Why Has No True DH Been Elected to the Hall of Fame — Yet? – Society for American Baseball Research

    Edgar MartinezThe Designated Hitter has been the way of life in the American League since 1973. With this extensive history, it prompts the question “Why has no true DH been elected to the Hall of Fame — yet?” Naturally, the next is “Will there be a DH in the Hall, and when and who will that be?”

    first, it is necessary to determine how many players have played enough games in dh to be considered members of the hall of fame. from 1973 to the conclusion of the 2017 season, only nine players appeared in 1,000 or more games at dh. All of them are retired from the game, and two are in the Hall of Fame: Frank Thomas and Paul Molitor. Thomas was the designated hitter in just 56.42 percent of the games he played, while Molitor’s percentage was even lower at 43.76.

    Reading: Dh in hall of fame

    clearly neither thomas nor molitor was a “real” dh. his election to the hall of fame was based on career numbers that went far beyond his dh stats. His license plates don’t even mention his dh activities.

    here are some other interesting facts about players with at least 1000 games on dh:

    • david ortiz is the only one to have appeared in at least 2,000 games, and he is the only one with 2,000 hits, 250 home runs, or 1,500 RBIs.
    • only edgar martinez y molitor has an average batting over .300.
    • edgar martinez is the only one with an obp of .400.
    • four of them (ortiz, martinez, thomas and travis hafner ) have a slg over .500.
    • don baylor is the only one with an ops under .800.
    • only ortiz and martinez have an ops over .900.

    table 1: players with 1000 or more games as dh: selected statistics

    table 2: games as dh as percentage of games played (min. 1,000 games)


    games like dh

    total games

    percent as dh

    travis hafner




    david ortiz




    hal mcrae




    Edgar Martinez




    harold baines




    Frank Thomas




    don baylor




    chili davis




    paul molitor





    as mentioned above, there have only been nine players who appeared in 1,000 or more games at dh from its introduction in 1973 to 2017. how does this compare to defensive positions during that same time period? Table 3 shows that there were almost four times as many left and right fielders, five times as many third basemen and catchers, six times as many center fielders, first basemen and second basemen, and seven times as many shortstops.

    table 3: players appearing in 1,000 or more games by position or role (1973-2017)


    number of players



    second base


    first base


    center field




    third base

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    right field


    left field


    designated hitter



    According to this analysis, the designated hitter has not had a “full-time” baseball role like the positions. the dh has been considered a one-dimensional player throughout its 45-year history, and carries a stigma as such. It begins with the fundamental ideology of baseball. wade boggs said it best recently:

    I think everyone who plays this game wants to be recognized as a complete player, not a one-dimensional player. it’s all in one. Basically, you have two jobs. one of them is four or five plate appearances each game; the other is playing defense for eight or nine innings.1

    Baseball is a game steeped in tradition and slow to change. boggs statement echoes this mentality.

    dh was not considered a career option in the period from 1973 to 1990.

    players in the dh role during that time period can be divided into five categories.

    • players like molitor, harold baines and andre thornton, who transitioned to dh after beginning their careers as regulars on the field. the reason for the change used to be an injury that would have resulted in the end of the player’s career were it not for the new dh rule. This category would also include players like Tony Oliva, who after years of wear and tear on his knees would have been a defensive liability had he been forced to play the field to keep his bat in the lineup. Oliva was able to extend his career for four years (1973-76) by becoming a full-time dh.
    • Older players like Reggie Jackson and Ted Simmons, who began their transition playing time on the course and some in dh to give them what today is considered a half day off to rest their legs.
    • Former NL members like Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda and Billy Williams, who moved to American League to extend their careers as designated hitters.
    • players like greg luzinski, who would be classified as “professional hitters” because they were a liability to his team defensively.
    • some players , like thomas and eddie murray (who also fit into the second category above), who started out as designated hitters to get their bats into the lineup before their defensive position was available.

