David Ortiz hit his 500th career home run Saturday against the Rays, spurring another round of does-Ortiz-belong-in-the-Hall-of-Fame talk. To be clear, this conversation has been going on for some time and shows no signs of slowing down -- hell, we could easily be talking about this for at least the next decade and a half, depending on how much longer Ortiz plays.
Let's start off with this: Ortiz's Hall of Fame candidacy is evolving and will continue to evolve, for both reasons under Ortiz's control and ones far from it. This piece is meant to assess the situation as it stands right now.
The Ortiz-HOF question is best broken down into two questions: 1) Should Ortiz be voted into the Hall of Fame? 2) Will Ortiz be voted into the Hall of Fame? There are crucial differences, and both are explored below.
Should Ortiz be voted into the Hall of Fame?
Let's look at it from a pure resume standpoint. There are several sections to that resume.
The career totals. Ortiz owns a career .284 average with a .378 on-base percentage and .547 slugging mark. That's good for an OPS 40 percent above league average during his 19 years in the Majors.
That longevity and talent lends itself to impressive career totals. Here's are some of those totals, plus where Ortiz stands among the all-time leaders:
• Home runs: 500 (27th)
• RBIs: 1,628 (t-39th)
• Doubles: 578 (t-21st)
• Hits: 2,289 (157th)
Again, a couple of additional seasons with decent production would greatly aid his standing in those categories. But as Benjamin Hoffman pointed out in the New York Times last month, they aren't the numbers of your typical shoo-in Hall of Famer. Look at it this way:
• Player A: 44.3 bWAR, .280/.383/.546, 138 OPS+, 473 home runs, 1,512 RBIs, 483 doubles
• Player B: 50.0 bWAR, 284/.378/.547, 140 OPS+, 500 home runs, 1,628 RBIs, 578 doubles
• Player C: 52.4 bWAR, .284/.377/.509, 134 OPS+, 493 home runs, 1,550 RBIs, 441 doubles
Would you put any of those guys in the Hall of Fame?
The identities of those players, in order: Carlos Delgado, Ortiz, Fred McGriff. Delgado received only 3.8 percent of the vote this year, falling off the ballot completely. McGriff lives for another year with 12.9 percent.
From a pure numbers standpoint right now, Ortiz isn't a Hall of Famer.
The peak. A common point of discussion when debating any player's Hall of Fame case: Did he dominate the sport? Put another way, was he the best of the best, winning major awards along the way?
For Ortiz, the simplest answer is no, he never won an MVP Award. But from 2003-07 -- a span of five seasons -- he finished in the top five every year. That's impressive. It also includes a second-place finish behind an, um, enhanced Alex Rodriguez in 2005.
During that span, Ortiz averaged .302/.402/.612 with a 156 OPS+, plus 42 homers and 128 RBIs per season. His excellent peak helps his case.
The postseason. A lot of the intangibles -- his leadership, his clutch-ness, his lovability, what he means to the franchise/city, etc. -- are often wrapped into this category, so it gets tricky. This is the emotional component. Ortiz made his name in the postseason, and his performance there is a big reason he's so beloved by Red Sox fans. Should emotions be weighed when voting for the Hall of Fame?
October is when David Ortiz became Big Papi. In 82 playoff games -- a half-season's worth of playing time -- he's a .295/.409/.553 hitter. He's hit 17 homers and driven in 60 runs. His walk-off long ball finished the 2004 American League Division Series against the Angels, and his back-to-back walk-off hits in Game 4 (home run) and Game 5 (single) in the '04 AL Championship Series keyed Boston's historic comeback against the Yankees. His grand slam in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS -- the one that sent Torii Hunter flipping into the bullpen -- changed the tenor of the series. He was the '13 World Series MVP. Ortiz was the only Red Sox player on all three World Series-winning teams this century.
Between the numbers and the World Series titles, there's an argument to be made that Ortiz is the most important figure in the history of the Red Sox. From that perspective, how can he not be in the Hall of Fame?
Maybe this is what pushes Ortiz beyond the Delgados and McGriffs of the world.
Will Ortiz be voted into the Hall of Fame?
This is a different question, and it'll be the one that continues to evolve long after Ortiz's playing days are over. It hinges on what the voting body -- i.e. those who have been members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America for at least 10 years, minus those who will lose their voting privilege based on the new restrictions -- makes of the two topics most used against Ortiz.
The designated-hitter issue. Last year, Frank Thomas became the first player who played a majority of his games as designated hitter to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. That bodes well for Ortiz and their DH brethren.
The difference between Thomas and Ortiz, though, is their DH/first base split. Ortiz has played 1,871 of 2241 games at DH -- 83 percent -- and just 272 at first. Thomas' split was 1,310 at DH/971 at first.
Will voters hold Ortiz's lack of defensive ability/opportunity against him? A limited history suggests yes. Edgar Martinez, who played close to two-thirds of his games at DH and has a career bWAR far better than Ortiz, received 27 percent of the vote this year.
The take here: The DH has been a thing for going on a full half-century. It's part of the game. It's time to get rid of this prejudice.
The positive-test issue. Ortiz is among those who reportedly tested positive for what was supposed to be an anonymous PED test in 2003. He's maintained that he was never told what he tested positive for. This spring, he ripped into the haters and said has to pee in a cup all of the time.
Voters have definitively held suspected PED use against players. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens received a little more than one-third of the vote in 2015. Mark McGwire (583 homers) got 10 percent, and Sammy Sosa (609 homers) very nearly fell off the ballot with 6.6 percent.
So as things stand right now, even the shoddy evidence of an anonymously leaked positive test -- before Major League Baseball even instituted an actual testing program -- is probably enough to keep the required 75 percent of the vote from Ortiz, whether or not you, the individual reader, agree.
But as Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports pointed out this month, time could be on Ortiz's side. Ortiz will play for at least another year. He has to wait five years after he retires to appear on the ballot. Then he has 10 years to be voted in (unless he receives less than 5 percent of the vote).
So we're talking at least 16 years -- maybe closer to two full decades, depending on how long Ortiz stays with it -- before we need/get a bottom-line answer. Between now and then, older voters will be phased out. Younger writers will acquire votes. Maybe the public's view of the steroid era will change, and maybe those younger voters -- some of whom grew up during said era -- will be more inclined to be lenient on this issue. (Same goes for the anti-DH bias.)
So, should or will David Ortiz be a Hall of Famer? Probably not, for now. But there is time for that to change, through both Ortiz's on-field endeavors and the maturing views of voters.
If the last 1,200 words have proven anything, it's that it's impossible to say definitively right now. The only wrong answers, then, are a hard yes or hard no.