Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Milton Berle of MLB: Investigating Big Papi’s Hall of Fame Case by Michael T. Fournier & Mike Faloon

At the end of his 2015 season, David Ortiz hit his 500th home run. This dinger heightened discussion of Big Papi’s Hall of Fame credentials, especially with the announcement that 2016 would be his last season.
And what a last season it was! Ortiz slashed .315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs and 127 RBI. These final numbers cemented his HOF case in the minds of every Boston sports fan.
The rest of the country? Maybe not so much. After all, no designated hitter has been voted in, and PED allegations nag Papi’s case.
Zisk decided to investigate both sides. Arguing the case for Ortiz is Sox homer Michael T. Fournier, who wrote about Red Sox wives and flipping Roger Clemens the bird in past issues. Taking the side against Ortiz’s enshrinement is Zisk co-honcho Mike Faloon.

Mike: We’re rolling.
Michael: All right.
Mike: I’m going to advocate a position I don’t necessarily agree with, and I look forward to hearing your response: David Ortiz is no Hall of Famer.
Michael: Why not?
Mike: He rarely took the field, a career DH, for starters. Also, a slug of a baserunner.
Michael: [Laughs] Not a great base runner. He would steal maybe two bases a year, and when he stole a base or when he hit a triple, those were great games. Watching that fat bastard run. [Laughter] So much fun, such a crowd pleaser. Pitchers would stop paying attention to him and he would get good jumps and steal bases.
Mike: That’s back with the Twins?
Michael: No, like last year.
Mike: Really?
Michael: He was good for one or two a year, yeah. (Red Sox radio announcer Joe) Castiglione would have a field day. Just freak out, “Ah he stole a base!”
Mike: That’s how Mets fans would react when Bartolo Colón would get a hit.
Michael: Oh certainly, yeah.
Mike: But then Bartolo goes doesn’t go into the Hall of Fame, so.…
Michael: I think that Ortiz’s one or two stolen bases a year and his one triple a year, that’s just icing on the cake.
Mike: And it’s a considerable cake. As a Colón apologist I have to concede the base running point—Ortiz’s skills on the basepaths were more qualitative than quantitative: Fournier 1, Faloon 0.  

Specialization and Boston
Michael: If there’s going to be a move by the Hall of Fame to accept the steroid era as just another era,
then era of specialization should be taken into account as well. And it already is, right? There are closers in the Hall of Fame.
Mike: The DH, though terribly flawed, does go back to 1974. That’s forty plus years.
Michael: And certainly Rivera’s going to be—he’s in. And I expect Trevor Hoffman to get in pretty soon. It’s a drag that Edgar Martinez isn’t in there yet, but he’s—we talked about this last night—he’s penalized because he played for Seattle his entire career.
Mike: I think some of the reservations about Ortiz as a first ballot candidate are also based on geography and laundry. He played so many years for such a prominent team and it’s such an obvious choice there’s going to be push back. There are people like me who think, “Derek Jeter, first ballot? No!” That’s not based on a logical argument, it’s emotional. Ortiz probably gets some of that, too, an anti-Boston backlash.
Michael: Right. There’s certainly an emotional argument against every Boston sports figure. [Laughter] I think part of, in my mind being a good Boston sports fan involves knowing everybody else’s teams. Because the perception is that we’re a bunch of jerks. And there’s truth to that but that’s not all there is. I always wear my hat to the airport or when I travel. Inevitably some Yankees fan will be like “Ugh, Boston huh?” Expecting me to be like, “Shut up, khed!” And this year it’s super easy, the Red Sox are having a good year. But Aaron Judge is awesome.
Mike: Gary Sanchez is likeable, too.
Michael: Gary Sanchez, yup.
Mike: The current Yankees are harder to root against. Another thing about Ortiz is that he’s one of the few Boston luminaries to leave town on good terms with the team and the fans.
Michael: Right. Yup.
Mike: They ticked off Nomar by pursuing Alex Rodriguez, and then traded Nomar in the middle of a pennant race. Mo Vaughn’s name was dragged through the mud before he shipped out. Ted Williams famously not tipping his cap on his last Fenway home run. Ortiz broke the mold, his stock just continued to rise, which led me to wondering who’s the last athlete of color to be on that level in Boston? Certainly not Pedro or Manny. Do we go back to Bill Russell?
Michael: Well, Bill Russell was never accepted here.
Mike: No?
Michael: Someone broke into his house and took a shit on his bed.
Mike: I never knew that. I thought he was well-liked.
Michael: They never stole anything. They just went in and took a shit on his bed. Like, “Know what your place is.” Brutal. I wonder if Ortiz gets a pass because he’s Hispanic instead of African American. There’s some African- American Patriots specifically, who get notice. Malcolm Butler had that great interception which iced the Seahawks Super Bowl. But that’s not a longstanding career. The Celtics just signed Gordon Haywood, and he’s a white dude, so he’s going to have an easier time being accepted here. The scuttlebutt is that there is no racism in Boston; there obviously is. It’s a factor. Which I think is why David Price is having such a hard time. It’s way easier for white pitchers to come to Boston and be accepted than black pitchers. Or black players in general. I can’t think of any African- American player, or player of color, who’s had a sendoff like that. Maybe Paul Pierce. He signed a one-day contract with the Celtics to retire and they’ll put his number up. Kevin Garnett gets a pass. Ray Allen does not get a pass because he went to Miami. But then, Roger Clemens and Wade Boggs went to the Yankees to get their rings.
Mike: Going back to the quantitative/qualitative dynamic, the DH could be around for another 45 years and it’ll still suck. On the issue of DHs in the Hall of Fame, and this DH in particular, I have to claim this point: Fournier 1, Faloon 1.

