Friday, March 27, 2015

The Best Designated Hitters in History

The designated hitter rule was implemented in 1973 as an experiment Since then, it has boosted offense in the American League considerably. Though the arrangement creates disharmony during inter-league play, there are no immediate plans to restore the AL to a time when the ninth spot in any lineup was virtually an automatic out. It just doesn't make sense at this point.

The debate over whether or not designated hitters belong in the Hall of Fame has raged for decades. Frank Thomas, who spent more than half of his career in that capacity, broke down the barrier last year. He wasn't the first. More than forty percent of Paul Molitor's 3,000-plus hits came as a DH. If relievers, closers and starting pitchers--none of whom are everyday players--can make it to Cooperstown, then why should designated hitters be excluded? It has been argued that most DH's are defensively challenged. But Babe Ruth, Luke Appling and Reggie Jackson (Hall of Famers all) were substandard fielders too.

Though the concept of a full-time professional hitter is loathsome to some, resistance is futile. Like it or not, designated hitters are here to stay. 

My selections for greatest DH's of all time are as follows:

Paul Molitor
The man known to some as "The Ignitor" was never more than average at any defensive station. He played at every position aside from pitcher and catcher during his twenty-one seasons in the majors. Molitor remained in Milwaukee until the age of thirty-five, when GM Sal Bando made one of the most colossal miscalculations in franchise history. Bando waited too long to offer Molitor arbitration then justified his actions by proclaiming that Molitor was "only a DH." Molitor made Bando regret that statement when he led the American League in hits and captured World Series MVP honors as a member of the Blue Jays in 1993. Three years later, he paced the circuit in hits again for the Twins. Molitor appeared in 1,173 games as a designated hitter overall, compiling a lifetime average of .308 in that capacity--numbers good enough for the Hall of Fame.

Frank Thomas
Thomas logged more experience as a DH than any player currently in the Hall of Fame (1,310 games). He began his career at first base, but after finishing among the AL leaders in errors on five occasions, his glove more or less ended up in cold storage. During his prime, Thomas won two MVP Awards and led the league in on-base percentage four times. He had ten seasons with 100 or more RBIs. In 969 games as a first baseman, he compiled a .337 batting average. He was less proficient as a designated hitter, but gathered over 500 extra-base hits along with 881 RBIs. A clutch performer, he hit .312 with runners in scoring position and .352 with the bases loaded during his career. He retired with 521 homers.

David Ortiz
Imminently likeable, Ortiz carries the warm and fuzzy nicknames of "Big Papi" and "Cookie Monster." There are many who consider him the best DH of all time. He certainly has the numbers to back it up. Among the greatest clutch players in baseball history, Ortiz launched 12 walk-off homers between 2003 and 2013 (including postseason play). He currently holds the record for most hits and RBIs by a DH. Additionally, he owns multiple franchise records, including the single-season mark for homers (54 in 2006). That's quite an accomplishment considering that Ted Williams once called Fenway Park home. To date, Ortiz has spent most of his career in the DH slot with only 268 appearances at first base. But his value to the club has been immeasurable. "I know that great players are great, are supposed to be great in any moment" said Red Sox GM Ben Cherington, "but it's hard to see [Ortiz] in those moments and not think there's something different about him...I can't add anything more to the legend that's already there. He keeps writing more chapters on his own." Outside his on-field accomplishments, Ortiz gives back to the community at large. His Children's Fund has been supporting a wide range of worthy causes since 2007. It's hard to believe that baseball writers will overlook Ortiz when he becomes eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Edgar Martinez
Martinez held the all time mark for RBIs by a designated hitter before David Ortiz surpassed it in 2011. On that same day, Martinez's franchise record for hits was broken by former Seattle teammate Ichiro Suzuki. Born in New York City, Martinez completed high school in Puerto Rico. He spent his entire career with the Mariners. Originally a third baseman, a knee injury stunted his development as a positional player. He was twenty-seven years old by the time he attained full-time playing status. As a designated hitter, Martinez won two batting crowns and led the league in on-base percentage three times. He also paced the AL in double twice. He earned seven All-Star selections. The Mariners never made it to the World Series during Martinez's career, but he had prodigious numbers in the ALDS, compiling a .375 batting average in 17 games. Though he has yet to receive more than thirty-six percent of the Cooperstown vote, he is currently a member of three other Halls--The Seattle Mariners Hall of Fame, The Latin-American Baseball Hall of Fame and the Hispanic Heritage Baseball Museum Hall of Fame.

Harold Baines
Baines spent nine seasons with the White Sox before becoming a nomad. He played for five teams before he retired. Few players have been as successful over a long period of time. During his twenty-two years in the majors, Baines gathered more than 2,800 hits and 1,600 RBIs. Every eligible player with higher numbers in both categories is currently in the Hall of Fame. A true measure of respect, Baines was intentionally walked 187 times during his career--a number that places him at #21 on the all time list. A six-time All-Star, he compiled a .306 lifetime average with men on base. He launched a total of 13 grand slams and gathered at least 20 homers in eleven seasons. In 1,643 games as a DH, his numbers were as follows: .291 BA/ 1,690 H/ 236 HR/ 981 RBI. 

Chili Davis
Davis's birth name was Charles. He got his nickname in sixth grade after a bad haircut prompted a friend to tease: "How'd the barber cut your hair--with a chili bowl?" Davis was the first Jamaican-born player in the majors. Over nineteen seasons, he established himself as one of the best. He spent roughly equal portions of time as an outfielder and a DH. Defense was not his strong point as he led both leagues in errors once apiece. He did have a strong arm, pacing the NL with 16 outfield assists in 1982. From 1991-1999, he served almost exclusively as a designated hitter. He hit .282 in that role during his career with 428 extra-base hits and 736 runs batted-in. By the time he retired, he had captured three World Series rings--one with the Twins and two with the Yankees.     


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