The DH: The Designated Hall of Famer
David Ortiz is part of the elusive 500 home run club. But is that enough to consider him a Hall of Famer? (PHOTO: Max Wildstein/WEBN

Opening Day for the Boston Red Sox marked the last Opening Day for one their most prolific designated hitters in franchise history, David Ortiz. In the ninth inning, Ortiz promptly parked a 2-2 pitch over the right field wall for his 504th career homer. The home run moved Ortiz to 26th on the all-time home run list, passing hall of famer Eddie Murray. When Ortiz’s career comes to a close (come September or October, however long the Red Sox pitching can take him), the discussion will be had as to whether or not David Ortiz will be inducted into Cooperstown.

Ortiz’s retirement will bring up a couple of difficult questions that not only Hall of Fame voters have to consider, but baseball fans around the world. On the surface, David Ortiz has everything needed to get into the Hall of Fame. Career numbers? Ten years of over 20 homers and 100 RBIs, check. Elusive club membership? 26th member of the 500 home run club, check. Postseason moments?

The Problem with Papi

Check. But Ortiz has two, rather large, dark spots on his career. He was a designated hitter, under steroid suspicion. One is enough to keep a player out of the hall, but the fact that Ortiz must battle both facets after retirement may just make it impossible to get into Cooperstown. Ortiz has been one of the greatest characters/hitters the sport has seen in the last 50 years. He is not loved by everyone, as there is a large contingent of Yankee fans who I am sure will protest his credentials.

But whether or not you like Ortiz is irrelevant, his numbers (which is what baseball primarily focuses on) are there, it's just the other two facets voters will have to either overlook or accept. From a steroid standpoint there may be hope for Big Papi. Former players who have the same cloud of suspicion (i.e. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire) have seen their votes increase this past year, and some baseball experts think it's only a matter of time before the committee elects someone who has been associated with steroids. Logic would dictate, that if one is allowed in, then all should.

To DH or to not DH, is that Really a Question?

Therefore, it could be the position that Ortiz has occupied for well over a decade that may hinder his induction. No designated hitter has ever been elected into the hall of fame, at least not one who has been identified purely as a designated hitter over the course of one’s career. Baseball purists will argue, that a positional player needs to play both sides. After all, in baseball, hitting is no more important than fielding, and a team/player needs to be able to do both in order to win. However, Ortiz’s massive frame made him a hazard in the field, so it was only logical to turn him into a DH. However, it was that logical decision that made him one of the greatest hitters of his generation that ultimately had no shot of making the Hall of Fame.

But He has Company

David Ortiz is not the only D.H. who has Hall of Fame numbers. Edgar Martinez, beloved slugger who played over 15 years with the Seattle Mariners was recognized as one of the best hitters of his generation. A career .312 hitter, Martinez was a seven-time all-star, and a five-time silver slugger. Aside from the accolades, Martinez was able to stay clear from any type of steroid suspicion throughout the steroid era. Many do not debate, from an offensive perspective, that he has all that is needed to get into Cooperstown. However, like Ortiz, offense is all Martinez can offer.

Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field on May 5, 2001 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images
Edgar Martinez of the Seattle Mariners bats against the Toronto Blue Jays at Safeco Field on May 5, 2001 in Seattle, Washington / Sporting News via Getty Images

Who was the better DH?

One very simple argument any baseball fan can make, is that Edgar Martinez is the greatest right-handed DH over all-time and David Ortiz is the greatest from the left side. However, who would have had the better career? Consider the following:

Batted over .300 20 + homeruns 100+ RBIs .900+ OPS
David Ortiz 6 times 16 times 9 times 9 times
Edgar Martinez 9 times 8 times 6 times 8 times

While both excel in their own unique way, Ortiz is a head above Martinez. Big Papi’s best defense rests with the longevity of his prowess. For 16 consecutive seasons Ortiz hit over 20 home runs and only once during that stretch did his OPS dip below .800. Aside from the numbers, is the fact that Ortiz has been the focal point of the Boston offense for more than a decade whereas Edgar played with others likes Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez. Not that it was easier for Martinez, not in any way shape or form, as only a handful of hitters since 1980 have a career batting average of .310. No manager would complain if they had to settle for one of these two designated hitters, and as great as Martinez was, nobody was quite like Ortiz.

Do Either or Both Make the Hall of Fame?

This is simple: they both should. Despite the steroid issue and baseball purists' argument, both are Hall of Fame worthy therefore, they should be in the Hall of Fame. The D.H. is a position, it occupies the lineup card, and all a player can do is play the position he plays. Once Mariano Rivera becomes eligible, there are few people who believe Rivera will not make the hall. If MO is Cooperstown bound, how can one make the argument that a closer, a position that typically plays for just one inning more Hall of Fame worthy than a designated hitter who hits for all nine innings?

Mariano Rivera #42 of the New York Yankees is presented with a painting by David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox while being honored prior to the game against the Boston Red Sox on September 15, 2013 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. Tonight will be Rivera's final appearance at Fenway Park as he is set to retire at the end of this season. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Mariano Rivera (right) of the New York Yankees is presented with a painting by David Ortiz (left) of the Boston Red Sox while being honored prior to the game against the Boston Red Sox on September 15, 2013 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts / Jared Wickerham - Getty Images

This is no way, is a campaign to say that Mariano or any closer deemed worthy should not be considered. Quite the contrary. Mariano, and other closers that will follow, absolutely deserve the same acclaim that any other Hall of Famer does. Regardless of their position. Now, Edgar Martinez, is not in the same category as a Mariano Rivera. But he does not have to be. There are already closers in the Hall of Fame, and they do not compare to Mariano Rivera. For example, Bruce Sutter, one of the first closers to make the Hall of Fame, does not have the numbers that come close to what Rivera has accomplished. Yet, Sutter is a proud member of the 2006 class. If Sutter is in, why not Edgar?

Mariano was the best at his position, had a profound impact on the game, and is one of the all-time greats. The same can and should be said about David Ortiz. The greatest D.H. of all-time.