The designated hitter is an actual position that has been debated, discussed, probed, and prodded since the 1890s. Since the inception of the American League position 44 years ago, the DH has served it’s purpose ably: enhancing offense, while increasing fan interest. Each year, the best DH is honored with the Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award. Somehow, the player who established the benchmark for excellence at the position has been kept out of the Hall of Fame and has just two remaining years of eligibility — a slight to one the finest hitters baseball has ever seen and to the position as a whole.
Martinez did not become a full-time player until the age of 27, which limited his career hit total to 2,247 and home run total to just 309, well short of top sluggers from his era. But looking deeper into the numbers, we discover that Martinez was actually one of the top and most consistent sluggers of his time — or any time period — culminating an 18-year career with an eye-popping .418 on-base percentage and .933 OPS. Jayson Stark of ESPN describes Martinez as one of the “greatest hitters of his generation.”
Martinez was just one of eight players to have 300 home runs, 500 doubles, a career batting average above .300, a career OBP above .400, and a career slugging percentage above .500. He is also one of six players to hit at least .320 for six consecutive seasons alongside Stan Musial, Wade Boggs, Rod Carew, Tony Gwynn, and Todd Helton. All but Helton are in the Hall.
Sports Illustrated’s Jay Jaffe, who spends endless hours crunching numbers to evaluate Hall of Fame candidates, says Martinez is one of the top 30 or 40 hitters of all time. Martinez outdistanced David Ortiz in career WAR 68.3 too 55.4. Most consider fellow DH Ortiz a clear cut Hall of Famer, steroid issues aside. Martinez is one of 25 players with at least eight seasons with OPS+ greater than 150. All who are eligible and not connected to steroids are in the Hall of Fame except two: Dick Allen and Martinez. He also has the fourth best career OPS (.933) among right-handed hitters in the modern era … And still not enough Hall of Fame votes.
The anti-DH faction among baseball writers has weakened over the years, but is still clearly present. There are several players who have appeared extensively as a DH already in the Hall, including Carl Yastrzemski, Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Jim Rice. But most of these players played the majority of their games at other positions — usually first base or outfield.
Elected in 2004, Paul Molitor served as his team’s DH for nearly 44 percent of the games he started. Two years ago, Frank Thomas became the first HOFer to DH in the majority of his games played. Martinez played DH for 71% of the games he started. If Martinez is not elected before his expiration date, Ortiz will likely become the first almost-full-time DH to receive baseball’s highest honor. Ortiz collected more hits, home runs, and RBI than any other DH.
The designated hitter first proposed during the 1890s as the designated pinch hitter. Connie Mack took credit for the idea in 1906. NL owners actually approved the DH rule in December 1928, but were ironically overruled by their AL cohorts. In 1940, the Bushrod League, a California winter circuit, adopted the DH. In 1969 the International League experimented with the DH for a year.
After nearly eight decades of debate between league presidents, owners, and players, the American League finally approved the DH before the 1973 season. On April 6, Ron Blomberg, became major league baseball’s first designated hitter when he drew a first-inning, bases loaded walk from Luis Tiant on a cold, windy Opening Day at Fenway Park.
A pulled hamstring forced the 24-year-old first baseman to his new position. If Matty Alou, batting third for the Yankees, didn’t stroke a two-out double in the first inning, the Red Sox Orlando Cepeda, the first player signed specifically for DH duty, would have made the history books. Although the Red Sox won the game 15-5, Cepeda, the prototype DH, went 0-for-6, the only Red Sox starter to go hitless.
AL owners hoped the DH would increase offense, give aging sluggers the chance to extend their years of productivity, and increase attendance. The three-year experiment worked. AL teams were scoring more runs, league attendance rose from 11.4 million to 13.4 million, and older stars were extending their careers.
Cepeda was exactly what the AL owners had in mind when they adopted the DH. The 35-year-old former first baseman entered the season with bad knees and 358 career home runs, and had driven in over 100 runs five times in his career.
In 1973, Cepeda played all of his 142 games at DH for the Red Sox, hitting 20 homers and 86 RBI — excellent power numbers for the time — winning the first Associated Press Designated Hitter Award.
The DH helped sluggers such as Cepeda, the 1958 NL Rookie of the Year with the Giants and the 1967 MVP with the Cardinals, achieve Hall of Fame status. Cepeda, elected by the Veterans Committee in 1999, finished his career with 379 home runs (21 as a DH) and 1,365 RBI.
The DH is now widely accepted and used in some form in most leagues from high school to the majors. The final hurdle to its acceptance as an actual position may be a deservedly wider presence in the Hall of Fame.
As David Ortiz climbs the charts among baseball’s all-time great sluggers, we see the name Jimmie Foxx appear in the record books over and over again, but for some reason Ole Double-X is seldom discussed. Dubbed “The Beast” because of his powerful right-handed swings, Foxx was one of the most underappreciated players in baseball and sports collectibles history.
Hall of Fame pitcher Lefty Gomez once proclaimed, “When Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon, he and his space scientists were puzzled by an unidentifiable white object. I immediately knew what it was. That was the home run ball hit off me in 1937 by Jimmie Foxx.”
Foxx equaled or surpassed the production of nearly every slugger not named Babe Ruth, but he his rarely mentioned among baseball immortals such as Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle et al — and the demand for his baseball cards lag considerably behind baseball’s most revered sluggers.
