The Designated Hitters – Do They Belong in the Hall of Fame?

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On January 11, 1973, the American League adopted the Designated Hitter Rule. Contrary to popular opinion, the DH was not a new concept. In 1906, Connie Mack first suggested the idea of replacing the pitcher with a permanent pinch hitter. Ironically in 1928, John Heydler, National League President, reintroduced the idea. Again, ironically, the rule was shot down by the American League.

Chalie Finley on Time Mgazine

In the early 1970s, Charlie Finley, the owner of Oakland A’s, became the designated hitter rule’s most outspoken advocate, though the DH would add more offense to the game and would draw more fans to the game. Finley, also wanted to institute Day-Glo orange baseballs, Finley said:

“Why the hell play with a white ball,” he asks, “when we’ve got one you can see a lot better?”

On January 11, 1973, an 8-4 vote made the DH a part of baseball in the American League. Initially, it was to be a three-year trial. Finley added,

“The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn’t come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game. I can’t think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can’t hit my grandmother. Let’s have a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher.”

Finley was a master showman in the style of P.T. Barnum. In the midst of back-to-back-to-back world championships, Finley was the trying to get fans in the ballpark. On April 6, 1973, Ron Bloomberg of the Yankees became the first DH to bat. He promptly walked against Luis Tiant of the Red Sox. Over the next 27 years, the DH has become a fixture in the game in all but the National League. From Little League to high schools to colleges, the DH is used to get extra players in the game. When I coached fresh/soph baseball, I used a DH to get one player an at bat while another played the field. I was not a fan of it. In high schools, usually, the best athletes pitch and play several positions. It would be unwise to use the DH strictly for a pitcher at that level.

Hitter Extraordinaire, Edgar Martinez

The time has now come to evaluate the impact of the DH on the game. In the next 10-15 years, there will be several players who have elongated their careers through the DH and are eligible to voted in to the Baseball Hall of Fame. First up is Edgar Martinez. Last week, Edgar Martinez, formerly of the Seattle Mariners received 191 votes (32.9%) for enshrinement in to the Baseball Hall of Fame. While well below the needed 75%, Martinez’s surprising show of support in his first year bodes well for his enshrinement in the coming years. However, there are those who believe Martinez will not reach 75% because he was a DH. Sure, Martinez played 1B and 3B, but the majority of his career was as a DH and he was one of the best pure hitters of his era. But is being a DH going to be enough? My friend, Dave, says it is. I don’t think it is. For one, Martinez, never had 3000 hits and nor did he hit for a lot of power. There is no denying his eye as a batter but will that be enough? Martinez’s greatest detriment was that he did not become an everyday player until he was 27. The resulting 14 years did not allow him to approach the gaudy numbers of his contemporaries. There are other cases to examine in the coming years

Frank Thomas – Played mainly at first base for the White Sox. He hit for power and average. He did play a substantial portion of his later years (when healthy) in the DH role. However, I think Thomas will make the hall.
Jim Thome – Like Martinez, Thome played as a position player in youth. As his career began to wane on defense as a Philadelphia Phillie, Thome judiciously stepped into the DH role for the White Sox, and most recently, the Twins. Thome is approaching 600 next season and he will most likely do it as a Twin. Like Frank Thomas, Thome has always been a “Big Boy” (What I call Country strong), the cloud of playing well in the steroids has never dogged the two. I think Thome, like Thomas, will get in.
David Ortiz – First Big Papi came up with the Twins. When he was released, Ortiz signed with the Red Sox and went on a great run helping Boston win two championships as a 1B and as a DH. Unfortunately, Ortiz has a positive steroid test on resume. Where does Ortiz fit for the Hall of Fame? At the moment he is well south of 400 home runs, yet he was an undeniable force for the past decade. I don’t think Ortiz will get in. At 35 and only 349 home runs, he is too fragile to get to the prerequisite 500 home runs or even close to 3000 hits.
Adam Dunn – As Dunn has now moved to the American League to play for the White Sox, Dunn’s name will come up as a reason not to vote someone in as a DH. A fielder, Dunn is a nightmare waiting to happen. As a batter, he hits monstrous home runs, drives in runs, and has a high OPS. If he could steal bases and hit for average, he would be the ultimate fantasy baseball player. Dunn is 31 and has 354 home runs. Let’s say he averages 35 a home runs (a very conservative estimate) a year playing for the White Sox. This puts him over 520+ home runs and he will still have 3-4 more years value and could approach the same statistics Thome is now eyeing. Does Dunn’s ineptitude as fielder exclude him from being in the HOF? However, Dunn, like Thome and Thomas, has always been a large physical specimen and has never faced any steroid criticism. Does that fact work in his favor? Right now, I would say no for Dunn. It’s a shame too because he can rake.

