Why so much gusto for the designated hitter?
A baseball traditionalist's case against the position Red Sox's Ortiz now chairs
Did you hear the news? When David Ortiz ripped a double into left-center field for the Red Sox in the second inning on Wednesday night at Safeco Field against the Mariners, he broke the Major League record for most hits by a designated hitter.
You may yawn now.
We're in the midst of (ahem) celebrating the 40th anniversary of the DH, and Ortiz just provided the latest reason why this thing needs to go the way of flannel uniforms, long train rides for teams on road trips and hitters swinging without helmets.
So much for fantasy. The DH isn't going anywhere. There are too many folks who cherish the thing, and they do so with gusto.
My friend, Milton, for instance, who is a diehard Yankees fan, said, "I love offense, and who wants to see the dang pitcher hitting up there wearing a jacket, just trying not to get hurt?"
Then there are the ongoing whispers that both leagues either will have the DH or just play real baseball. The Miltons of the world will be smiling at the end. I'm frowning over the thought. As the Last Great Traditionalist, all I can do is hope for the impossible -- you know, that we'll all rise one morning and discover the DH has just gone away.
Baseball's professional roots go back to 1869, which means there is nothing traditional about a rule change that only has been around since 1973. Consider, too, that even though the concept of a designated hitter was mentioned for decades before its actual implementation, it wasn't approved until 40 years ago, because American League owners were searching for something to help their overall attendance that regularly lagged behind their National League counterparts.
The DH was a gimmick, and the gimmick became more than that. It became a way of life in the AL, and now that gimmick-turned-staple is affecting the game in so many ways.
Just two examples ...
After months of recovering from a damaged ankle, Derek Jeter returned to the Yankees' lineup on Thursday -- as a DH. Team officials thought it was the best way to ease the 39-year-old "shortstop" back into action, which means so many guys who otherwise wouldn't have played in the past for whatever reason are playing now. Jeter eventually was yanked from the game in the eighth inning at Yankee Stadium against the Royals after he suffered tightness in his right quadriceps from running the bases.
Mickey Mantle. I keep thinking about the Mick. He spent the majority of his career with the Yankees maneuvering on notoriously bad knees. You know where I'm going. If the DH was around for Mantle during the 1950s and '60s, his 18-year career would have been significantly longer -- along with his list of accomplishments.
You also could apply that to other aching players of yore.
Switching gears, let this sink in: Ortiz is the all-time DH hits leader after his 1,689th career hit this week while playing that position. That doesn't exactly have the same feel as, say, Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken Jr. surpassing 714 home runs and 2,130 consecutive games played, respectively. Aaron topped Babe Ruth's old mark, and Ripken soared passed that of Lou Gehrig.
Whose record did Ortiz surpass?
See what I mean? Nothing against Baines, who was a six-time All-Star during his 22 Major League seasons. He also won a Silver Slugger Award, and he finished among the top 10 in AL Most Valuable Player Award voting twice. In fact, Baines was with the White Sox (14 years) more than any other team, and they even retired his number.
That said, nobody ever would confuse Baines with Ruth or Gehrig. The same goes for Ortiz, and that's despite the fact that historians could say he is the greatest DH of all-time -- whatever that means. In addition to that hits thing, Ortiz holds the record at the position for most runs, doubles, home runs, extra-base hits and RBIs.
Who was considered the best DH before Ortiz?
As was the case with Barnes, Martinez was pretty good. He spent all 18 of his Major League seasons with the Mariners, and during that stretch, he made seven All-Star Game trips, earned five Silver Slugger Awards and won two batting titles. He also is in the Mariners Hall of Fame, but he'll likely never make the one in Cooperstown, because some Hall of Fame voters (like myself) don't believe players who primarily were DHs deserve such an honor. To vote DHs into Cooperstown would be unfair to those who had to perform with a bat and a glove more often than not.
It's just a different game when all you have to do is swing -- and then run if you hit the ball. Still, this gets a little messy, because of Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas. While Molitor did enough DH-ing to rank sixth on the all-time DH hits list, he spent a slew of his 21 years with the Brewers in the infield and the outfield. He already is in the Hall of Fame, and he got my vote.
As for Thomas, during much of his 19 years with the White Sox, he alternated between first base and DH. To be exact, he had 968 starts at first, compared to 1,308 as the DH. He even spent his last six seasons just as a DH. Anyways, he is eligible for the baseball Hall of Fame for the first time in December, and he'll make it with ease.
You can't ignore Thomas' 521 homers and lifetime .301 batting average. He also has a great nickname (The Big Hurt), and he did spend a bunch of games on defense.
Sorry, fellow traditionalists.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.