Red Sox fans are liars. Plain and simple.
Alex Rodriguez was a very good baseball player. He won three MVP awards and hit nearly 700 home runs. And yet countless Sox fans have said “A-Rod sucks” hundreds of times.
This was never true, at least regarding his performance on the field. And while you should never celebrate violence, this has also made Sox fans smile on more than one occasion.
These same fans have also said “I love David Ortiz” probably as many times, and there’s nothing that could be more accurate.
These players led their respective teams during the height of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry in the mid-2000’s. But their careers were intertwined far earlier, and they have continued to be connected as co-analysts for FOX.
Now both players are appearing on Baseball’s Hall of Fame ballot for the first time together. As their careers head to the final exclamation point it’s time to reflect on who might come out on top when all is said and done.
Let’s go back to the beginning…
It all started in Seattle
While these two players began their careers in the same organization, their path to professional ball couldn’t have been more different.
Alex Rodriguez was drafted #1 overall by the Seattle Mariners in 1993. He made his MLB debut the following season as an 18-year-old. In 1996, he finished with 9.4 WAR and was #2 in MVP voting (losing by only three points to Juan Gonzalez).
After seven seasons in Seattle, A-Rod became the crown jewel of one of the most loaded free agent classes ever in 2001. A-Rod would go on to sign a 10-year $252 million deal with the Texas Rangers, which at the time was the richest sports contract ever.
The start to David Ortiz’ career was not as blessed as A-Rod’s.
David Ortiz was signed by the Seattle Mariners in 1992, but didn’t join their minor league system until 1994. He was then traded to the Minnesota Twins and made his major league debut in 1997.
The Twins released Ortiz after the 2002 season and he was met with limited interest on the free agent market. Ortiz would eventually sign a non-guaranteed contract with Boston in January, which was several weeks after most free agents had found their new homes.
While A-Rod and Ortiz were never teammates in the Seattle organization, they did have a Mariners Moment together. ESPN’s Scott Lauber has all the details in his oral history, but essentially what happened is A-Rod, Ortiz and Ken Griffey Jr. all competed in a home run derby in Appleton, Wisconsin. Future Mariners catcher Dan Wilson won the derby, but the display of Ortiz’s power potential was the star of the show.
Despite Ortiz’s performance in Appleton it’s clear A-Rod had the much better start to his MLB career.
A-Rod – 1 / Ortiz – 0
Prime Years Hardware
Things began to equalize a bit as each player entered their primes in the 2003 season. Ortiz had one of the biggest breakout seasons in MLB history and began a decade long run of being one of the most feared hitters in the AL. Rodriguez was in the third year of his mega-deal with Texas and had just finished #2 in the MVP race again the prior season.
Another interesting note is these two were almost teammates on the Red Sox. Instead, A-Rod’s failed trade to Boston (and Aaron Boone’s knee injury) allowed the opportunity for the Yankees to trade for the reigning AL MVP.
Here’s how Ortiz & A-Rod’s 2003-2007 seasons compared:
These numbers are almost shockingly similar and look even better for Ortiz when you consider he played in 53 fewer games. Ortiz also put up these stats while making $30.8 million total, whereas A-Rod was paid $114.4 million over these five years.
Even the recognition they received among their peers in the AL were similar for these players. Ortiz was an All-Star four times, while A-Rod represented the AL five times. A-Rod won three Silver Slugger awards, while Ortiz took home four.
A-Rod was the clearly better player when it comes to the Wins Above Replacement (WAR) stat. Ortiz was worth 25 WAR from 2003-2007, while A-Rod was worth 39.2. The main reason for this is A-Rod was a sound defensive player at SS/3B and Ortiz was only a DH (and posted negative defensive WAR during the few times he did take the field). A-Rod’s 105 stolen bases over this time also helped give him an edge.
The deciding factor here comes down to the most important individual trophy in baseball; the MVP. Ortiz finished in the top-5 in voting during all five seasons. A-Rod won three MVPs during this time, giving him the final edge on who had the better prime.
A-Rod – 2 / Ortiz – 0
Memorable Moments and Rings
Regular season performance is a huge piece of evaluating a player’s career. The postseason is when players can become legends.