The main argument against a DH going in to the hall has been they only play one side of the game. The ultimate argument for the inclusion of designated hitters is, “Well, so do pitchers.” Ozzie Smith never went into the HOF because of his bat. He went because of his spectacular defensive skills. Tom Seaver was not a great hitter, but he was a dominant pitcher for 15 years.  Part of me says, yes, designated hitters should go into the hall, and part of me says no. Ultimately, I think it just depends on the player.

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10 thoughts on “The Designated Hitters – Do They Belong in the Hall of Fame?

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:22 pm

    Fair enough on Edgar. I think one of the big problems with DHs going to the HOF is that it’s pretty exceptional for a player to be a DH for the duration (or even the majority) of a HOF length career. Edgar is interesting, because of his 14 seasons of 89+ games played, he was a majority DH for 10 of them. Guys like Thome, Thomas, now Dunn, etc. are guys who sort of backed themselves into a DH role either due to their injury history, their degraded fielding ability, or a combination of the two. Other than Ortiz, who you rightly mention, I really can’t think of anybody active who’s come up as a DH, lasted a number of seasons as a DH, and functionally didn’t play other positions for a long time. The player who may have the longest pedigree as this sort of player who’s currently active is Jack Cust: not exactly HOF material.

    As to the numbers, you’re right that Edgar doesn’ t knock your socks off. Baseball Reference tells us that his most similar batters are (in order) Todd Helton, Will Clark, John Olerud, Moises Alou, Bobby Abreu, Bernie Williams…..etc. A lot of Hall of Very Good material there. Personally, I’d vote for Olerud, but he’s not going to get in.

    So I think with Edgar it comes down to a philosophical question: do treat the DH as its own position, akin to 1B, RF, or whatever, and then select the best players at that position as HOFers, or do we just select the best all-around players to the hall and if that means that we end up with lots of RFs and 1sBs, that’s not a big deal. I think you would argue (as would I, til the cows come home) that Ron Santo should be HOF material. The way I usually frame that debate is that 3B is quite underrepresented in the HOF, Santo is better than at least the bottom 1/2 of current HOF 3rd basemen, and was worth more wins to his team than almost anyone who hasn’t been enshrined. But his numbers compare very favorably to Dale Murphy, an outfielder, who most people (me included). If Murphy had played 3rd and put up similar offensive numbers, to me, he’s a HOFer.

    So that seems to be the issue. Edgar’s a special case because of his longevity at DH – it’s quite possible that we’ll only have a very few players who are so exclusively a DH for so long who do it so well.

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    I should have said that most people think that Murphy shouldn’t be an HOFer. I missed a half clause in there somewhere.

    R.T. Johnson responded:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm

    Shame on you! I have always thought Murphy should be in the HOF. He was a 5 tool player. Like Ron Santo, Tim Raines, and Jack Morris, Murphy has gotten the shaft.

    Look at these upcoming eligible players for next year. No one strikes my fancy at all. Bernie Williams only gets a ‘meh’ from me.
    2012: Edgardo Alfonzo, Pedro Astacio, David Bell, Jeromy Burnitz, Vinny Castilla, Scott Erickson, Carl Everett, Jeff Fassero, Alex S. Gonzalez, Danny Graves, Rick Helling, Dustin Hermanson, Jose Hernandez, Brian Jordan, Matt Lawton, Javy Lopez, Bill Mueller, Terry Mulholland, Jeff Nelson, Phil Nevin, Brad Radke, Joe Randa, Tim Salmon, Ruben Sierra, Jose Vizcaino, Bernie Williams, Eric Young
    I think next year could see Larkin, Morris, Lee Smith, and Bagwell get in.

