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Greatest designated hitters of all time

David Ortiz is the greatest DH in history.
David Ortiz is the greatest DH in history.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

The designated hitter (DH) replaced the pitcher in American League lineups in order to create more offense. The idea goes back at least a century to Connie Mack and the National League considered it in the late twenties. However, the position did not become official until the American League incorporated the DH into the game in 1973. At first, the position allowed older players to extend their careers. Eventually, the DH became a position for younger players as well. The following are the greatest designated hitters in history.

1. David Ortiz: The Red Sox stole David Ortiz from Minnesota. The theft led to three world titles after an 86 year drought. Big Papi made the Red Sox offense go. He joined the Sox in 2003 and topped 20 home runs every year with a high of 54 in 2006. Additionally, Ortiz knocked in 100 runs or more seven times, hit .300 six times, and topped 1.000 OPS four times. He's a .295 postseason hitter and feared clutch performer. His hits in the 2004 ALCS willed the Red Sox to the pennant. Ortiz batted .545 in the 2004 ALDS, .387 with 3 home runs and 11 RBI in the 2004 ALCS, .714 in the 2007 ALDS, and .688 in the 2013 World Series. Although he slumped in the 2013 ALCS, Ortiz delivered the home run that turned the playoffs around for Boston. The Boston folk hero is a .455 World Series performer.

2. Paul Molitor: Talking heads declared Paul Molitor the first DH to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. The 2004 inductee did not become a full time designated hitter until his 14th season. Despite the delay, Molitor had three 200 hit seasons, led the league in triples in 1991, hit over .300 six times, and topped .900 in OPS twice while serving as DH. On top of this, he helped Toronto win the 1993 World Series and collected his 3,000th career hit.

3. Edgar Martinez: Many consider Edgar Martinez the greatest DH of all time. He entered the majors in 1987 and became the full time Mariner DH in 1995. Martinez experienced a monster 1995 campaign He won the batting crown with a .356 average, led the league in runs (121), doubles (52), OBP (.479), and OPS (1.107). Also, he seemingly won the ALDS against New York by himself when he hit .571 with 2 home runs, 10 RBI, 1.667 OPS, and the series winning double. The DH hit over .300 every year from 1995-2001, drove in 100 or more runs five times, led the league in RBI (145) in 2000, and topped 1.000 OPS five times. Martinez hit .312 for his career with 309 home runs, 1,261 RBI, .933 OPS, and 2,247 hits. However, since he served as a DH and did not reach the magical 500 home run or 3,000 hit mark, his Hall of Fame credentials are diminished in the eyes of many voters.

4. Frank Thomas: Pundits compared Frank Thomas to Ted Williams in the early part of his career. The Big Hurt put up ridiculous numbers, won two MVPs, and did it without untoward medical assistance. Thomas played first base in his first eight seasons and moved to DH in year nine. Big Frank served as the White Sox DH from 1998-2005 and played his final three years in Oakland and Toronto. Injuries began to slow Thomas after age 30, but he still posted monster campaigns. He knocked in 100 or more runs four times and topped 26 home runs five times in this span. Thomas was an MVP candidate in 2000 and 2006 when he led his teams to the postseason. In 2007, he joined the 500 home run club.

5. Harold Baines: Harold Baines was young for knee problems to force him from the field. In 1987, the outfielder switched to DH and remained primarily a designated hitter until his retirement in 2001. He made four of his six All Star teams and won his only Silver Slugger at the position. Along the way, Baines became one of the all time great White Sox and Oriole players. Perhaps his finest campaign came in 1999. Baines hit .312 with 25 home runs, 103 RBI, and .919 OPS. Overall, the outfielder/DH hit .289 with 384 home runs, 1628 RBI, and .820 OPS.

6. Chili Davis: Charles Theodore Davis might not have scared anyone, but Chili Davis frightened pitchers. Davis played the first half of his career in the outfield for San Francisco and California. In 1990, he switched to DH. Davis provided offensive punch from the DH spot for a decade. The veteran belted 19 or more home runs seven times in ten seasons and topped 90 RBI on four occasions. Davis OPS topped .800 eight times in that stretch and was over .890 four times. In the end, his teams won three World Series during his run at DH.

7. Don Baylor: Don Baylor is the answer to several trivia questions. He is one of two players to be on three different pennant winning franchises in consecutive years. He was the first manager in Colorado Rockies history. Baylor is also considered the first DH to win the MVP. Interestingly, he played more games in the outfield that season. He led the Angels to their first postseason berth in 1979 and led the league in games (162), runs (120), and RBI (139) while hitting .296 with 36 home runs. In 1983, he moved to the Yankees where he hit over 20 or more home runs three straight seasons. In 1986, Baylor helped lead Boston to the pennant with a 35 home run campaign and key postseason blast against the Angels. He won the World Series with the Twins in 1987 and then won another pennant in Oakland in 1988.

8. Hal McRae: It seems like Hal McRae created the DH position. He served as the Royals DH from 1976-87.In his first season as a full time designated hitter, McRae batted .332 and led the league in OBP (.407) and OPS (.868). During this span, he led the league in doubles twice and RBI in 1982. As DH, McRae hit .290 or better six times and surpassed.300 four times. McRae retired as a .290 career batter with nearly 2100 games in the major leagues.

9. Travis Hafner: Travis Hafner played mainly DH throughout his career. Hafner topped double digits in home runs ten times in twelve seasons with a high of 42. Additionally, Hafner totaled 100 or more RBI four consecutive seasons from 2004-07 and hit better than .300 in three of those years. In 2006, the Indian hit .308 with 42 home runs, 117 RBI, scored 100 runs, walked 100 times, and posted a 1.097 OPS. Injuries hampered the DH later in his career and his numbers curtailed. Overall, Hafner hit .273 with 213 home runs, 731 RBI, and .874 OPS.

10. Brian Downing: Brian Downing was the prototypical veteran player that transitioned to DH at the end of his career. He broke into the big leagues in 1973 as an outfielder. Downing served as DH a few times in his career before taking on the role full time in 1987. Over his last six seasons, Downing batted .272, .242, .283, .273, .278, and .278. He remained a force with his OPS being over .800 five of those seasons. In 1987, the Angel DH led the league in walks with 106 and posted a .400 OBP and .886 OPS.

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