Longtime Red Sox slugger David Ortiz overcame a lot to earn election to baseball’s Hall of Fame Tuesday, from a slow start to his career that saw him traded by the Mariners and released by the Twins to the taint of a reported failed test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Ortiz, in his first year of eligibility, barely made it past the 75-percent threshold needed for election with 77.9, named on 307 of the 394 votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.
“To be part of this elite group of players to achieve the Hall of Fame, it’s something I never really dreamed of it,” Ortiz, 46, said on a media Zoom call. “I was the type of player, I knew I had the talent to play, all I was looking for was the opportunity to be an everyday player.
“Thank God at some point it came true once I got to the Red Sox, and the rest is history.”
While Ortiz celebrated at his Dominican Republic home with Pedro Martinez and others, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, two of the game’s most accomplished players, fell short in their 10th and final year on the ballot, unable to overcome speculation about their use of PEDs despite not failing any tests.
Bonds got 66 percent of the vote (260 of the 296 votes needed for election), Clemens 65.2 percent (257). With the Hall in 2014 shortening the eligibility window from 15 years to 10, their chances now shift to the Today’s Game-era version of the Veterans Committee. The committee, which votes in December and on three-year cycles, seems less likely to embrace them than the writers were.
Without addressing specific issues, Ortiz said Bonds and Clemens also deserved to be headed to Cooperstown, recalling noting Bonds’ incomparable talent the first time he saw him take batting practice.
“I know there’s a lot of things going on, but to me the guy is a Hall-of-Famer way before everything, all the talk and all the things,” Ortiz said. “This is a guy who played the game to a whole different level.
“The same with the Rocket (Clemens). When I see these guys, I don’t even compare myself to them. Because I saw so many times those guys performing, and it was something that was very special. So not having them join me at this time is something that is hard for me to believe, to be honest with you.”
Clemens had a 354-184 record with a 3.12 earned-run average over 24 seasons. He posted on Twitter he hasn’t been concerned about the voting for 10 years, that he wasn’t playing to make the Hall but to win championships and give back to the community and fans.
“I gave it all I had, the right way, for my family and for the fans who supported me,” he wrote. “I am grateful for that support. I would like to thank those who took the time to look at the facts and vote for me.’'
Bonds, who holds the records for most homers in a season (73) and career (762), did not comment.
Also falling short in their final year on the writers ballot were Sammy Sosa, another slugger tied to steroids, and pitcher Curt Schilling, who alienated voters during retirement with offensive and vitriolic comments and social-media posts. (Though the Hall didn’t cede Schilling’s request to be removed from the ballot this year, his total dropped by 54 votes, to 231, and 58.6 percent.)
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Alex Rodriguez, a star who was suspended for his steroids use, received only 34.3 percent of the vote in his first year on the ballot. Tampa native Gary Sheffield saw his support remain stuck at 40.6 percent in his eighth year. Former Rays star Carl Crawford was one of two players (along with former Padres and White Sox pitcher Jake Peavy) of the 30 on the ballot to get no votes. They will drop off the ballot, along with others who received less than 5 percent.
Ortiz played in parts of 20 big-league seasons, becoming a star after joining the Red Sox in 2003. He hit .286 with 541 homers, 1,768 RBI, a .931 OPS and 55.3 career WAR (per baseball-reference.com), to go with six top-six MVP finishes and a litany of postseason dramatics.
He discounted any concern about the impact of the reported failed test, which was part of the league-wide 2003 survey testing and never confirmed. Commissioner Rob Manfred said during his final 2016 season that the test result should not be considered accurate.
“All of a sudden people started pointing fingers at me,” Ortiz said. “But then we started being drug tested (regularly) and I never failed a test. What does that tell you?”
Ortiz said he was honored in many ways, from being the 58th of the 268 enshrined players to make it on the first ballot to joining the honor roll of Boston sports stars (crediting the fans for driving his success) and representing his native land.
“It’s a wonderful honor to be able to get in in my first rodeo, something that’s very special to me,” he said. “I can’t imagine how New England feels about one of its babies getting into the Hall of Fame today.
“I’m not even going to tell you about the Dominican Republic. … It’s a country that breathes baseball. People are very excited right now, and everything’s going crazy right now. It’s amazing to be part of this.”
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