    However, the test of the steroids era will be in 2013. Look at this star studded class of villains and heroes…I would vote for the bolded ones…
    2013: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Craig Biggio, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Kenny Lofton, David Wells, Julio Franco, Shawn Green, Steve Finley, Roberto Hernandez, Jeff Cirillo, Jose Valentin, Reggie Sanders, Jeff Conine, Jose Mesa, Royce Clayton, Bob Wickman, Ryan Klesko, Aaron Sele, Woody Williams, Rondell White, Mike Lieberthal, Tony Batista, Mike Stanton, Sandy Alomar Jr., Damian Miller, Todd Walker
    It has always seemed fitting to me that Bagwell and Biggio should go in together as should Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz…but it won’t happen.

    2014: Moises Alou, Armando Benitez, Sean Casey, Jose Cruz Jr., Ray Durham, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, Keith Foulke, Eric Gagne, Tom Glavine, Luis Gonzalez, Mark Grudzielanek, Scott Hatteberg, Jacque Jones, Todd Jones, Jeff Kent, Jon Lieber, Esteban Loaiza, Paul Lo Duca, Greg Maddux, Matt Morris, Mike Mussina, Trot Nixon, Hideo Nomo, Jay Payton, Kenny Rogers, Richie Sexson, J.T. Snow, Shannon Stewart, Frank Thomas, Mike Timlin, Steve Trachsel, Jose Vidro

    2015: Nomar Garciaparra, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz (This could be the greatest pitching class ever!)

    2016: Brad Ausmus, Ken Griffey Jr., Trevor Hoffman

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Yeah, I’m a meh about Dale Murphy. He’s worth about 44 wins above replacement career – Santo’s at about 69, so that’s the difference. Longevity hurts the Murph too – he only had 1 full season after age 34, and it wasn’t a good one. Duke Snider is the only HOFer in his most similar top 10, and Duke Snider is….well….a meh HOFer. Murph had 6 pretty good consecutive seasons (1980-85) and another really good one (44HR!) in 1987. But that’s about it. Unless your name is Sandy Koufax or Pedro Martinez, I’m not sure that you get to the HOF on 6-7 really good years. (Feel free to tee off on the shot at Pedro there if you like :))

    Wow, that is a putrid mess of a hall class next year. Based on a quick read through, I think Tim Salmon is your strongest candidate – 299 bombs, 37 cWAR. Vinny Castilla has 321 career HRs, so he’s next. And he played 3B for the majority of his career, so he’s probably top 10 for HRs by a 3B. But yeah. Santo he ain’t.

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    PS – no on Jeff Kent? is that because of roids or numbers?

    R.T. Johnson responded:
    January 12, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    Jeff Kent is probably my least favorite player since Steve Garvey. A good player, yes, but a great one? Not for me. It might even be personal for me…if only you could take Barry Bonds before steroids versus after. What a shame.

    As for Salmon and Castilla, I don’t see them even getting 5% to stay on the ballot for 2013.

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Kent: Most HRs by a 2B. Ever. (I think – Ryno had 277 as a 2B, 282 total; Kent had 377 total).

    Yeah, I kind of think Salmon might get 5%. No way on Castilla though.

    Sports Dave said:
    January 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    And please: Alex S. Gonzalez is a HOFer. Think of his hall plaque: “Five outs from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945, Gonzalez booted a sure-fire double-play ball in the eighth inning of the 2003 Game 6 NLCS, allowing two runs to score on that play. The Cubs went onto give up 7 runs in that inning, and lost to the Florida Marlins in 7 games.”

    While you’re at it, put Bill Buckner and Don Denkinger in too.

    R.T. Johnson responded:
    January 12, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    You forgot Jerry Morales

    Sports Dave said:
    January 13, 2011 at 8:25 am

    Also, I found this link this morning:

    http://www.platoonadvantage.com/2010/12/blyleven-vs-morris.html

    Basically, if in an alternate universe kind of scenario, after the year he retired, Jack Morris became a closer – and not just any closer, but the greatest closer of all time – who pitched for another 15 seasons, his career innings pitched would equal Bert Blyleven’s – and Blyleven would still have more strikeouts. The blog uses Mariano Rivera’s numbers to add to Morris’ – kinda fun.

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