Mike: What are your first memories of him Ortiz with the Red Sox? Were you rooting for him early on back in, what, 2003?
Michael: 2003.
Mike: So he was there for the Aaron Boone home run.
Michael: Theo (Epstein) was doing a bunch of stuff. Like, he did closer by committee instead of having a closer at the beginning of I want to say the 2002 season, 2003. They lost their first game because of the closer committee. Brandon Lyon gave up some huge dinger to the Devil Rays, I think. And there were so many position dudes in the mix that were not big pieces. Millar broke his contract with some Japanese team to sign with the Sox. , Bill Mueller nobody knew. There was Jeremy Giambi, Shea Hillenbrand. There was a log jam at first. They finally jettisoned Hillenbrand for Byung Hung Kim in 2003 and that freed up a spot, then Ortiz started coming on. I saw his first Red Sox walk-off.
Mike: You were there?
Michael: Yeah. It was an Orioles game. The Sox were down 5-2 in the ninth and Todd Walker hit a three-run homer and Fenway just freaked out. Everyone just lost their shit. Kim pitched a clean top of the ninth and Ortiz hit one out. So, I was there. I was like, “These dude’s gonna do it, he’s pretty good.” I definitely remember that. And in the 2003 ALDS he hits the walk-off home run after Vlad Guerrero hits the grand slam to tie it. I think it was 6-2, Guerrero hit a grand slam and then it’s 6-6 and Guerrero is like, “No, fuck you.” [Laughter] Ortiz hit one out and we were all watching at the Silhouette in Allston and all freaked out. We got Brazilian barbecue after that. Like, “This is the best!” He’s awesome. Ortiz just started coming through in 2003 and then 2004. Those back to back games, Game 4 and Game 5 of the ALCS, were eleven hours. Just complete exhaustion. But he was the best. He was great.
Mike: I’m in favor of factoring in post-season performances and concede this point: Fournier 2, Faloon 1.

Jordan and Pippen and Milton, rememberin’
Mike: Manny Ramirez was the other big bat in that line up. Were they seen as equals or was it more of a Jordan/Pippen thing?
Michael: That’s a good question. Ortiz was the set up for Manny. Ortiz was hitting third and Manny was hitting fourth. Manny was brilliant. I mean he certainly smoked weed in the Green Monster between innings and he cut off throws, like that famous time when Manny dived to catch a cutoff throw made by Johnny Damon. So funny. But he would swing and miss at a pitch in April so that in August… Mussina would be like, “I shut him out in April on this knuckle slider” and Manny would just sit on it. He would plant seeds and wait on them to blossom months later, it was awesome. So he was really good. But Ortiz was the hero of the Yankees series. And Manny was the MVP of the World Series but nobody remembers that.
Mike: That series was anti-climactic.
Michael: I can’t remember much honestly about the World Series. I remember the 11-9 first game, Wakefield was just serving up pork chops.
Mike: Like softball, yeah.
Michael: Bellhorn hit home runs in three different games in a row, Game 6 and Game 7 of the ALCS, Game 1 of the Series—I remember that. I remember that Jeff Suppan got picked off at third. But I don’t remember much about the World Series. I don’t remember Manny’s role in the World Series. I just know that they won because of Ortiz.
Mike: The Ortiz legend came to fruition pretty quickly then, didn’t it? By year two, if not sooner, he’s already Big Papi. Any sense of when he acquired that nickname?
Michael: I think it’s a dick joke.
Mike: The Milton Berle of MLB?
Michael: Or the Iggy Pop of MLB, yeah. He put it down on the table so often. Like yup, I’m going to come through right here, you know. I don’t have any evidence for that but I’ve been under the impression that it’s just some colossal dick joke that’s been pulled on everybody.
Mike: On the subject of nicknames and their back stories, I concede another point: Fournier 3, Faloon 1.

