David Ortiz needed just one swing to power his way into baseball’s Hall of Fame, narrowly punching his ticket to Cooperstown on the same night voters denied steroid-stained legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens for the 10th and final time.
Ortiz was named on 307 of 394 ballots, just 11 votes above the 75% required for induction in results released Tuesday night by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. He will be enshrined in July despite a reported positive test for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
Bonds and Roger Clemens, far superior players than Ortiz with much stronger ties to PED use, were not so fortunate.
Though both recorded their highest vote percentages ever, Bonds (260 votes, 66%) and Clemens (257, 65.2%) could not rally sufficient support to earn induction. They’ll now fall off the writers’ ballot – the Hall in 2014 reduced the number of eligible years from 15 to 10, significantly harming their prospects – and will be at the mercy of the 16-person Today’s Game committee, which can consider them twice every five years.
Ortiz will have no such concerns, becoming the first player with a credibly verified tie to PEDs to earn election.
He tested positive for a banned substance during anonymous survey testing in 2003, the New York Times reported in 2009, and Ortiz built upon that season to produce a career worthy of Cooperstown, even if only a designated hitter. He slugged 541 home runs, earned 10 All-Star nods and seven Silver Slugger awards and over 20 seasons maintained a .931 OPS, good for 38th all time.
His place in baseball lore was cemented in 2004, when he powered the Red Sox from an unprecedented 3-0 deficit against the New York Yankees to claim the American League Championship Series and eventually the World Series title, Boston’s first since 1918. Ortiz stuck around long enough to win three championships with the Red Sox, earning World Series MVP honors in 2013 when he banged 11 hits in 16 at-bats, including two home runs, and accrued a .760 on-base percentage in a six-game conquest of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Perhaps most notably, the vast majority of Ortiz’s best work came after Major League Baseball and the MLB Players’ Assn. agreed to drug testing with penalties, beginning with the 2005 season. Ortiz never failed an MLB-administered test; while the 2013 Biogenesis scandal revealed more than a dozen players received PEDs that evaded detection from tests, Ortiz’s publicly clean record seemed to buttress his case leading into his 2016 retirement – a season in which he led the majors with a 1.021 OPS.
Clemens tweeted a statement in which he claimed he "put the HOF in the rear view mirror 10 years ago," and played "to make a generational difference in the lives of my family." Bonds posted a congratulatory message to Ortiz on Instagram.
Meanwhile, pitcher Curt Schilling, who told the Hall to remove him from the ballot after he missed out last year, saw his vote percentage decrease from 71.1% to 58.6% in his 10th and final year of eligibility.
The rest of Tuesday's ballot was largely a meditation on a quarter-century of PED usage.
BONDS, CLEMENS: Two of baseball's greatest will be left outside of HOF
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Alex Rodriguez? Another 2003 drug-test revelation who copped to steroid use from 2001-2003, apologized profusely and then was exposed as a serial doper in the Biogenesis scandal, A-Rod debuted with just 34.3% of the vote. It’s a discouraging first step in a 10-year climb that projects to fall short despite Rodriguez’s 696 home runs and three MVP awards.
Sammy Sosa? The co-star of 1998’s compelling but ultimately fraudulent home-run chase joined Bonds and Clemens in dropping off the ballot, his 2003 positive test and nebulous 2005 testimony before congress sending him away with just 18.5% of the vote. Gary Sheffield (eighth year, 40.6%), Manny Ramirez (sixth year, 28.9%), Andy Pettitte (fourth year, 10.7%) – all are lurching toward futile candidacies with PED headwinds too strong to overcome.
Just ask Bonds – a seven-time MVP – and Clemens, the seven-time Cy Young Award winner. Ten years on the ballot relatively flies by, particularly with a sullied resume. Ortiz, then, is all the more fortunate to know he’ll never have to sweat that out.