    Before the introduction of the dh, players in the first three categories had two options, retire or become pinch hitters limited to one at bat per game. now, as a designated hitter, they could get four or five at-bats a game. a new mindset was created for the player as he was no longer playing in a defensive position. The best way to describe this mindset is the advice he gave to Ron Blomberg, Major League Baseball’s first DH, and Elston Howard, his coach at the New York Yankees, who gave him these words of wisdom: “Hit and then hit.” Sit down. ”2

    The data in Table 4 supports what we just discussed. Clubs for the most part have not had full-time DHs since their inception. To clarify, a full-time designated hitter is a player who has enough plate appearances in that role during the season to qualify for the league batting title. Since 1973, only 25 percent of American league teams (158 of 627) have employed a full-time DH. the rest have rotated players in that job. further review reveals a low of 0 percent in 1980 to a high of 43 percent achieved in four seasons (1982, ’91, ’94 and 2007). it’s hard to imagine that no team used a full-time dh during the 1980 season! in five seasons (1976, ’80, 2008, ’12 and ’14), fewer than 10 percent of teams had a full-time DH, and three of those five seasons occurred in the last 10 years. Throughout its history, the dh has largely been a rotation position used to give players half a day off.

    table 4: enough plate appearances as designated hitter to qualify for batting titles

    1) To qualify for the batting title, the rules require 3.1 at-bats for each game the team plays. for a 162-game season, 502 plate appearances are required.

    2) the 1981 and 1994 seasons were shortened by strikes. for those seasons, the number of plate appearances was calculated for each team based on the number of games played.


    Table 4 also supports the idea that the dh is for older players whose defensive skills have deteriorated. as shown, 52 percent of full-time dhs since 1973 were age 35 or older. this ranges from a low of 0 percent in three seasons (1980, 2005 and ’12) to a high of 100 percent in five seasons (1974, ’76, ’86, 2008 and ’14). Furthermore, in 18 of the 45 seasons (40 percent), full-time DHs over the age of 35 accounted for 60 percent or more of the total. those stats begin to explain why there haven’t been any dhs elected to the hall of fame.

    For baseball writers in the united states to elect a player to the hall of fame, the player must have been active for 10 seasons in the major leagues. If you consider 1,000 games over 10 seasons to be 100 games, or about 62 percent of a season’s games, that doesn’t leave many full-time dh candidates eligible for consideration. a better yardstick would be how many designated hitters over the 45-year span had at least 10 seasons in which they had enough plate appearances (502) to qualify for a batting title.

    table 5: most seasons as designated hitter with 502 plate appearances



    david ortiz


    Edgar Martinez


    chili davis


    paul molitor


    Frank Thomas


    don baylor


    harold baines


    travis hafner


    billy butler


    kendrys morales


    rich carty


    hal mcrae


    brian downing


    david parker


    george brett


    jim thorne


    willie horton


    Andre Thornton


    david kingman


    12 players tied

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    35 players tied



    David OrtizA review of the table explains why no true full-time DH has been elected. There has been only one true full-time DH with a career of at least 10 seasons. David Ortiz is that one player, but he is not even eligible for election to the Hall of Fame until 2022. Edgar Martinez is probably the other best-known DH, but two key points to keep in mind are the fact that he only played 68.27 percent of his games as a DH, and he only had nine seasons in which he had enough plate appearances as a DH to qualify for the batting title.

    Baseball, in addition to being a game driven by statistics, has a subjective and intangible nature. So while we look to the stats for answers, there are other factors that provide clues as to why no true dhs are inducted into the hall of fame yet. When asked this question, John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, responded by quoting Branch Rickey:

    baseball people are generally allegorical to new ideas; It took years to persuade them to put numbers on uniforms, and it’s the hardest thing in the world to get Major League Baseball to change anything, even the nails in a new pair of shoes, but eventually they will. . . . are bound to.3

    jeff idelson, president of the hall of fame, answered the same question this way:

    the bbwaa has the overwhelming responsibility of determining which players earn election to the hall of fame. The electorate chose three players who spent a lot of time as designated hitters, Paul Molitor, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, who played more than 800 games as designated hitters. Edgar Martínez, who has enjoyed great support, has played more than 1,400 games in that role. so designated hitters get consideration for cooperstown and are represented, and rightly so.4

    this begs the question “does a dh belong in the hall of fame”?

    thorn replied to that:

    yes, because that’s how it’s been played for 45 years. resistance is similar to what relief pitchers once faced, which led me to write relief pitcher eons ago.5

    idelson replied:

