In 1923, Helen Collins was born Helen Beaulieu, a firecracking, sidewalk caricature of a Departed extra on the North Shore of Massachusetts. Five years before, the Red Sox had won their last championship, then traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees a year later, angering God for some reason.
About 70 years later, teetering on senility in one of the 100-plus Sox games she would watch every year from her recliner, Helen would pronounce the name of journeyman Chicago White Sox catcher Ron Karkovice as “John Crackovac,” as in, “I’ve been watching this team for 70 years and now we’re losing to John Friggin’ Crackovac.”
In 2001, 78 years after her birth, Helen Collins sat through the routine heartbreak of an ALCS loss to the New York Yankees.
Then she died.
No championship for Helen, my grandmother. No nothing.
Fourteen months later to the day, the Red Sox signed a flailing schlub from the Minnesota Twins on a sweetheart deal. They were going to platoon him with Jeremy Giambi. The schlub could allegedly hit it deep but probably couldn’t play much first base anymore, even at 27 years old. Helen’s husband, Joe, would call him David Cortez.
Neither Helen nor Joe was great with the names after spending 80 years memorizing the losers.
Then he got good. Real good. Joe upgraded him to David Ortez.
Three years after that, David Ortiz and his 41 home runs and his 139 RBI and a hit every single time the Red Sox needed one outmiracle’d the Yankees, then thumped the Cardinals in the World Series.
After 80 years of Collins suffering, God had finally let up.
None of them would have been imaginable without him. There’s almost a century of history and innumerable sappy YouTube videos to prove it.
But now the nerds are coming out of the woodwork. They’re saying David Ortiz will not be a Hall of Famer.
They’re saying David Ortiz was never that good.
And these joyless, soulless accountants are right, if the world were exclusively made up of joyless, soulless accountants.
But they’re wrong to any one of those pitchers who gulped and shook and sweated as he dipped his belly over the plate, or to any manager who pitched around him like a smart coward should.
The conversation was kickstarted last April by the normally fine Rob Neyer, then reignited Tuesday with the rumors of Ortiz’s upcoming victory lap.
“Would it be fair to withhold a Hall of Fame vote simply because you don’t think Ortiz has Hall of Fame numbers? Yeah, I think so,” he wrote. “His career numbers aren’t really Hall of Fame-worthy, considering his nonexistent value as a defender and the shutouts of (so far) Edgar Martinez and Mark McGwire (among others).”
Edgar Martinez is now the media’s why-not-him? A Hall of Fame darling after receiving 36 percent of the vote in January, he’s remembered mostly for a real nice double he hit once in the ALDS, the first round of the MLB’s playoffs, in 1995. It was a good double.
“A lot of people remember that double when they talk about my career. I'd say, yeah, that would define my career,” he told ESPN once.
But David Ortiz hit clutch home runs.
And Edgar Martinez didn’t win a championship, let alone one basically by himself.
Ortiz hit a walk-off home run to win the 2004 ALDS. Then a walk-off homer in the 12th inning of Game 4 of the ALCS, an elimination game. Then a walk-off homer in the 14th inning of Game 5.
Please indulge yourself in this 22-minute YouTube video of important David Ortiz hits. Edgar Martinez had The Double. David Ortiz had 22 minutes of them.
The award for Outstanding Designated Hitter is named after Edgar Martinez. Guys like Bill Mazeroski made it into the Hall of Fame during Ortiz’s career.
David Ortiz, because suffering and injustice is real, might not have anything to show for it.
And all you can blame is the nerds.
“A lot of the people who talk a lot about numbers turn their nose up at the idea of clutch,” said Tim Healey, a sportswriter at SportsOnEarth, who wrote about his Ortiz-to-the-Hall-of-Fame agnosticism in August. “You see guys with pretty good numbers all-time who are now making it. Guys like Craig Biggio, although he was pretty good all-time, are shoo-ins. Longevity paved the way for him.”
So playing OK for a long-ass time matters more than playing curse-defying, Earth-shattering baseball for a decade?
“It could very well be,” Healey said. “You look at Ortiz, and his regular season numbers are pretty good. But if you look at various Octobers from 2003 on, it’s ridiculous. It really helps his case.”
Usually, the numbers the dweebs care about are 3,000 hits and/or 500 home runs, both of which have become the de facto benchmark for hitters. Ortiz passed the 500 home run mark just last year. He’ll go into his last season with 503.
As for hits? Let’s not talk about hits.
(If you insist, he’s 700 short at 2,303. He’s not going to make it.)
“It makes me think of Tim Raines, who was a guy who was looked at as a pretty good player. As voters started to look at the numbers differently, he got more and more momentum, and more and more of the Hall of Fame voting percentage,” Healey said.
But that can’t be it, right? It can’t just be that.
“Then there’s defense,” he said.
David Ortiz didn’t play any defense. Pencil pushers hate that, and they have a stat to prove it.
“The obvious problem for David Ortiz is his lack of defensive value. If you judge him by Wins Above Replacement, he’s only the 210th best player that’s played, 30 spots behind non-HoFer contemporaries like Jason Giambi and Mike Cameron. It’s really an age-old story, and the same thing that has kept Edgar Martinez from election despite superior stats to David Ortiz in almost all respects,” said pencil pusher translator and all-around baseball genius Eno Sarris, who’s a writer and statistician at FanGraphs.
According to Sarris, voters really value a stat called WAR—or wins above replacement, which aims to measure every player’s value against an average player in the field.
WAR, as a metric, hates designated hitters like God hated the Babe Ruth trade. And Sarris thinks voters should be looking into it.
“There is some evidence that maybe the DH penalty in FanGraphs' WAR is too onerous. In the past, DHs have been penalized almost two WAR per year because they cannot produce any defensive value,” he said. “But DHing might be a skill. We know that hitters are 10 percent worse when they come off the bench than when they play in the field. That’s called the pinch-hitting penalty. So if a player has demonstrated that they are good off the bench, they’re demonstrating a skill in avoiding the pinch-hitting penalty.”
So what happens if you change up the stat?
“Jeff Zimmerman looked into it and found that he thinks the penalty could be half as much as it is now. If you go back and give Ortiz back WAR under those premises, he could have another five or six wins,” Sarris said. “That would put him in a virtual tie with Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter, and in better company with contemporaries like David Wright and within shouting distance of Vlad Guerrero.”
So Ortiz deserves to get in. First ballot, right, Tim?
“First ballot Hall of Fame voting is kind of a shit show,” said Healey. “There are so many guys who didn’t get in for political reasons. There’s a larger discussion whether he gets in eventually, and people up here obviously think he deserves to get in.”
Healey lives in Boston, by the way, where they might have to call in the National Guard over a Hall of Fame vote in 2021.
“You’ll hear them,” he said.
You won’t hear Joe Collins, by the way, who thought WAR was the Second World one, the one he was in, where there were exactly zero sycophantic dweebs arguing over baseball stats. He died ahead of Moneyball ruling all, six months before Ortiz brought home a second Red Sox World Series in a decade, so he could tell Helen about the first one.
Ortiz hit .370 in those playoffs and it was much easier this time, curse gone, weight off his back. Life is breezy when you’re the best hitter in the world, which is what Ortiz was in the 2004 and 2007 and the 2013 playoffs, not to mention the other times he was dominant but the team wasn’t.
It’s almost like there should be a place to immortalize that.