David Ortiz is one of the most clutch hitters in baseball history. The 2004 ALCS. The 2013 ALCS. He has the moments and resume to validate it. More commonly referred to by fans as “Big Papi”, the legendary designated hitter gave the Red Sox faithful plenty of things to smile about throughout his 14-season tenure in Boston.
His 541 career home runs and three World Series rings will never be forgotten by Sox fans. But these days, Ortiz is trying to get them excited about more than just baseball. His latest business venture is a partnership with San Francisco–based eyewear brand Zenni to introduce consumers to PapiVision. He’s designed an affordable, 12-style collection of glasses that released today via the brand’s web store.
“That’s one of the things that I emphasized: really affordable for people. You’re talking about a pair of glasses that costs under $50,” Ortiz tells Complex via Zoom. “It’s something that people can afford to buy, but the most important thing is you’re getting a good quality type of glasses. I always make sure that before I put my name behind any product that it is a good product.”
But his Zenni glasses collab isn’t the only thing Ortiz has going on in July. Later this month, he will be getting inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame—only the fourth Dominican player to be enshrined at Cooperstown. While he’s excited and grateful about his induction, he also shared his thoughts about legends like Barry Bonds, whose connections to steroid use during his career have caused voters to keep them out of the hall.
“If he’s not a Hall of Famer then who would be? I was a very feared hitter when I played, but Barry Bonds was on a different level,” says Ortiz. “I don’t even know if there’s any product on Earth that can make you that good. You heard about so many players using this and that, but I had never seen anybody at that level of Barry Bonds. He was special, man.”
Check out our full conversation with Big Papi about his upcoming Hall of Fame induction, more thoughts on players like Bonds and Manny Ramirez being kept out of the hall, his eyewear collection with Zenni, and more.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Can you just talk a little bit about this new collection and what makes Zenni such a great partner for you?
Zenni basically got the memo right away. I love glasses. I’m a guy who is known for wearing glasses, so they basically got together with myself for a collaboration to come out on July 11: a collection of 12 different pairs of glasses representing who I really am. They have this type of connection with when I’m from, the Dominican Republic. Some of the glasses have specific names related to myself. I think it’s gonna be fun. There’s so many things you can play with when it comes down to glasses. I like to have different options. That’s what the collection is all about.
I noticed they’re super affordable, too. Was that important to you, working with a brand that could make stuff that’s more accessible for all of your fans?
That’s one of the things that I emphasized: really affordable for people. You’re talking about a pair of glasses that costs under $50. It’s something that people can afford to buy, but the most important thing is you’re getting a good quality type of glasses. I always make sure that before I put my name behind any product that it is a good product.
Obviously, I wanted to ask you about baseball. You’re getting inducted into the Hall of Fame later this month. Can you take me back to the moment you got that news? Do you remember your reaction?
Oh man. It’s one of the most exciting moments for anybody who plays baseball. It’s a real honor to be selected to be part of it. It is a very elite group that has put it all together to be able to be part of the Hall of Fame. I can’t wait for the event to take place. I’m stressing out a little bit with all the stuff going on cause I always have a lot going on, but I also understand that it’s part of it. When I received the phone call, it was very surprising. It was something that me, my family, and friends enjoyed.
You were always a fan favorite in Boston. Some may say you’re the most beloved player to ever put on that uniform. But how did it feel to know you were going to be enshrined in Cooperstown and get that recognition?
Amazing. It’s just that type of feeling that you don’t get every day. The number of players that play the game, you need to do everything right. While I was playing, I thought the Hall of Fame was something that was way far away. Being a Hall of Famer is very unique, but I wasn’t even thinking about it, to be honest with you. I started thinking about it starting last year, when all the rumors were going around, “Man, you got a pretty good chance to be a Hall of Famer.” That was when I really started paying attention because when I think about some Hall of Famers, I was like, “Man, the way those guys choose, it’s gonna take a minute.” It’s basically a humble way to look at things. I’m a person who tries to be humble. I try to be respectful. I think that when you look at things that way, things function even better and easier. That’s exactly what happened to me once I got elected. It was a blessing.
You were actually voted in first ballot, and you’re also only the fourth Dominican player to be inducted. Does that make it that much more special to you?
Oh man, you know, I never thought of how hard it was to be inducted on the first ballot, because I really never paid attention to the voting. I always just paid attention to whoever gets inducted and who doesn’t. But I realized that being inducted in the first ballot, it’s something that doesn’t happen too often. So I guess I did something right. [Laughs.] Like I said, I’m very thankful and grateful.
There’s always a little bit of talk and controversy about players who do and don’t get in. This year, a big topic was Barry Bonds not making it in on his last year of eligibility. What is your stance on that? Players like Bonds who have accomplished so much in the game that ultimately won’t make it in based on the allegations in the steroid era and stuff like that?
I think he was a Hall of Famer way before he got out of the Pirates organization. I mean, you’re talking about a guy who was 400/400 basically coming out of [Pittsburgh]. To me, Barry Bonds’ style and the way he played the game, he was on such a different type of level than everybody else. When it comes down to that type of conversation, if he used or he didn’t, I don’t know if I’m saying this because I’m a big fan of Barry, but to me if he’s not a Hall of Famer, then who would be? I was a very feared hitter when I played, but Barry Bonds was on a different level. I don’t even know if there’s any product on Earth that can make you that good. You heard about so many players using this and that, but I had never seen anybody at that level of Barry Bonds. He was special, man. I think that’s all people need to recognize. He was very special until the last day he played. You can say whatever you want, but you could never take that away from him.
Your buddy Manny Ramirez is another one of those players who put together an amazing career but has that issue with certain voters. Would you love to see him in the hall one day and be able to celebrate that moment with him?
Manny is like a brother to me. I can tell you so many good things about Manny that we lived together as teammates. You would be surprised. Manny made his mistake and the most important thing is he knows that he did. When you talk to Manny right now and when he talks to youngsters, he basically preaches about not making the mistake that he did. Manny was one of the best right-handed hitters that I have ever seen in my life. Because of his work ethic. He was another type of level. Now, he also understands that based on his mistake, that’s probably gonna block him from being a Hall of Famer. Now, Manny, he socializes more. His mind is not blackened like it used to be. He’s serving God in a certain way that he understands things better than ever. I would like you to at some point have a conversation with him. It’ll be interesting what he has to say.
Lastly, I just wanted to ask you, do you feel like baseball is in a good place right now?
I think the talent in baseball right now is the best that I have ever seen. Everybody’s so athletic. The competition is better than ever. But there’s something that goes hand in hand with that. And that’s the nature of the game. It doesn’t matter how many changes you make. The nature of the game should never be changed. It will feel funny, you know? I know the game has made so many changes. I would say technology has a lot to do with it. Analytics has a lot to do with it. One thing can be to your benefit; another thing cannot.
For example, right now, I see that when you are 0–8 as a batter against a guy, right away the coach is thinking about benching you. How is that gonna make you better? In my days, when I was 0–8 against someone, the manager would come up to me and be like, “Hey, you wanna play tomorrow?” Why are you asking me if I’m in the lineup every day? “Well, you are 0–8 against this guy.” Oh, really? Okay. You’re forcing me to try to make something different but in a good way, in a way for me to get better. ‘Cause if I don’t face him just because I’m 0–8, I’m never gonna get better. And then you’re gonna want to throw me out there during the playoffs against the same guy in some type of situation. If I’m your everyday player, I need to find a way to figure it out, how to hit against this guy. It’s the same way as a pitcher. Let me figure it out. That’s what the game is all about.