Nine Lives
Mike: There were certainly a lot of those kinds of nicknames at that time. He also seemed to have nine lives as a player. He would have a dip, miss games because of an injury or have a slow start. Then the next year, he’d find his swing again. He kept coming back. It was remarkable to watch him do that.
Michael: I think the first full baseball season I was in Orono, 2009 I think, the assumption was just that he was done.
Mike: He was toast.
Michael: Because he didn’t get a home run until May or something like that. Awful, you know. And then with the Bobby Valentine year.
Mike: Oh I forgot about that.
Michael: The whole team just gave up. That was Jon Lester’s worst year.
Mike: What year was that?
Michael: 2012. Everybody hated Bobby Valentine.
Mike: That soured quickly.
Michael: He talked so much shit. He was ragging people up and down during spring training.
Mike: With the Mets he would do weird stuff publicly, and it would draw attention to him but away from players. It may not have made sense immediately but there was a logic to it. Was Ortiz in the crosshairs with any of that or was he one of those guys who went to management like, “Valentine’s messing up everything”?
Michael: He would do some dumb shit. He smashed the phone in the dugout, and they gave it to him as a retirement present last year and he was visibly nonplussed. He got in fights sometimes, he talked about getting traded to the Yankees sometimes. [Laughs]
Mike: I never heard about that.  
Michael: He just knew what buttons to push. “Fuck this, man, the Yankees are going to respect me.” [Laughter]
Mike: Did those things dent his image or were fans pretty consistently in his corner?
Michael: Everyone wanted him to do well. I think everyone always wanted him to come back and be the same guy. Certainly in 2013 he was the same guy. The Red Sox, nobody thought they were going to win in 2013. In 2004 everybody hoped they would but following 2003 it was like what bad bounce is going to screw it all up this time. 2007 it was kind of a foregone conclusion. And in 2013 it was the Boston Marathon bombing that did it. Ortiz cussing in front of forty thousand people and the FCC being like, We understand, it’s okay. Nobody else could have gotten away with that. Maybe Pedroia could have gotten away with that. But since it was Ortiz…
Mike: That’s right. His hitting in that series was otherworldly.  
Michael: Yeah, the Sox were dead in the water against the Tigers. Anibal Sanchez almost no-hit them the first game and that second game was Scherzer and they put in Benoit. Ortiz hit it out on the first pitch. They were dead. It was going to be them going back to Detroit down 2-0. And that grand slam, with the security guard in the back. Whenever we get a house that image will be framed in my office. That was an amazing moment. Then he hits .688 in the World Series. Metheny kept pitching to him. They tried shifting and he would beat the shift. Amazing.
Mike: I concede two more points. One for the remarkable last year he had on the field. The other, which I forgot to acknowledge earlier in the conversation, for going out as a beloved figure in Boston. Is that 5-1?
Michael: Yep.

Mike: I read something somewhere, I forget the writer’s name, he emphasized the “Fame” part of the Hall of Fame equation. And by that measure, Ortiz is a lock. He’s one of the most prominent players of his era. It’s more complicated when you consider the numbers but in terms of fame, recognition, he’s in. My kids are Mets fans but the name David Ortiz, Big Papi, is on par with Henry Aaron in their minds.
Michael: So you have the fame aspect, he’s good. He’s a famous dude. But the argument is his numbers don’t stack up. Edgar’s numbers are really good. He’s penalized you know. If he had won a ring, people would be like, “Oh, Edgar Martinez.” But he’s just a DH. Then the allegation of steroids is dogging Ortiz, too. And he says he passed every piss test after 2002 or something like that. I don’t know how to feel about that.
Mike: Is that what they kind of imply, that there was something in 2002?
Michael: There was an unofficial test.
Mike: I think it was just that his name came up. But I was reading something the other day—I need to take better notes when I read—where there were more names mentioned than there were tests administered, so it couldn’t be that every player who was named had actually violated something. Hard to say. Getting back to the numbers, he crossed the 500 home run barrier and he hit like a madman in 2016.
Michael: He was awesome. I watched the numbers and then in 2015 I thought well, maybe he’ll get to 500 home runs this year. If you account for decline, maybe not. If he’s totally on fire, he will. And we were at McCarthy’s (in Belchertown, MA) and we saw 499 and 500 in the same game, which was totally unexpected. And then last year he had a great season and padded it to what it is, like 541, I think. He got a lot last year.  The difference between 500 and 541 is huge.
Mike: He passed a lot of big names along the way.
Michael: The list changes so often now it’s hard for me to keep track of which old-timers he passed. Ted Williams was 521. Ernie Banks, Ted Williams. He passed them. Reggie Jackson has like 563. Schmidt has about that many. And when I was little and into baseball those guys were big. Luminaries.
Mike: Big names to be sure but I think his home run accomplishments are included in the previous section. I say the score holds at 5-1.
Michael: I can live with that.

