COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – If this year’s Baseball Hall of Fame induction class proved anything, it might be this: “Designated hitters are baseball players, too.”
With the induction of Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines in the 2019 class, the stigma that a designated hitter – a position created before the 1973 season — was somehow unworthy of baseball’s loftiest status has finally come to a merciful end.
While Baines gained induction status through the Today’s Game Era committee, which is composed of executives, former players and baseball writers, after failing to reach induction on the regular ballot, Martinez had to grind his way through the 10-year process, finally achieving the necessary votes to gain induction in his final year of eligibility.
The barrier has been broken.
“I think so,” Martinez said. “With both of us going in, there’s no doubt the DH should be allowed to get into the Hall of Fame.”
A player who specializes in offense is as valuable as a pitcher who specializes in one inning per game.
“I think it’s a big part of the game,” Martinez said. “The offense is part of the game, and the DH usually provides a big part of the offense. If that hitter is consistent and helps the team and makes the team better, he should be selected.”
He provided big offense during his career. And his overall hitting numbers are impeccable.
Martinez hit .312 with a .418 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage while amassing 1,219 runs, 2,247 hits, 514 doubles, 309 home runs, 1,261 runs batted in and 1,283 walks in 2,055 career games over 18 seasons – all in a Mariners uniform.
He is one of 14 players in MLB history to post a lifetime slash line (batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) of at least .310/.410/.510 in at least 5,000 career plate appearances. Of the 13 other players to do so, eight are Hall of Famers – Ty Cobb, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Hank Greenberg, Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Martinez becomes the ninth Hall of Famer of that group.
In 2,055 career games, Martinez appeared as the designated hitter in 1,403 games. He played 562 games at third base and 28 games at first base.
In 22 seasons, Baines posted a .289/.356/.465 slash line with a 2,866 hits, 488 doubles, 49 triples, 284 homers and 1,628 RBI. Once a talented outfielder, he was forced into a designated-hitter role after his body began to break down from his intense play. He appeared in 1,643 games as a designated hitter and 1,079 games as an outfielder.
Baines wasn’t definitive that a perception had changed, but was hopeful.
“We’ll see,” he said. “We are just the first two. Hopefully it opens the door for other people.”
The next designated hitter up for induction is David Ortiz. He might not need the door opened for him given his numbers, which include 521 career homers and a lifetime .286/.380/.552 slash line, 10 All-Star appearances and unforgettable postseason heroics.
“David should be the next one,” Martinez said. “I hope he gets in. Also hope he gets healthy soon.”
With many people in baseball expecting that a shift to a designated hitter in both leagues will happen within the next five years, it could become more widely accepted as a position.
For Baines, the shift to DH was out of necessity.
“In my case, I couldn’t go on the field because all of my injuries,” he said. “I just had to concentrate on hitting. I couldn’t help the team defensively. I could help the team offensively. It’s not totally easy to be a DH, but it made it easier for me cause that’s the only way I could keep a job.”
Martinez found himself in a similar situation.
“I think it helped me, too,” he said. “The reason why I became a DH is because of the injuries I had. My hamstring, then I had shoulder problems. Playing on the field would make them more difficult for me. It really helped me out.”
But it wasn’t easy from the start.
Martinez admitted that becoming a full-time DH was a challenge. He didn’t have the fielding aspect to keep him into games and force his mind away from failed at-bats.
“It takes some time,” he said. “At the beginning I had to find ways to have a routine that kept me engaged in the game, anticipating situations and always looking at tendencies of the pitcher and how the catcher called the game. All those things kept me busy enough where I was thinking that I just struck out with three men on base and we are losing or I made the last out of the game and we lost. I think it took a while but I was able to manage that.”
Perhaps it’s best to ask a man who to face a DH almost every game what he thought about it.
“You know the lineups are different,” said fellow inductee Mike Mussina about pitching against NL teams. “And that spot in the lineup is probably going to bunt seven out of 10 times if there is a guy on base. You put a DH in the lineup and it makes my job more challenging. That guy is not going to bunt seven times out of 10 and he’s going to hit .285 and drive in 75 to 100 runs depending on who he is. It makes the American League game different than the National League. And those two guys got a lot of hits at that position for a lot of years. They were if not the best, they were right at the top for designated hitters.”