With the process still tainted by the steroid era, David Ortiz was the lone player elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this year, while others like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were shut out.
"Big Papi" was the only player to clear the required 75% threshold, according to results of this year's voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America. Ortiz finished with 77.9% in becoming the 58th player elected in his first year of eligibility. At 46, he will also be the youngest of the 75 living members of the Hall.
"I learned not too long ago how difficult it is to get in on the first ballot," Ortiz said. "Man, it's a wonderful honor to be able to get in on my first rodeo. It's something that is very special to me."
Bonds, baseball's all-time home run leader; 354-game winner Clemens; 600-homer-club member Sammy Sosa; and longtime ace pitcher Curt Schilling were in their 10th and final year of eligibility in the annual BBWAA balloting.
Bonds, Sosa and Clemens posted numbers that marked them as surefire, first-ballot Hall of Famers, but they became avatars for the era of performance-enhancing drugs. While Bonds and Clemens in particular have long denied using PEDs, accusations have dogged them in the media and in books, and have been the subject of court dramas and testimony in front of Congress. In the end, about a third of the voters decided the allegations were too egregious to overlook, enough to bar their entry to the hallowed halls of Cooperstown, at least via the writers' vote.
Ortiz is a different story, despite his own PED suspicions. A 2009 story in The New York Times reported that Ortiz was among 104 players who tested positive for performance-enhancing substances during a round of tests conducted in 2003. Those results were supposed to remain confidential, and the tests were done to see if the league had reached a threshold to conduct regular testing.
Ortiz has long denied that he used banned substances, and in 2016, commissioner Rob Manfred said the tests in question were inconclusive because "it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter and not banned under our program."
Manfred added that during subsequent testing Ortiz "has never been a positive at any point under our program."
When asked about those suspicions Tuesday, Ortiz said, "We had someone coming out with this one list, where you don't know what anybody tested positive for. All of a sudden people are pointing fingers at me. But then we started being drug tested and I never tested positive. What does that tell you?"
As for the last-chance candidates, Sosa's support never approached the threshold for election, but the cases of Bonds and Clemens were more divisive among the selectors. Both climbed over the 50% mark in 2017 only to see their support plateau in recent seasons. The tallies for their last go-arounds were 66% for Bonds and 65.2% for Clemens.
In a statement, Clemens said, "My family and I put the [Hall of Fame] in the rearview mirror 10 years ago. I didn't play baseball to get into the [Hall of Fame]. I played to make a generational difference in the lives of my family. Then focus on winning championships while giving back to my community and the fans as well. It was my passion. I gave it all I had, the right way, for my family and for the fans who supported me."
If it was up to Ortiz, Bonds and Clemens would be joining him on the stage in Cooperstown, New York, this summer.
"When I see these guys, to be honest with you, I don't even compare myself with them," Ortiz said. "I saw so many times, with them performing, and it was something that was very special. Now, not having them join me at this time is something that it's hard for me to believe. Those guys, they did it all."
The case of Schilling, Ortiz's teammate in Boston, was an outlier in the history of the voting, as most candidates who have reached the 70% mark in the voting have eventually been elected. Schilling's on-field case is strong, with 216 career wins and three World Series titles, and his percentage climbed above 70% in the balloting in both 2020 and 2021.
However, a history of incendiary comments and social media posts appears to have been Schilling's undoing. Those included a since-deleted 2016 tweet in which Schilling appeared to endorse the lynching of journalists. After he fell short last year, Schilling released a statement asking to be removed from the ballot.
The Hall decided against removing Schilling, but nevertheless his support waned. This year, he was named on just 58.6% of the ballots. Schilling commented on the vote, via social media on Tuesday, writing, "Every year the conversation revolves around who didn't get in. Like [All-Star] voting, who got cheated. I say it every year and especially this year, focus on who did get in. [David Ortiz] deserved a 1st ballot induction. Congratulations my friend you earned it!"
The hotly debated cases for Bonds, Clemens, Sosa and Schilling will move to a new arena: the Hall of Fame's Today's Game era committee. The era committees comprise players, executives and media members who are charged with evaluating overlooked candidates. The Today's Game committee is next scheduled to convene during the 2022 winter meetings in December.
Among first-time eligibles on this year's ballot were All-Star infielder Alex Rodriguez, who finished with 696 home runs and 2,086 RBIs, totals that both rank fourth all-time in their respective categories. Rodriguez was suspended for the entire 2014 season for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins was the only other first-time eligible beyond Ortiz and Rodriguez to draw enough support to remain on the ballot.
Ortiz, widely known for his gregarious personality and endearing nickname, became the second career designated hitter to be selected via the writers' balloting. Seattle Mariners great Edgar Martinez was the first when he was elected in 2019. A member of three World Series-winning teams in Boston, Ortiz hit 541 career home runs and added 17 more while putting together a celebrated postseason résumé.
"David Ortiz is the most important player to ever wear a Red Sox uniform," Red Sox president & CEO Sam Kennedy said in a statement put out by the team. "He came to Boston in relative anonymity and with his captivating personality and his formidable bat he shattered expectations and paved the franchise's future in championships."
Ortiz will become the second Hall of Famer from the 2004 Red Sox, who famously broke Boston's 86-year championship drought by winning that season's World Series, joining pitcher Pedro Martinez. He also cements his place in the pantheon of Boston sports stars like Ted Williams, Bobby Orr and Bill Russell, something he said he never thought could happen.
"When I first got to Boston, I used to look up at those guys like, 'Wow, I don't think you can be part of that pack at all,'" Ortiz said. "You're talking about real legendary, real OG. But they began their career just like I did. Not with the thought that they were going to end up where they are."
Martinez was with Ortiz on Tuesday at a gathering in the Dominican Republic, where Ortiz received news of his election. Ortiz is the fourth Dominican-born player to be elected to the Hall, joining Martinez, Juan Marichal and Vladimir Guerrero.
"I can imagine how New England feels about one of its babies getting into the Hall of Fame today," Ortiz said. "I don't even have to tell you about the Dominican Republic. It's a country that breathes baseball. And people are very excited right here. Everything is going crazy right now."
Ortiz will enter the Hall during the July 24 induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown. He will join six players selected by a pair of era committees last month: Brooklyn Dodgers great Gil Hodges, Twins slugger Tony Oliva, longtime White Sox star Minnie Minoso, pitcher Jim Kaat, Black baseball pioneer Bud Fowler and Negro League legend and ambassador Buck O'Neil. All but Ortiz, Kaat and Olivo will be inducted posthumously.
In addition, late broadcaster Jack Graney will be honored as the Ford C. Frick award winner for excellence in broadcasting, while ESPN's Tim Kurkjian will be recognized as this year's winner of the BBWAA Career Excellence Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing.
With Ortiz standing as the lone winner from this year's BBWAA balloting, the writers have now elected just one player total over the past two cycles. The sudden drought comes on the heels of a fertile period for inductees, which saw the writers select 22 players during the period from 2014 to 2020.