Ortiz Or Thomas? Big Papi, Big Hurt And the All-Time Best DHs

by NESN Staff

September 12, 2009

Ortiz Or Thomas? Big Papi, Big Hurt And the All-Time Best DHs David Ortiz is on the verge of breaking Frank Thomas' record for most home runs as a designated hitter.

What does this mean? For lack of a better term, nothing. Yet, at least.

In fact, the achievement went almost overlooked by Ortiz himself, who had no idea that he reached the mark.

"I did?" Ortiz asked MLB.com when told of the feat after the game. "Wow. That's a good accomplishment. Frank Thomas is a 500-home-run hitter, so to be tied with him, that's special."

Despite the homer record, Ortiz will has some catching up to do before he can be mentioned in the same breath as the game's all-time best designated hitters. But that's not to say he's very far behind.

No. 34's 269 bombs in the DH slot is an unprecedented feat but the Red Sox slugger still trails Big Hurt and the rest of the great designated hitters of yore. When Papi smashes his 270th homer to break the record, it will go down as simply another big number just begging to get shattered. This is an era where clubs are tagging pitchers as career closers before they even lace 'em up and where big boppers arrive without even owning a glove. This record will go down as nothing more than an answer to a pub trivia question, no matter how high it grows, because it will likely be broken faster than Papi can say 'mango salsa.'

What this record will do, however, is spark is a pretty interesting debate. That is: where does Papi rank among the best designated hitters since the position's inception into the American League in 1973?

Currently, the Sox slugger is scratching the surface of a top-three ranking. Edgar Martinez, for whom the "Outstanding DH Award" has been renamed following his retirement in 2004 may go down as the greatest DH of all-time. Following the former Mariners All Star is Thomas, who is closely by Paul Molitor. Molitor, the longtime Brewer, spent less than half of his career as a DH but when he was penciled in as a '0' on the lineup card, Moliter made the most of his big bat.

Martinez, a third baseman by trade, played in 1,412 of his 2,055 games as a DH. After 18 seasons in Seattle, he maintained a career batting average of .312 to go with 309 home runs (243 as a DH) and 1,261, and average of 24 homers and 99 RBIs per season. The seven-time All Star and five-time Silver Slugger Award winner led the AL in batting twice (.343 in 1992 and .356 in 1995) and cracked the top six in on-base percentage 11 separate seasons, leading the league in three of them.

Molitor only played in 1,174 of his 2,683 career tilts as a DH, but the 21-year veteran smashed 102 of 234 career homers in that position, compared to 73 as a third baseman and 61 scattered throughout five other positions. Molitor wasn't a 'full-time' DH until the 1991 season, his 14th year as a pro. In those final eight seasons with the Brewers, Blue Jays and Twins, Molitor played some of his best baseball, earning four of his seven career All-Star game invites and averaging 15 homers and 97 RBIs per season in that span, compared to 14 homers and 79 RBIs per season in his 21-year career.

Perhaps born specifically to be a designated hitter, the Big Hurt became the epitome of the position. The 6-foot-5, 257-pounder hit at least 30 dingers in nine of his 19 seasons and drove in 100 or more RBIs in 11. Thomas didn't become a regular DH until 1998, his ninth season, but he had one of his most powerful campaigns in 2000, when he was a DH in 127 of 157 games. In a career that was spread out amongst three AL teams, Thomas averaged 36 homers and 119 RBIs per season, a stat that ironically mirrors that of Ortiz, who in 13 seasons, averages 35 homers and 119 RBIs per year.

When Papi's next seed goes sailing into the bullpen, off the pole or into the glove, hands or lap of a fan, give the big fella a Red Sox Nation-sized ovation. With a .282 batting average with 312 career longballs, 1,049 RBIs and a .544 slugging percentage in his career, Ortiz is on his way to DH immortality, ranking right up there with a trio of current and future Hall of Fame hitters.

As for now? He's still chasing them.

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