We continue our countdown of the 25 Best Hitters of the Free Agent Era. The rest of the posts can be found here.
Big Papi’s inclusion in this list is difficult for me. I am a fan of The Pinstripes. But I’m not an idiot: Ortiz’s career deserves recognition. I searched my soul hard for objectivity, and I’ll do my best.
It’s amazing how one organization’s roster decision can alter the course of another organization’s future so profoundly. Indeed, it can even alter the course of baseball history. What I’m referring to is the decision of the Minnesota Twins to release David Ortiz after the 2002 season. Even without the foreknowledge of Ortiz’s legendary transition into “Big Papi,” the decision seems odd. He was only 26 years old, at the very beginning of what most consider to be a ballplayer’s prime. In that season, he batted .272 and hit 20 home runs.
The Red Sox signed him, and the rest is history.
David Ortiz’s career has two major hallmarks: hitting for power, and shining in the clutch. He hammered 541 home runs in his career, good for 17th all-time. He also doubled 632 times, which puts him 10th. His final slugging percentage was a robust .552, and he mashed his way to a .265 Isolated Power metric (a stat which removes on-base from slugging to give a more focused measurement of extra bases and power). Of the 25 men who made my list, only three of them will have a higher ISO than Ortiz.
His career average settled in at .286, and a long career of taking walks (13.1% rate with 1,319 total) pushed his on-base percentage to .380.
The heart of his career was 2004 to 2007. In this window, he batted .304 with 177 homers (54 in 2006) and a .311 ISO. He also got on base at a .408 clip. Then there’s that little matter of the Red Sox finally breaking the Curse of the Bambino, winning the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007.
It’s no coincidence these championships coincided with the peak of Ortiz’s career. Simply put, he is a legend in Boston, his postseason heroics placing him next to Larry Bird or Bobby Orr, maybe even higher. Considered one of the biggest clutch hitters in the history of the game, look no further than his World Series stats. In 59 plate appearances spanning three World Series, he batted… wait for it: .455. Overall, he batted .289 with 17 homers in his 85 postseason contests.
For Boston fans, no memories likely outshine his performance in Boston’s 2004 historic comeback against my beloved Yankees. His career took the turn on the corner of good to legendary when he homered off of Paul Quantrill in the 12th inning of Game 4, finishing off their comeback in that game. He then continued to lead the series comeback with a walk-off single in the 14th inning of Game 5. Ortiz would win the MVP of that ALCS.
He also won the MVP of the 2013 World Series, where he batted .688 over 6 games. Just ridiculous.
No one can doubt Ortiz’s importance to the game’s history, especially when it comes to Boston’s titles in 2004, 2007, and 2013. His career stats are elite as well, and he should be higher than #24. However, when I look at some of my other options, I see men who had similar stats, but who played the field and experienced much more wear and tear on their bodies. I will be going into the specifics of this when these men make my list, so just hold that thought for a few entries.
Also, Ortiz was accused of testing positive for PEDs, something he vehemently denied. Do his stats really warrant a discounted price on their place in history because of this? I’m not sure. But add this to the DH boost and I dropped his status a bit. Of course it would have nothing to do with me being a Yankee fan, would it?
Ortiz was a monster and was great for the game of baseball and the city of Boston. I’m no fool. Just know that I’ve got 23 other ballplayers coming behind him whose stats are also ridiculous. But I do recognize him as a champion, and arguably the greatest postseason performer in history.
So… while it would pain me to post one of those epic homers, I’ll instead finish with this: I’d probably give him a hug.