Chet and Eppa/Sting and Ichiro, rememberin’
Mike: Home runs are one thing. A stat like OPS+ encompasses much more and Ortiz is sixty-ninth all- time. He’s ahead of A-Rod, Duke Snider, Reggie Jackson, George Brett, and Tony Gwynn. That’s hard to dispute.
Michael: But then…. [Laughter]
Mike: But then if you look at WAR, which encompasses even more, he’s #231 all-time. Right behind Chet Lemon…
Michael: [Laughs] Ah you’re killing me.
Mike: ….and just ahead of Eppa Rixey, who pitched for the Phillies and the Reds.
Michael: Ah Eppa Rixey.  
Mike: Maybe the argument is that Chet Lemon deserves gets greater consideration. Eppa Rixey, I don’t know. [Laughter]
Michael: Where’s Eppa?
Mike: But still, how many players are in the Hall of Fame? If you come in at 231 without the benefit of defense or base-running, is that hall worthy? Plus the entertainment factor.
Michael: That’s why it’s fun, right? There are players, like Ken Griffey, Jr. who everyone agree on. Everyone agreed he should be in there. There are always going to be like the seven dudes like, “I’m never going to vote anyone in unanimously.” There are players like that. Pedro Martinez. Greg Maddux. The fun cases are Jack Morris, Jim Rice, or Bert Blyleven, where it takes them fourteen or fifteen years. Tim Raines.
Mike: Perfect example.
Michael: Where the stats change. But just in terms of not using advanced metrics, Ortiz’s numbers and playoff contributions and his contributions to the game put him in. And I think the advanced metrics have value but divert his case a bit.
Mike: Depends which side of the coin you want to look at, there’s one way that it helps and one way that it hurts.
Michael: But with Tim Raines it’s great, advanced metrics. Jonah Keri specifically, the advanced metrics on Raines.
Mike: Walks, runs scored.
Michael: And it’s funny because Wade Boggs, if we had been paying attention to advanced metrics when he was playing he would have had even more value. Tony Gwynn, slap single hitters or whatever. On base percentage and OPS, you assign those to Boggs and he has even more value.
Mike: Anything beyond classic back-of-the-baseball-card stats, batting average, home runs, RBIs.
Michael: Making it easy for Ichiro to get in. He was a shoe-in anyway because he’s got more hits than Pete Rose does.
Mike: And Ichiro goes by one name, like Cher or Sting.
Michael: When you say Sting you mean not the guy who was the singer of Police, the other guy named Sting. [Laughter] That’s my stock joke whenever Sting is mentioned. One of my bandmates who was 22 was like, “I looked it up, man. , Sting is the same guy who was in the Police.” Yeah, that’s the joke. “Oh.”
Mike: Chet Lemon and Sting and advanced metrics. I think that makes it Fournier 5, Faloon 2.

Stoli Vanilla and Diet
Michael: Me and my buddy Ned had a standing bet that if Ortiz ever got traded or released and signed to another team we had to spend a night drinking nothing but Stoli Vanilla, which is the worst concoction on Earth, until we blacked out. That was our standing thing. If Ortiz gets traded or released, we’re going to show our displeasure by blacking out on Stoli, the worst punishment we could think of. Maybe we’ll put some diet soda in there, like Stoli Vanilla and diet. At the end of last year we were like, Do we have to do the Stoli Vanilla and diet thing? No, we missed that bullet. [Laughter]
Mike: That’s a frightening proposition and has nothing to do with Ortiz directly but the sheer misguided audacity merits something. What’s our final tally?
Michael: 6-2.
Mike: I can live with that. I still don’t think he’s first ballot timber but look forward to his mug enshrined in Cooperstown.

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