There's been a lot of talk this week about David Ortiz punching his ticket to Cooperstown. Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post said as much in his piece on Tuesday. Yahoo's Jeff Passan did as well. Here's NBCSports.com' Craig Calcaterra chiming in, too.
As a big Big Papi backer, I was quite happy to read these columns. Yes, he's a DH and, yes, he's really had just an 11-year career, but that doesn't matter. Ortiz has been a tremendous figure in baseball since he arrived in Boston, and his career has been more than worthy of the Hall of Fame.
But as I look at the ballot this year, I waver just a little. Why am I so strongly in favor of Ortiz when I am so adamantly against Jack Morris? When you get right down to it, supporters of these two disparate players are saying the same thing: "He was an excellent player for some top-notch teams and he excelled on the biggest stage."
It's a little more than that, of course. Morris supporters point to his multiple showings in Cy Young voting, his status as the pitcher with the most wins in the 1980s, and his almost-mythical performance in Game 7 of the 1991 World Series. No one denies his flaws (namely a 3.90 career ERA, good for about 250th all-time), but they just aren't enough to cancel out his strengths. Or so the argument goes.
For Papi, his case includes a potent bat, an exalted place among history's designated hitters -- that is, as one of the two or three greatest DHs of all-time -- and a historic postseason career, including 17 playoff home runs and a 1.372 World Series OPS. Mix those with his larger-than-Fenway personality and his role in turning the cursed Red Sox into the team of the decade and, say his supporters, his flaws disappear.
Those sound like pretty much the same cases to me. So why does one sway me so convincingly, while the other feels like so much hand-waving? It might be that Morris's career is filled with below-average seasons (fully half of his 18 seasons feature an ERA+ of 101 or lower) or that he had so many peers better than him (Dave Stieb and Ron Guidry come to mind, and that's just among the non-Hall of Famers). Or maybe I'm just giving Ortiz extra credit for not getting a real shot in the majors until he was 26 years old.
It could be any of these reasons, but it's likely something else. Something having to do with the Hall of Fame itself.
When I think about what the Hall of Fame should represent, I often recall the words of Apollo astronaut Dave Scott. When trying to decide exactly where Apollo 15's lander should alight on the moon, Scott made the deciding vote for the riskier Hadley rille. He rationalized his choice by citing the Hadley site's grandeur ... "There is something to be said for exploring beautiful places," Scott said.
A Hall of Fame that does not honor majesty is failing its core mission: to salute the game and remind us why baseball is the greatest sport in the world.
Majesty, grandeur, is David Ortiz finishing his swing as he watches a ball sail into the Fenway bleachers. Majesty is seeing Papi put the Red Sox on his back and carry them to the promised land. Majesty is watching a six-year old's eyes bulge as a laughing Ortiz walks by on his way into the ballpark. Majesty is David Ortiz since the moment he put on a Red Sox uniform.
Morris was a fine pitcher for a very long time. Like Don Larsen and the 1956 World Series, Morris's Game 7 will never be forgotten. He painted one of the game's all-time masterpieces. But Morris in the Hall of Fame will do nothing to increase the majesty of Cooperstown and, for someone with a borderline case, that just won't do it.
I know this argument isn't going to sway the stats-minded. It's an appeal to emotion that is impossible to quantify, an argument not much different than "you had to be there." Sometimes, though, the answer lies just outside the body of work. Sometimes the grandeur and the majesty must come into play. It put Dave Scott on Hadley rille, and it should put David Ortiz in Cooperstown.