    I believe all eligible players should be considered for Cooperstown regardless of position and I feel very comfortable with whomever the writers choose. they have done a fabulous job.6

    Looking into baseball’s crystal ball, it would appear that Martinez will be the first “almost” true designated hitter to be enshrined in Cooperstown. The definition of a true dh for this article is a player who has at least 10 seasons with enough plate appearances as a dh to qualify for the batting title. Martinez, as mentioned above, had nine. Even though Martinez has been classified as a near-true DH, there are extenuating circumstances that must be considered. Martinez’s career first began with cups of coffee in 1987 and 1988, and then he played primarily third base from 1989 to 1994. Then, from 1995 until his retirement after the 2004 season, he was a DH in 1,323 of the 1,403 games he played. disputed. this represented 94.30 percent of those games. Furthermore, he might have had all 10 seasons with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title had he not torn his left hamstring, requiring surgery, in 2002. Martinez was limited to 97 games (91 as designated hitter) and had 407 at the plate. appearances that season.

    during the period between his first year of eligibility in 2010 and 2015, martinez received a minimum of 25.2% of the vote in 2014 and a maximum of 36.5% in 2012. as of the 2016 elections , his candidacy gained strength. with 43.4 percent, followed by 58.6 percent in 2017 and then 70.4 percent in 2018, down 20 votes. the only caveat is that 2019 will be martinez’s last year of eligibility to be picked by the bbwaa writers.

    If Martinez can’t get the necessary 75 percent of the vote in 2019, it looks like Ortiz will be chosen as the first true designated hitter when he becomes eligible in 2022. His career stats as a designated hitter include .942 operations and 485 at home. bullfights, in general they are better than those of martinez.

    After that, who could or would be next? table 6 lists the most games as a dh among active players through the end of 2017. the player’s age has been included to interpolate to try to determine if the player will have enough games at the end of his career to qualify as a true dh.

    table 6: most games as dh among active players (until 2017)


    age at the end of the 2017 season

    games like dh

    victor martinez



    kendrys morales



    edwin incarnation



    albert pujols



    nelson cruz



    adam lind



    evan gatti



    joe mauer



    trumbo mark



    carlos santana



    no player is even close to the 1000 games mark. Victor Martinez has announced that he will retire as an active player after the 2018 season, so he will not appear in 1,000 games as a designated hitter in his career. only five active players have 500 games or more in dh. it’s interesting to note that the average age of those five players is 36, so one wonders how many more games they’ll play. there’s a big drop to sixth place, with 418 games, and then another to seventh to 10th place. they are all in the 200 game range. the average age of the players in this group is 32. the stats in this table further solidify that the dh is a rotational position.

    As analytics continue to be used, baseball executives believe it’s best to limit the starting pitcher to facing the opponent’s lineup about two times. Along with this thought, they feel it’s best to use a series of hard-pitch relievers in the late innings of the game. therefore, there is a constant need for help in the bullpen. One consequence of having more pitchers on the roster is that teams are playing with a bench of three or four players. it is necessary for these bench players to be able to play in multiple positions. as a result, a full-time dh has become even rarer than in the past.7

    Martinez and Ortiz will likely not only be the first players inducted into the hall of fame as designated hitters, they may also be the only players inducted into Cooperstown for the foreseeable future.

    john cronin has been a member of sabr since 1985 and has published several articles in “baseball research magazine”. he is a member of the minor league committee and the farm club subcommittee. His current research efforts are pre-1930 farm clubs. Cronin is a lifelong Yankees fan with a master’s degree in accounting from St. John Cronin University resides in New Providence, New Jersey and can be reached at [email protected]


    1 Hal Bodley, “Horse Sense: Wade Boggs’ triumphant image on horseback remains an indelible memory of a Hall of Fame career,” Memories & Dreams 40, no. 2 (2018): 33.

    2 George Vescey, Baseball: A History of America’s Favorite Game (New York: Random House, 2006), 181.

    3 john thorn, email correspondence with the author, May 10, 2018.

    4 jeff idelson, email correspondence with the author, May 2, 2018.

    5 spines, email.

    6 idelson, email.

    7 buster olney, “hitters who can’t beat the heat get left behind,”, May 20, 2018. /id/18519/olney-hitters-who-can’t-beat-the-heat-stay-back.

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