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Top 10 Designated Hitters In Baseball History

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All of top 10 designated hitters of all-time - defined as a player who played a majority of games at the position - didn't start that way. They were outfielders, first basemen, even middle infielders. But as they aged, or because of circumstances on their American League teams, they stopped playing in the field and became experts in one area only: hitting. And they did it the best in the years since the designated hitter came into being in 1973. Presenting the top 10 DHs in baseball history:

1. Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Original position: First base

Teams: White Sox (1990-2005), A's (2006, 2008), Blue Jays (2007)

The "Big Hurt" was one of the most formidable players of all-time. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Thomas was a power-hitting, on-base machine for 19 seasons. He hit 521 homers, 1,704 RBI and a .301 career average and a .974 OPS, thanks in part to his 1,667 career walks. He hit .300, scored 100 runs, drove in 100 runs and walked 100 times in seven consecutive seasons, the only player to ever do that. In the strike-shortened 1994 season, he hit .353 with 38 homers and 101 RBI in just 113 games. He won a batting title in 1997 (.347), and hit 39 or more homers six times, including at age 38. Almost a certain Hall of Famer in 2014.

2. Paul Molitor

Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images

Original position: Second base

Teams: Brewers (1978-92), Blue Jays (1993-95), Twins (1996-98)

The only Hall of Famer on this list as of 2011, he played all over the diamond as a youngster in Milwaukee. He had a 39-game hitting streak in 1987, when he hit .353, and had some of his most productive seasons when he became a DH in his 30s. He won a World Series with the Blue Jays in 1993, hitting .500 in the World Series with two homers. He finished with 3,319 hits, ninth all-time, 504 stolen bases, 234 homers, 1,307 RBI and a .306 career average.

3. Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Original position: Third base

Teams: Mariners (1987-2004)

After a hamstring injury in 1993, he became a full-time DH and embarked on the best seasons of his career. Martinez was a line-drive machine, leading the league in doubles twice and winning two batting titles, hitting .343 in 1992 and .356 in 1995. He drove in 145 runs in 2000, when he hit a career-high 37 homers. Martinez also made five All-Star teams and finished with a .312 average, 309 homers and 1,261 RBI, and is a borderline Hall of Famer. He received 36.2 percent of the votes in his first year of eligibility. As of 2011, Martinez played more games as a DH than any player in baseball history.

4. Harold Baines

Harold Baines
Otto Greule/Allsport

Original position: Right field

Teams: White Sox (1980-89, 1996-97, 2000-01), Rangers (1989-90), A's (1990-92), Orioles (1993-95, 1997-99, 2000), Indians (1999)

Baines seemed to hang around forever, and had three stints with two different teams (the White Sox and Orioles). He never hit 30 homers and only surpassed 100 RBI three times, but defined the role of professional hitter for 22 seasons. His career numbers are borderline Hall of Fame-worthy (.289, 2,866 hits, 384 HR, 1,628 RBI), but he never picked up more than 6.2 percent of the writers' vote and is now off the ballot. He also hit .324 with five homers in 31 playoff games. Take away the 1981 and 1994 strikes, and he might have had 3,000 hits.

5. David Ortiz

David Ortiz
Elsa/Getty Images

Original position: First base

Teams: Twins (1997-2002), Red Sox (2003-)

He could still climb this list, and no matter what he does in the rest of his career, he'll always be cheered in Boston after his clutch hits in the Red Sox's incredible comeback in the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees. His stroke was made for Fenway Park, with the short porch in right field and the Green Monster in left. He hit 54 homers in 2006 and drove in 148 in 2005, and finished in the top five in MVP voting evedry year from 2003 to 2007. He won World Series with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 and had 12 playoff homers entering 2011. At age 35, midway through the 2011 season, he was approaching 400 career homers and had a career average of .282.

6. Don Baylor

Don Baylor
Getty Images

Original position: Outfield

Teams: Orioles (1970-75), A's (1976), Angels (1977-82), Yankees (1983-85), Red Sox (1986-87), Twins (1987), A's (1988)

Baylor was a formidable, intimidating force, and a tough guy who is perhaps best known as for being hit by pitches, a stat in which he led the league in eight times. (Only Craig Biggio was hit more in the modern era.) He was also fast, getting 285 career stolen bases. He drove in 139 runs in winning the MVP award in 1979. He hit 338 career homers, drove in 1,276 runs and won a World Series as the DH for the Twins in the second half of 1987.

7. Hal McRae

Hal McRae
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Original positions: Second base and outfield

Teams: Reds (1968, 1970-72), Royals (1973-87)

He never could become a full-timer on the loaded Big Red Machine teams, so he was traded to Kansas City and became the first player to make a career out of being a full-time DH. He played in the playoffs seven times in Kansas City, winning a World Series in 1985. McRae hit for some power (191 career homers), but also hit over .300 six times, and almost won a batting title in 1976, hitting .332. He was a doubles machine in his heyday, and had a career batting average of .290.

8. Chili Davis

Chili Davis
Stephen Dunn/Allsport

Original position: Outfielder

Teams: Giants (1981-87), Angels (1988-90, 1993-96), Twins (1991-92), Royals (1997), Yankees (1998-99)

A three-time All-Star, he was never a great outfielder but consistently hit for power and ran well (142 career SB). He hit at least 19 homers in a season for five differnt teams, and won World Series titles with the Twins and Yankees as a full-time DH. Only Eddie Murray and Mickey Mantle hit more home runs as a switch hitter than Davis' 350, and he had a lifetime average of .274 and 1,372 RBI in 19 seasons.

9. Brian Downing

Brian Downing
Ken Levine/Getty Images

Original position: Catcher

Teams: White Sox (1973-77), Angels (1978-90), Rangers (1991-92)

Downing broke in as a catcher, and in the first pitch of the first inning of his first game, he injured his knee badly making a diving catch near the dugout. Perhaps it was best to stay out of the field, then, even though he was a decent outfielder and wasn't a full-time DH until he was in his 30s with the Angels. He made just one All-Star team andnever had 30 homers or 100 RBI in a season (he came close a couple of times), but he finished with 275 homers, 1,073 RBI and a .267 career average.
 

10. Travis Hafner

Travis Hafner
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Original position: First base

Teams: Rangers (2002), Indians (2003-)

Has the second-best nickname on this list after the "Big Hurt" - Hafner was nicknamed "Pronk" by former teammate Bill Selby, which stood for half-project and half-donkey. One thing he could do from the time he was called up was hit, and he was one of the best in the AL from 2004 to 2007, getting 100 RBI every season. In 2006, Hafner his .308 with 42 homers, 117 RBI and an OPS of 1.097. A shoulder injury has tempered the power numbers since then, but as of August 2011, he was closing in on 200 career homers, 649 RBI and had a career .282 average.

 

Honorable mention: Andre Thornton, Cliff Johnson

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