hitting landmark homers, with baseballs ricocheting off walls, buildings, mountain ranges, planets, and galaxies. Pitching mistakes have usually become pitching tragedies.
Is there something, you know, funny going on? In this day and age, it’s always a fair question. I have no idea, but I don’t think so. Perhaps I am naive. Papi’s name did come up once and he has been able to skate away as gracefully as a 230-pound man could. He said he had no idea how his name appeared on that leaked list of users, and there has never been any subsequent probing that I know of. I know a lot of Yankees fans are skeptical, but that comes with the territory.
I must tell you I hate the whole S-word discussion, basically because it has practically taken all the fun out of being a Hall of Fame voter. Now let’s table that item while you prepare yourself for a segue. What about David Ortiz and the Hall of Fame?
He’s going to have the 500-plus homers and membership in an exclusive sluggers club. The only two members of the 500-homer club not yet enshrined in Cooperstown are Rafael Palmeiro, he of the wagging left forefinger, and Gary Sheffield, who lacked a defining moment as he bounced around with eight teams in a career that began as a teenager in Milwaukee and ended up at age 40 with the Mets (and who received 11 percent of the vote in his first appearance on the ballot, in part, I am sure, because his activities aroused PED suspicions in the eyes of many voters).
But if Papi becomes the third, it won’t be because of the aforementioned minor association with PEDs. It will be because there is a disturbing (at least to me) disrespect for designated hitters on the part of far too many voters.
Exhibit A is the shameful voting treatment being accorded Edgar Martinez. This elegant batsman may have been the most respected batter in the American League for an eight-year period. For many hurlers, a successful encounter with Edgar was a base on balls (his career OBP was .418). I’m wondering if some of my confreres were secretly inhabiting caves when Edgar came to bat. To me, he was a certified first-ballot candidate.
Oh, I forgot. He was a DH. Apparently, those two batting titles (.343 and .356, not exactly throw-’em-back-in-the-water cheapies), and that career .933 OPS never happened. They were wiped away because Edgar didn’t take the field very often.
Martinez first appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot in 2010. The highest percentage of votes he has received is 36.5 percent in 2012. This past year, he dropped to a low of 27.0 percent, not exactly trending upward.
Earth to cave dwellers: The DH has been a fact of American League life for 43 seasons. Deal with it!
Whenever Papi decides he’s had enough, the debate will commence. Who is the greatest DH of all time? Was it Edgar Martinez? Or is it David Ortiz, who has won the annual DH award now named for Edgar Martinez seven times? I can make a devil’s advocate argument for either man.
I mentioned the respect that Edgar Martinez had. Such an intangible matters when the subject of the Hall of Fame is raised. Numbers matter in baseball, absolutely. But certain players have an aura and a majesty in their time that transcends the numbers. It also helps when there are spectacularly dazzling moments of almost incomprehensible greatness on someone’s résumé. You know, something like an otherworldly 1.948 OPS in a six-game World Series.
Big Papi. It has become a connotation in and of itself. You cannot write the history of baseball in the first decade and a half of the 21st century without mentioning David Ortiz prominently. I might even go so far as to say he entered that rare larger-than-life category among his peers.
Assuming Papi quits after the 2016 season, the earliest he could appear on a ballot is 2022. Perhaps by that time those befuddled voters have moved out of their caves and into condos. Martinez and Ortiz deserve plaques in Cooperstown.