By Stefan Gestwicki
Star Sports Editor
In case you were too caught up in the stellar seasons of the Buffalo Bills or Sabres (you should go wash you hands as those last 17 words were literally dripping with sarcasm), the World Series was extremely entertaining.
The Series also contained two of the premier playoff performers of this generation — Boston’s David Ortiz and St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran.
|David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox just captured his third career World Series title and perhaps reserved a spot in Cooperstown. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)|
Ortiz hit a ridiculous .688 with two home runs and six RBI in the World Series to win MVP honors. That came after a relatively mundane ALCS. He also gave an in-game pep talk to his teammates that seemed to energize the Red Sox to a Game 3 win.
Big Papi has now been a key part of three championship teams for a franchise that hadn’t won anything since Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States.
Not only has Ortiz been one of the most clutch playoff performers in the history of baseball, but he’s also put up years and years of stellar regular season production. That brings up the argument of whether Ortiz’s career is worthy of a plaque in Cooperstown’s Baseball Hall of Fame.
Unfortunately, a player’s candidacy seems to be based on almost nothing but regular season statistics. Ortiz’s influence on the game, however, should be taken into account. He’s been a face (if not THE face) of Major League Baseball since he came to Boston in 2003. He’s been an ambassador for the game and has helped make the game of baseball impossibly popular in his native Dominican Republic.
That said, Ortiz’s regular season statistics are pretty darn good. He has amassed 431 career home runs, 1,429 RBI, nearly 1,100 walks, over 2,000 hits, over 500 doubles and sports a career OPS of .930. All of this came after he spent his first six seasons in the Majors with the Minnesota Twins either as a platoon player or bouncing back and forth between Triple A and the Majors.
Now, there is an elephant in the room with Ortiz. His name appeared on the Mitchell Report as a PED user. It’s not hard to believe as he averaged nearly 50 home runs during a three-year stretch from 2004-2006. Perhaps this is a commentary for another day, but I simply don’t care what guys did back then. If 75 percent of the league was using steroids (or whatever the number may be), how was he gaining that big of an advantage? Why weren’t other players on the Mitchell Report clubbing 50 long balls per year? PEDs certainly didn’t make Bobby Estalella, Randy Valverde or Marvin Bernard instant stars. No, Ortiz was and is just a really good baseball player.
NOTE: I’m of the belief that Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire saved baseball with their home run record chase in 1998. The game was dying because of the player’s strike and those two guys and their steroid-enhanced (allegedly in Sosa’s case) accomplishments absolutely brought fans back to the game. You can’t come out now and condemn the very guys you worshipped 15 years ago. And how is the steroid era different than the dead ball era or when the pitcher’s mound was lowered by five inches in 1969? That’s just how the game was played at the time and the best players from that era should be revered not despised.
The other factor going against Big Papi is his designated hitter status. He’s played basically his whole career without a defensive position, which means his offensive statistics would need to be out of this world to get him into the HOF. His stats are great, but not Earth-shattering. The biggest problem perhaps is that he’s not even the best designated hitter who is not in the Hall. That distinction probably belongs to either Frank Thomas or Edgar Martinez. Martinez has better stats across the board while Thomas has a reputation as a staunch steroid opponent. Martinez also played third base for a number of years before switching to DH and Thomas was able to surpass the magical 500 home run mark. So while I would enshrine Ortiz, there’s no way to justify putting him in before Martinez and The Big Hurt.
And where does that leave Beltran?
It’s hard to believe that a guy as productive as Beltran could potentially be playing for his sixth Major League team come Spring. The free-agent-to-be is in the rare 300 HR-300 stolen bases club (only eight players have accomplished those numbers). He was a premiere defender in center field before age robbed him of his speed. Yet he showed this season that there’s nothing wrong with his instincts or throwing arm while playing right field.
Working in Beltran’s favor is that he just passed the immortal Babe Ruth for ninth on the all-time postseason home run list. That includes a record-tying eight home runs in the 2004 postseason – a stretch that saw Beltran score 21 runs in just 56 plate appearances.
What will probably (and should) keep Beltran out is that he’s never been the best player at his position. Not once. Ever. Yes, he’s made a ton of All-Star teams, but clearly that’s not a telling stat now that fans vote on these things. He’s never led the league in any significant offensive category. Injuries robbed Beltran of some of his prime years so his total stats aren’t all that impressive.
What separates Beltran from Ortiz the most though is that Big Papi has World Series rings on three of his fingers while Beltran’s hand is bare. As good as Beltran has been in his playoff career it’s never been enough to win it all. At 36 years old, his time is running out and it’s uncertain if St. Louis will bring him back.
Beltran’s total numbers of over 2,200 hits, 358 home runs, a .854 OBP and of course the 308 stolen bases are very good. But it’s the Hall of FAME, not the Hall of Very Good. So despite unqualified players like Andre Dawson somehow having a plaque in Cooperstown, there’s just no way I’d be able to cast my vote for Beltran.
Luckily for Beltran, my invitation to the Baseball Writers’ Association of America must have gotten lost in the mail.
Stefan Gestwicki is the sports editor of the Chautauqua Star. Comments on this article or any other can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.