This summer's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown,. N.Y., took on even more of a Twins tint on Tuesday. A celebration that already was planned for Minnesota's winningest pitcher and first batting champion added one more distinction: the biggest mistake in Twins history.
David Ortiz, who blossomed with the Red Sox into one of the greatest designated hitters and most clutch postseason performers in major league history after being released by the Twins, was elected to the Class of 2022 on Tuesday. Ortiz received votes from 307 of the 394 voting members of the Baseball Writers of America, a 77.9% showing that cleared the 75% requirement for enshrinement by 11 votes.
"I'm always going to thank the Minnesota Twins, because the one thing I learned in that organization was that opportunity is not out there every day," Ortiz said coyly about his six years with the Twins, only two of which found him in the lineup for more than 100 games. "Once you get it, hold on to it, because once you let go, it'll probably never come back to you."
And once the Red Sox gave him that opportunity, after the Twins cut him?
"What did you think was going to happen once somebody just let me go out there and hit?' Ortiz said. " 'Go ahead, kid. Play. Show me what you've got.' "
Ortiz, who went on to hit 483 home runs in 14 seasons with the Red Sox and help them win three World Series, once as the series MVP, was the only player elected in the annual BBWAA vote.
Failing to get elected in their final year on the BBWAA ballot were all-time home run leader Barry Bonds (66%) and pitcher Roger Clemens, who won 354 games and was on 65.2% of the ballots. More than 25% of the writers over the past decade kept Bonds and Clemens off their ballots because of performance-enhancing drug use by those players. Also failing in their 10th and final year of eligibility were Curt Schilling (58.6%) and Sammy Sosa (18.5%).
Former Twin Torii Hunter received 21 votes, or 5.3% of the electorate, surviving by two votes the Hall's 5% threshold to remain on the ball next year. But Joe Nathan (4.3%), Justin Morneau (1.3%) and A.J. Pierzynski (0.5%) did not reach the 20 votes necessary, Nathan missing by just three votes.
"I'm just waiting patiently. I hope that one day I'll be recognized," said Hunter, who received 9.5% of the votes last winter, his first year on the ballot, but whose totals could increase with the removal of the most controversial candidates. "This has been a great day, though, because I'm excited for my friend David Ortiz. I saw him work his butt off in the minor leagues and as a teammate. He was like a brother to me in the game, and he's getting enshrined because of all the work he put in. He stuck with it, and look what it got him."
It got Ortiz a place on the same stage as Jim Kaat and Tony Oliva, two longtime Twins who were elected by the Hall's Golden Days Era committee in December. The July 24 ceremony will also posthumously induct Gil Hodges, Minnie Minoso, Buck O'Neil and Bud Fowler.
"Tony Oliva was around when I used to play for Minnesota," Ortiz said. "I used to look at Tony Oliva and be like, 'It's amazing, this incredible player.' "
Ortiz was incredible, too, especially in the World Series, hitting .455 with a 1.372 OPS in 14 games. He went 11-for-16 in the 2013 World Series against St. Louis, with two doubles and two homers. He was honored as the AL's top designated hitter eight times, made 10 All-Star teams, finished in the top six of AL MVP voting in six different seasons, and became one of the most beloved players ever in Boston, where he'll forever be "Big Papi."
All that after being released by the Twins after the 2002 season, a mistake that Ortiz attributed to the team's unwillingness to spend on a designated hitter.
"My last year in Minnesota, I hit 20 homers without even playing," Ortiz insisted of a season in which he started 107 games, roughly two-thirds of the schedule, and drove in 75 runs while hitting .272. "They thought my salary was going to be too high, and that's why they let me go. They didn't let me go because I didn't have talent. That's what people get all twisted."
Ortiz is the 12th former Twin to make the Hall of Fame. Six of them — Harmon Killebrew, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett, Bert Blyleven, plus Oliva and Kaat — will be wearing Twins caps on their plaques. The other six spent brief parts of their careers in Minnesota and have plaques with other hats; they are Steve Carlton (Phillies), Paul Molitor (Brewers), Jack Morris (Tigers), Dave Winfield (Padres), Jim Thome (Cleveland) and Ortiz (Red Sox).