Foxx hit at least 30 home runs and tallied 100 or more RBI from 1929 with the Philadelphia Athletics to 1940, his fifth season with the Red Sox. His 20-year total of 534 home runs ranked second to Ruth for many years. His 58 home runs in 1932 fell just two short of Ruth’s single-season record. Interestingly, two home runs were taken away from Foxx because of rain and 10 more were lost because of newly constructed outfield screens in Cleveland, St. Louis, and Philadelphia that were not erected until after Ruth hit 60. So if the baseball stars were properly aligned in 1932, Barry Bonds would have eclipsed the magical number of 70 set by Foxx.
While serving as the Red Sox first baseman, Foxx quickly learned to take advantage of the cozy confines in front of Fenway Park’s famed Green Monster. In his first three seasons with the Red Sox, he hit 41, 36, and 50 homers respectively.
Yankee Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey said of Foxx’s ridiculous power, “If I were catching blindfolded, I would always know it was Foxx who connected. He hit the ball harder than anyone else.”
The toughest Foxx baseball card to find in reasonable condition is the 1934 Goudey (#1). First cards of vintage sets received the brunt of the rubber band damage that decimated so many ’50s and ’60s baseball cards. A handful of PSA-8 versions exist, selling for $8,200, a remarkable buy considering ’34 Goudey PSA-8 Gehrig cards command as much as $15,000.
Foxx, provided Boston with their first bona-fide star since Ruth was sold to the Yankees in 1919. Double XX set Red Sox records for home runs (50) and RBI (175) during his 1938 MVP season. More than just a slugger, Foxx won the Triple Crown in 1933 and excelled defensively, primarily as a first baseman, but also as a catcher, third baseman, and outfielder.
Foxx was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951, but strangely there has been little or no protest over the Red Sox failure to retire his number. Surely someone who is mentioned in the same breathe as Ruth and Gehrig deserves the same elite status as Joe Cronin, Bobby Doerr, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Carlton Fisk and Wade Boggs in Red Sox annals.
Playing his only season with the Red Sox in 2006, infielder Mark Loretta told the Boston Herald that “Foxx never received the credit he deserved for being one of the game’s all-time great sluggers.” Loretta honored Foxx by wearing number 3. Foxx, who played 20 seasons for the Philadelphia Athletics (1925-35), Red Sox (1936-42), Chicago Cubs (1942 and 1944) and Philadelphia Phillies (1945), is arguably the best slugger not to have his uniform retired by any team.
Modern day cards of Foxx are somewhat limited, but affordable. His 2005 Upper Deck Trilogy Bat displays a vintage photo of Foxx in his Philadelphia Athletics uniform with a piece of an actual Foxx baseball bat embedded into the card can be had for under $45 — a great buy for limited card serial numbered to just 99.
Wade Boggs is getting his due. Sixteen years after retiring from baseball, Boggs will have his number 26 placed on the Fenway Park right field facade, alongside the numbers of eight other Red Sox greats and baseball legend Jackie Robinson. The delay likely had something to do with Wade Boggs jumping ship and winning aWorld Series with the Yankees.
The Hall of Fame third baseman was one of the best hitters to ever wear a Red Sox uniform. His .338 Red Sox batting average is second to only Ted Williams. He won five batting titles and six Silver Slugger awards to go along with seven consecutive seasons with 200 or more hits during his 11 years with the Red Sox. His great eye at the plate combined with high batting averages produced remarkable peak seasons. From 1983-1989, Boggs hit .352 with a .446 on-base percentage, leading the AL in OBP in six of those seven years.
A model of consistency at the plate, Boggs produced a slashline of .328/.415/.413 with 3,010 hits in 18 big league seasons. A poor fielder his rookie season, Boggs worked to become one of the game’s better fielding third basemen, earning two Gold Glove Awards. Boggs also made 12 All-Star Game appearances.
Boggs is a key player in the popular 1983 Topps Baseball Card Set. Considered by many collectors to be the top series of the ‘80s, the ‘83 Topps set includes rookie cards of Boggs, Tony Gwynn and Ryne Sandberg as well as the second-year card of . The dual-photo format — an action or posed photo behind a small circular head shot in the lower righthand corner — has been a fan favorite over the years. Borrowed from the 1963 Topps series, the format allowed Topps to feature a wide-array of action photos without neglecting the traditional head shot.
Midway through the 1982 season, Boggs took over third base from reigning AL batting champion Carney Lansford, who landed on the disabled list with an injured ankle. Lansford never regained his job and was eventually traded to the Oakland A’s. Boggs made him expendable by hitting .349 for the season.
After quickly establishing himself as one of baseball’s premier hitters, Boggs — like Gwynn — was somehow excluded from the 1982 Topps Traded Set. Following a brilliant rookie campaign, Boggs was featured prominently in the 1983 Topps, Fleer and Donruss rookie checklists. Boggs’ elite status continued on the field as the second-year rising star lead the AL with a .361 batting average.
Relative newcomers to the world of baseball card collecting in 1983, Fleer and Donruss played second fiddle to Topps in production, marketing and distribution of their baseball card sets. As a result, Boggs’ rather drab-looking Fleer and Donruss rookie cards were not received with the same fanfare as the first-year Topps issue. Decent versions of the Fleer and Donruss rookies are available for $3-$5.
Because Boggs never hit for much power, except for that one season in 1987 — when many observers suspected baseballs had a little extra “bounce” — his rookie cards may have never reached their full potential. Traditionally, the rookie cards of sluggers are more sought after than the rookies of high-average hitters. Gwynn rookie cards may be slightly undervalued for the same reason. Never known for power, Boggs hit 24 homers in 1987 — when home runs were hit at an unprecedented pace — but never collected more than 11 in any other season.
The 1983 Boggs Topps rookie currently sells for $8 in decent condition with highly-graded versions commanding as much as $50. Because of minor production flaws and gum-stained card backs, the highest-graded versions are extremely rare.