David Ortiz, the Boston Red Sox slugger, is the only player of his kind. Even in his 20th season, which, despite the protestations of fans everywhere he swears will be his last, Ortiz remains an unmatched asset, a hitter who may put more fear in pitchers than any other in the game. His current abilities account for some of the intimidation—he has hit 31 home runs this year, with a league-leading slugging percentage—but so does his history. The Red Sox have won three World Series championships in the past dozen years, in 2004 and 2007 and 2013, and Ortiz has been at the center of each one, getting his team out of all manner of trouble with arcing, perfectly timed homers. Across baseball, he is a legend. In Boston, he is something like a deity.
When future fans look back at the first part of the 21st century, Ortiz will count among a select group of key figures, and in his final tour around the Major Leagues, teams have been feting him appropriately. At every opposing park, Ortiz has been treated much like the recently retired pair of Hall of Fame-bound Yankees Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter. Gifts have been bestowed, grateful speeches given, hands waved to standing pregame crowds.
Unlike Rivera and Jeter, though, Ortiz is not certain to end up in Cooperstown. For the greater part of his career, Ortiz has played as a designated hitter, his only contributions coming on offense. Hall of Fame voters have yet to induct a DH, but another factor makes matters even more complicated. In 2009, Ortiz’s name was among those leaked as having failed an MLB drug survey six years prior—a survey intended to see how many big leaguers were using performance-enhancing drugs in the pre-testing days, whose results were supposed to remain sealed and anonymous. Ortiz maintained his innocence, and MLB, citing the already compromised sealing of the results, would not tell him what substance triggered the positive result. He has not failed a test since, but Hall voters have to this point treated evidence of PED use, however minor or murky, as prohibitive.