Boston Red Sox’s David Ortiz celebrates with Dustin Pedroia after hitting a grand slam home run in the eighth inning during Game 2 of the 2013 American League baseball championship series against the Detroit Tigers. AP

He hit 541 home runs, won three World Series championships and became the face of one of baseball’s greatest franchises. And now, David Ortiz is on the Hall of Fame ballot.

And now, voters have a dilemma on their hands.

Picking the players worthy of Cooperstown has become an exercise in moral gatekeeping. Steroid usage, or suspicions thereof, has kept some of the game’s best players in recent years out. Barry Bonds is the all-time home run leader, and he’s not in. Roger Clemens, winner of seven Cy Young Awards, is not in. Sammy Sosa and his 609 home runs haven’t even come close.

The message, to this point, has been clear: Unless you made it through the last 30 or so years without even the slightest smirch on your name, you’re not getting in.

Which brings us to Ortiz.

Ortiz fits the Hall of Fame bill in every way. The stats are there. The reputation is there. The legacy of mastering the big moments is there, in abundance. No one, with the exception of perhaps Derek Jeter, has authored more signature performances under pressure in the last two decades. Ortiz should be in. He must be in. Everything the Hall of Fame is supposed to honor — delivering the plays that people talk about for years and that encapsulate the sport — Ortiz embodies.

Except…

Ortiz was revealed in 2009 by the New York Times to allegedly have tested positive for PEDs in 2003. Ortiz denied the report and has since been clean, never showing up positive in tests as MLB tried to crack down with its drug testing program. This might seem like no big deal, especially since Ortiz effectively wrote his Hall of Fame resume after 2003.

But players have been kept out for just that much, and even less. Clemens has been widely accused of steroid use, but doesn’t have a failed test on the record. Sosa, just like Ortiz, was mentioned as testing positive in the 2009 Times article but never did so after that. If the hard rule was that a positive test was required to keep you out of the Hall, Clemens and Sosa would be in.

But it’s not. Association is enough. And because of that, Clemens and Sosa are out — and presumably, Ortiz would be too.

But this gets messy for Hall of Fame voters. To this point, they’ve left some of the sport’s biggest names and most accomplished players out, but that’s not without precedent. The third all-time leading hitter, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, isn’t in, and neither is the all-time hits leader in Pete Rose. So keeping Bonds and his 763 home runs out is a controversial move, but not one we haven’t seen before. The same would apply to Alex Rodriguez, who’s on the ballot this year and has 696 home runs, 2,086 RBIs and 3,115 hits, but also multiple failed tests.

Bonds and Rodriguez and the other sluggers on the ballot didn’t have the array of playoff performances to their name, however. Their cases are defined by their numbers; Ortiz, meanwhile, is defined by his brilliance on the postseason stage. This is the man who spearheaded Boston’s historic World Series championship in 2004, who batted .370 while leading Boston to another championship in 2007, who batted .688 and won World Series MVP as Boston won another title in 2013.

This is the slugger who forever changed the narrative surrounding the Red Sox, and who had the biggest hand in turning a team that went generations without winning into one that won four championships in 15 years. The way Michael Jordan meant winning in basketball, Joe Montana meant winning in football, David Ortiz meant winning in baseball.

How can you keep the most feared playoff hitter in years out?

If you let him in, however, you crack open the door for others. If Ortiz’ playoff prowess is too brilliant for him to be excluded, then you say steroid association can’t be a deal-breaker. And if it’s not a deal-breaker, how can you continue to leave out Bonds? Or Clemens? Or Manny Ramirez? Does anyone really think those players were not Hall of Fame players, with or without steroids?

So voters refusing to budge on the steroid issue have themselves a conundrum. Either stick to their code and leave out Ortiz, and continue to define the Hall of Fame by who isn’t in rather than who is, or make the right call, change their stance and let him in, but put some cracks in their stone walls in front of other players who have been turned away.

David Ortiz won’t be the first difficult decision Hall of Fame voters face. But he might be the toughest. And, more importantly, he may change the game for some others before and after.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.