A-Rod’s one World Series ring came in 2009 when the Yankees defeated the Phillies. To his credit, Rodriguez was awesome during this postseason run. In 15 games, A-Rod scored 15 runs, hit 6 home runs and drove in 18 runs. He also had a 1.264 OPS.
Ortiz on the other hand might be the most impressive postseason player in the 21st century. When most players hope to have one all-time playoff moment, the better game with Ortiz is trying to pick his top five.
Ortiz was the face of the greatest comeback in postseason history as he had the game-winning hits in Games 4 and 5 of the Red Sox’ 2004 ALCS victory vs. the Yankees (and A-Rod).
He also had one of the most famous postseason grand slams when he tied the Tigers 5-5 in Game 2 of the 2013 ALCS. Though some credit should go to Torii Hunter and a certain Boston police officer for the everlasting image from Ortiz’ blast.
Ortiz won three championships (2004/2007/2013) with the Red Sox and has a career OPS of 1.372 in the World Series. In his final trip to the Fall Classic in 2013 he hit .688 with an OPS near 2.000 which is just silly.
Good for A-Rod that he is not part of the “Greatest Players to Never Win a Championship” group. But Ortiz OWNED October during his career.
A-Rod – 2 / Ortiz – 1
The Beer Test
Both players retired in 2016 and are still part of the game as analysts. A-Rod has been part of the Sunday Night Baseball broadcast for ESPN, but he and Ortiz are both part of FOX’s MLB coverage.
As each player is now doing more talking than playing it’s allowed their personalities to come through more. And it’s allowed fans to clearly answer, “Which of these players would you most want to have a beer with?”
And again, it seems like a fairly decisive victory for Ortiz. Feel free to watch this clip of the two discussing the 2004 ALCS and see if you can disagree.
While Ortiz has been said to have a flair for curse words, A-Rod’s seemingly forced usage of “piss” and “crap” during this interview reeks of a guy trying to scream, “Hey, I’m cool too!”.
Plus there’s the rumored story during the potential A-Rod to Boston trade when the Sox brass went to his hotel room. It was 3am and A-Rod answered the door in a, “three-piece suit, tie knotted, not a hair out of place.”
A-Rod – 2 / Ortiz – 2
Hall of Fame Verdict
Now, we need to discuss the elephant in the room here. Both of these players have been accused of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) during their careers.
It was reported in 2009 that Ortiz was one of over 100 players who had tested positive for PEDs in 2003. Ortiz denied this and theorized his positive test might have been caused by vitamins or supplements. The validity of the test was later questioned by Major League Baseball and the Player’s Association, and Commissioner Rob Manfred said in 2016 it was possible Ortiz did not actually test positive.
Things went a little differently for A-Rod.
Rodriguez was also part of the 2009 report, but A-Rod was said to have tested positive for testosterone and steroids. A-Rod would later admit to using steroids from 2001 to 2003. Then in 2013 A-Rod was part of the Biogenesis Scandal and would eventually be suspended for the entire 2014 season.
This is the direct cause for Ortiz to have the last laugh over A-Rod in their rivalry.
As of January 20th, Ortiz has been voted for on 84% of the ballots that have been made public. A-Rod has only been voted for on 41%. There are still more than half of all ballots to be cast/made public, so Ortiz getting to the necessary 75% is still up in the air.
These results show Ortiz is far more likely to be enshrined in Cooperstown before A-Rod will be. It feels a little icky to say this is all because Ortiz didn’t get caught and A-Rod did. But the facts are the facts. Ortiz was never punished for PED use, while A-Rod missed 162 games.
As time passes it feels likely the stain of PED use will stop keeping some of the greatest players of the last 20+ years out of Cooperstown. That day has not arrived yet though, and while A-Rod will need to wait for it, David Ortiz looks ready for enshrinement right now.
Ortiz – 3 / A-Rod – 2
As two great players look to have their overall rivalry settled, Ortiz and Sox fans can look forward to holding Ortiz getting into Cooperstown first over A-Rod for years to come.
- / 11 months ago
To me, Rachel Nichols is the personification of posting a black square on Instagram.