Over the course of a 20-year career, David Ortiz became one of the best-known and most-beloved baseball players of both his era and of all time. The Dominican Republic native and former Red Sox slugger had a farewell tour in 2016 that capped one of the sport’s most visible careers. By the end, he had 10 All-Star game appearances, nine postseason appearances, three World Series rings and some $6 million in endorsements. And even in retirement, he maintains an impressive social media following.
So with the Red Sox retiring his No. 34, we pondered a new question: Who’s the next Ortiz? Who can eventually reach that level of fame — or even surpass it?
For the ESPN World Fame 100, ESPN’s director of analytics, Ben Alamar, devised a statistical method to quantify fame by analyzing social media following, endorsements and Google scores. So we asked him to put that equation to work to create the Papi Index. We started with 128 of the top-performing MLB players based on WAR and added in off-field visibility, social media popularity and marketability. Then we projected forward, seeing who might reach or pass the Papi Line. And who might never get there. Here is a sampling of those players.
Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals | Now: 73 | By 41: 99
Harper could become MLB’s first $400 million man next year, and his fame has plenty of time to grow. Not that he needs it. Harper — he of All-Star, MVP and helmet- and fist-throwing fame — should eclipse the Papi Line as early as next year. The main reasons? A top-10 media market, Google score of 86 (out of 100) and a social media following of more than 2.3 million users across Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. He’s in the top 10 among MLB players on each of those platforms as well.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs | Now: 78 | By 41: 99
When it comes to fame, it’s good to be on the North Side. Rizzo (and two teammates on this list) benefited from the Cubs’ 2016 World Series title. At 27, he presumably has a lengthy career ahead of him. Combine that with a few more years of success with the Chicago fan base and a marketable personality, and you have one of the game’s most recognizable players. His Google score of 75 in the past year is in the top five in baseball.
Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs | Now: 85 | By 41: 99
The better half of Bryzzo by fame standards is already a ways above the Papi Line at age 25. An MVP season helped him become the face of the Cubs franchise, and he has pulled in at least $2.5 million in endorsements, one of the biggest current totals in the sport, during his two-year career. He’s also in the top 15 among MLB players in social media followers. And though it’s not as quantifiable, he’s just a likable guy.
Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox | Now: 74 | By 41: 96
From cutting up jerseys before a game with the White Sox to throwing at Orioles star Manny Machado, Sale has landed in the spotlight despite not being on social media; a top-10 Google score and top-five spot in ESPN.com’s MLB searches are indicative of that. His dominance on the mound and time playing in two top-10 media markets, Chicago and now Boston, also help the ace’s cause.
Aaron Judge, New York Yankees | Now: 58 | By 41: 80
You’ve already heard plenty about the rookie slugger, which sets the stage for a standout career in terms of fame — even if it’s a bit early to know if his dominance on the field will continue. The 6-foot-7, 282-pound right fielder is under the biggest media spotlight in the U.S. and is already flourishing because of his power and consistency. With just over 335,000 followers across all three platforms we tracked, Judge’s social media presence is still blossoming. But at this rate, he’ll pass Big Papi — and who knows what’ll happen when he hits his prime?
Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs | Now: 56 | By 41: 78
Like we said, it’s good to be a Cub. Baez, a native of Puerto Rico, is known for his defensive prowess, his tattoo collection and his pride for his home country. His personality is infectious, too. Although he hasn’t been consistent on the field, the World Series winner is already one of the game’s best-known Latino players, with a social media following of more than 1.2 million users. He lacks the star power of Bryant and Rizzo, but that’s OK; he’s still on pace to eclipse the Papi Line if his career lasts as long as Ortiz’s did.
Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles | Now: 54 | By 41: 76
A smaller media market in Baltimore holds Machado back a bit, but his talent is undeniable, and his average Google score of nine is tied for 10th among MLB players. His high visibility goes beyond on-field production too. Machado was at the center of a feud between the Orioles and Red Sox early this season, and he has never been one to shy away from confrontation. So what could elevate Machado even further? While Baltimore fans hate the idea, a move to the Yankees would be a game-changer — and a fame-changer — for the third baseman.
Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels | Now: 53 | By 41: 72
The nation’s No. 2 media market. A social media presence nearly on-par with Ortiz. On-field production that eclipses every other player in baseball. So what gives? Trout isn’t as remarkable off the field as he is on it. He’s stuck on a middling team, isn’t as Google-search-inducing as Harper or other stars and tends to avoid controversy. The latter part of that isn’t going to change, but if Trout winds up on a contender and continues to play at the absurd level he did before an injury earlier this season, maybe there’s a chance of passing the Papi Line. He’s already one of the biggest baseball players on social media, with nearly 4 million followers, and his 2.25 million Twitter followers are the most of any player we tracked. One caveat: If Trout plays to 42, he will pass the line.
Francisco Lindor, Cleveland Indians | Now: 45 | By 41: 64
Lindor raised his game to a different level during the 2016 playoffs and propelled himself into the spotlight. He’s a top-20 jersey seller in MLB, a go-to for the league as a brand ambassador and a potential rival to Baez as the next face of Latino ballplayers. To do so, though, he’ll likely need to move to a city with a bigger focus on baseball. He’s outside the top 35 in both Google score and searches on ESPN.com.
Mookie Betts, Boston Red Sox | Now: 44 | By 41: 61
Betts is still just shy of 25 years old and coming off his first All-Star season. In short, that means a lot can change in regard to his future fame. But Betts has already drawn comparisons to Ortiz because of his performance at the plate, and he’s an AL MVP candidate this season. The question is just how high the ceiling is for him, both in terms of talent and popularity. He has top-10 numbers in Twitter followers, but that hasn’t translated to good Google numbers, as he’s in an eight-way tie for No. 38 among players we tracked.
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers | Now: 45 | By 41: 57
That’s right: The best pitcher in baseball, as sure a Hall of Famer as there is in the game right now, doesn’t crack the Papi Line. He’s the No. 4 name in ESPN.com searches and is tied for the the fourth-highest average Google score of players we tracked. But at 29, he doesn’t have as much time as most of the players on this list to improve his profile. A World Series title or two might help.