3000 hits. 300 wins. 500 home runs. Baseball loves round numbers and whenever a player reaches one of these milestones, the accomplished star is lauded redundant. However, one exclusive club seems to have lost its luster with yet another member joining.
On Sept. 12, Boston Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz launched two home runs off Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Matt Moore. The second blast earned him the distinction of being the 27th member of the 500 home run club. Instead of admiring the slugger’s career as was the case for most of baseball history, Ortiz’s entrance to the party felt more like a footnote to an impressive career rather than a headline.
In 1929, Babe Ruth became the first player to make 500 trips around the bases in a career. It would take over a decade before anybody joined the Sultan of Swat. Over time, Ruth received more company, all of whom would join him in Cooperstown, with many being inner-circle Hall-of-Famers. In 1996, Eddie Murray became the 15th player with 500 homers, but, the accomplishment’s distinction diminished extraordinarily over time.
Throughout the past 17 seasons, 12 hitters have reached the magical home run mark that was once guaranteed to earn a player a plaque in Cooperstown. Of those 12, only Frank Thomas has made it to enshrinement (six, including Ortiz, are not yet eligible). Adrian Beltre, Miguel Cabrera and Mark Teixeira all should reach the accomplishment within the next few years. The exclusiveness of 500 home runs has vanished, as has the pristine reputation of the club’s members.
Many factors have led to increased offensive production throughout the league during the 1990’s and the first decade of this century. The most discussed and controversial influence is performance enhancing drugs. Only four of the 12 most recent hitters at the top of the 500 home run plateau have not been linked to or tested positive for steroid use.
The steroid era is recent enough where some of the players involved are still in the league. Ortiz was reportedly on a list of 104 players who tested positive. According to the New York Times. The DH has vehemently denied ever using PEDs, but the stigma has remained attached to Ortiz.
It is easy to see why Ortiz is considered a cheater. He began his career with the Minnesota Twins and hit only 58 home runs in nearly 1500 at-bats. With his prospects looking low after his sixth season, Ortiz was released and joined the Red Sox in 2003. On that team, he became teammate of Manny Ramirez, a known PED user and owner of 555 dingers. That season, Ortiz hit 31 round-trippers in just 448 at-bats and failed to slow down, hitting at least 23 home runs every season with the Red Sox. His 500th was also the 34th home run of 2015 for the Dominican slugger.
Whether or not you take the guilty-until-proven-innocent approach, Ortiz falls short of a Hall of Fame career. He spent the majority of his career as a DH, and when he played the field, he was a major liability. He has accumulated just 50 Wins Above Replacement (WAR), the lowest of all 500 home run hitters, coming in behind Sammy Sosa and his 58.4 WAR. Throughout his career, Ortiz has been a one-dimensional player and that one dimension has been helped through league and ballpark factors, as well as possibly drugs.
The pomp and circumstance that once accompanied hitting 500 home runs is gone. However, we should still recognize accomplishments that consist of both longevity and excellence. Not to mention, any group of players in which David Ortiz is the worst member is still a great club to be part of.