Ranking the Top 40 Designated Hitters of All-Time: Nos. 20-1
In compiling a list of the Top 40 DH’s of All-Time to commemorate the anniversary, the YESNetwork.com staff had to be creative with the criteria; in the end, while guys who were full-time DH’s for most or all of their careers won out in the top spots, the entirety of the list contains guys who fit at least these two minimum criteria: 150 career games started as a DH and at least two full seasons where they spent more games as the DH than at any other position.
Nos. 40-21 were released Saturday, on the exact anniversary of the designated hitter’s arrival, and we now present the top 20 "professional hitters" in the 40-year lifespan of the DH.
No. 20: Dave Kingman
Known for his prodigious home runs – 442 of them, to be exact – Kingman spent the majority of his 16-year Major League career in the National League. However, in his last three seasons in Oakland, he played largely as the DH and hit 35, 30, and 35 home runs respectively from 1984-86.
No. 19: Andre Thornton
Thronton hit 125 home runs and 459 RBI as a DH during his career. He spent time in Chicago, Montreal and Cleveland.
No. 18: Ruben Sierra
A 20-year Major League veteran from 1986-2006, Sierra hit 306 career home runs for nine teams, predominantly the Rangers and Yankees. While a member of the Bombers in 2004, he slugged 17 homers and recorded 30 extra-base hits in 307 at-bats, serving mostly as the DH.
No. 17: Brian Downing
Downing was a catcher for the Chicago White Sox before getting traded to the California Angels in December 1977. He became a full-time DH in 1987, and he hit 29 home runs and 77 RBI while leading the majors with 106 walks. Downing finished with 125 home runs and 412 RBI as a designated hitter.
No. 16: Danny Tartabull
Originally a shortstop, Tartabull broke into the Major Leagues as an outfielder in 1986 and later played in 403 games as a DH (258 for the Yankees), hitting 64 home runs and driving in 243 from that spot. Overall, Tartabull retired after the 1997 season with a career batting average of .273, 262 home runs and 925 RBI.
No. 15: Mike Sweeney
Although never truly a full-time DH, Sweeney played nearly half of his 1,454 career games at the position. A .297 career hitter overall, Sweeney hit .287 or better every year between 1999-2005, when back troubles began to hamper his career, and averaged 23 homers and 97 RBI a year in that span while making five All-Star appearances.
No. 14: Nick Johnson
Johnson played for four teams during his career, including the Yankees from 2001 to 2003 and in 2010, making three Opening Day starts as the Bombers’ DH. Injuries plagued Johnson throughout his career, but he did retire last winter with a .268 career average and an on-base percentage of .399.
No. 13: Hideki Matsui
“Godzilla” first came to the Majors as an outfielder, but he transitioned to the DH role full-time in 2009. That season, he belted 28 homers with 90 RBI, and later earned World Series MVP honors by hitting .615 with three homers and eight RBI in the Fall Classic. A year later, he hit 21 homers while serving primarily as the DH for the Angels, then spent his final full year in the same role in Oakland.
No. 12: Greg Luzinski
After a decade in the NL, Luzinski joined the White Sox in 1981 and spent four years as their DH, hitting .265 with 84 home runs from 1981-84. His best campaign there was arguably 1982, when he hit .292 with 102 RBI, although he received AL MVP votes in both 1981 and 1983.
No. 11: Travis Hafner
After 10 seasons in Cleveland, Hafner joined the Yankees in 2013 to be their DH – and he’s a true one, having played just 72 games in the field in his career. Although plagued by injuries in recent years, “Pronk” posted a .311-28-109 line in 2004 and then back-to-back .300-30-100 campaigns in 2005 and 2006, hitting 42 homers and driving in 117 runs in the latter.
No. 10: Hal McRae
An icon in Kansas City, McRae spent the better part of a decade as Royals DH, earning two of his three All-Star nods there. Among his DH accolades, McRae, a career .290 hitter, hit .332 and led the AL in on-base percentage and OPS in 1976, twice lead the league in doubles (1977 and 1982), and topped the junior circuit with 133 RBI in that latter season as well.
No. 9: Frank Thomas
“The Big Hurt” spent most if not all of his final 11 seasons as a DH, winning a Silver Slugger in 2000 after posting a .328-43-143 line that placed him second in MVP voting. From 1998-2008, he bashed 25 or more homers six times, topped 100 RBI four times, and also drew 100 or more walks three times.
No. 8: Dave Winfield
By 1990, Winfield, a longtime outfielder, became primarily a designated hitter. Appearing at the position for 130 games during his first season with the Blue Jays, Winfield batted .290 with 26 home runs and 98 RBI en route to his first and only World Series championship. Winfield moved on to DH for the Twins for two seasons before wrapping up his Hall-of-Fame career with Cleveland in 1995.
No. 7: Paul Molitor
Molitor spent the final eight seasons of his 21-year Hall of Fame career as a DH. From 1991-98, he made four All-Star appearances, led the AL in hits three times, won two Silver Sluggers, and reached the vaunted 3,000 hit plateau in the midst of a 1996 season that saw him hit .341 with 225 hits for the Twins – at age 40.
No. 6: Cecil Fielder
A noted power hitter in the 1980s and 1990s, Fielder became the first player to hit 50 home runs since George Foster slugged 52 in 1977. Fielder was traded to the Yankees on July 31, 1996, and served mainly as a DH, playing an integral role in the Yankees' World Series championship run by batting .260 with 13 home runs and 37 RBI.
No. 5: Chili Davis
Davis became Minnesota’s DH in 1991 and spent his final nine seasons at that position, including two with the Yankees. In eight full seasons between 1991-99, he averaged 24 homers a year, twice hit over .300, and finished with a 1999 season that saw him post a .269-19-78 line (at age 39) and win his second straight World Series with the Bombers.
No. 4: Jim Thome
Primarily a DH since 2006, Thome is one of eight players with at least 600 career home runs. Thome has belted more than 40 homers in six different seasons. In 817 career games as a DH, Thome has gone yard 205 times in 2,832 at-bats to go with a .264 average.
No. 3: Harold Baines
After seven years as an outfielder, Baines was almost strictly a “professional hitter” for five different teams from 1987-2001, and he finished his career with a .289 average (including eight seasons over .300), 384 homers, 488 doubles, 2,866 total hits, six All-Star appearances, and a Silver Slugger Award in 1989…now that’s some good DH’ing.
No. 2: David Ortiz
An eight-time All-Star and two-time World Series champion, Ortiz has developed into one of the game’s elite designated hitters as a member of the Red Sox. His performance in the 2004 ALCS – three home runs, 11 RBI – earned him MVP honors, and “Big Papi” entered 2013, his 17th Major League season, with 401 career home runs.
No. 1: Edgar Martinez
Martinez hit .300 or better seven straight times from 1995-2001 (including an AL-leading .356 in 1995), also averaging 110 RBI per season in that span, and he made six All-Star appearances and won four Silver Sluggers in his decade as a full-time DH (1995-2004). Is it any wonder that MLB named the award for Outstanding Designated Hitter after him?