Boston Red Sox legend David Ortiz, shown at Fenway Park in September, is one of 13 first-time candidates on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

The annual debate over who will be enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame is underway. At this point, it’s strictly academic.

The votes are in and we’ll find out the new members on Jan. 25.

David Ortiz belongs in that class. It should be an easy choice for the voters.

Ortiz came to the Boston Red Sox in 2003, after being cut by the Minnesota Twins. It took him a few months to become an everyday starter for Terry Francona, but by the end of that season the legend of Big Papi was growing.

A year later he put the team on his back, delivering two walk-off hits in a 22-hour span to trigger the greatest comeback in the history of the sport and the end of an 86-year championship drought. He finished fifth in American League MVP voting that season, and finished even higher in each of the next four years.

In 2005, Red Sox owners gave Ortiz a plaque that read “the greatest clutch hitter in the history of the Red Sox.” The very concept of clutch hitting is subjective, but anyone who watched the Sox in those days knew that Ortiz became the most feared hitter in the league. He has 10 seasons with 100 or more RBI, one of only 13 players in history to do that. He finished his career with 541 home runs, 17th most ever.

Those numbers put him in the company of many current Hall of Famers. His postseason numbers put him in an even more select group.

Ortiz played in 85 playoff games for the Red Sox, with a .289 bating average and .947 OPS. In three World Series he posted an astonishing slash line of .455/.576/.795. He never lost a World Series.

The numbers alone should be enough to get him in. What he meant to the franchise should erase any doubt. When Big Papi arrived in Boston the Red Sox were still playing in the shadow of the dreaded Curse of the Bambino. Johnny Damon, his teammate on that 2004 team, would tell the story of how he was stunned by how little swagger Red Sox players showed when he arrived from Oakland in 2002. A year later Ortiz joined him in Boston and set a new standard for swagger.

Big Papi was larger than life. He delivered when they needed it most after falling behind three games to none against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series. His grand slam against the Detroit Tigers in the 2013 ALCS triggered another comeback. His impromptu meeting in the dugout of that year’s World Series jump-started Boston’s World Series win against the St. Louis Cardinals.

All of that coming after Ortiz inspired an entire city in the days after the Boston Marathon bombing, reminding us that “this is our (expletive) city.”

Jonny Gomes, Jon Lester and other teammates from that 2013 team called him “Cooperstown.” They knew then what an elite player Ortiz was.

He saved his best for last, overcoming foot injuries and relentless interview requests to lead all of baseball with a .620 slugging percentage in 2016. He made his 10th and final All-Star appearance that season and finished sixth in AL MVP voting at the age of 40.

Some voters will point to the fact that Ortiz was listed as one of the players who may have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003. Others will say his impact was diminished because he spent the vast majority of his career as a designated hitter.

The PED allegations – the New York Times reported in 2009 that he was one of 100 major leaguers with positive results from a test that was supposed to stay anonymous – came at a time when baseball was still working on what to do about steroids, and there was no vetting of the allegations. Rob Manfred, who became commissioner in 2015, said later there “was probably or at least possibly a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance” in those results.

Edgar Martinez already has broken down the DH barrier for Ortiz. Inducted into the Hall in 2019, Martinez hit for better average over a shorter career but did not have the power of Ortiz.

I don’t get a vote for baseball’s Hall of Fame. That responsibility belongs to members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Let’s hope they get it right. Ortiz belongs in the Hall. His numbers, his impact on the game and his championship pedigree all belong on a plaque in Cooperstown.

Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN. His column runs on Tuesdays in the Portland Press Herald.


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