Opinion: With HOF class, the DH gets some respect

The designated hitter is finally getting some respect.
The most often mocked and maligned position in all of professional baseball since its introduction in 1973 will have not one but two players that proudly identify themselves as DH enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame this summer in Cooperstown, New York.
Earlier this week, the Baseball Writers’ Association of America voted four new members to the esteemed Hall of Fame. They were New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, two-time Cy Young Award winner Roy Halladay and 270-game winner Mike Mussina as well as Seattle Mariners beloved designated hitter Edgar Martinez — who made it on his 10th and final year on the writer’s ballot.
Martinez was a career .312 hitter, won two batting titles, made seven All-Star teams but never was even the best player on his own team. For years, Martinez was overshadowed by his teammates Ken Griffey Jr. and then Alex Rodriguez and the stigma of being “just” a DH hurt his chances.
Yet, in the post “Moneyball” era we now reside in there has been of more a appreciation (from the analytic and traditional baseball fans) for Martinez — thus resulting in Martinez getting only 27.0 percent of votes in 2015 to now his soon-to-be enshrinement.
Martinez isn’t necessarily a trailblazer.
Paul Molitor was the first player to play a significant part of his career at DH to be enshrined. Fellow Hall of Famer Frank Thomas played more games at DH than at first base but is still considered by many to be a first baseman.
Martinez himself didn’t become a full-time designated hitter until 1995 but that was his breakout season and from that point on he would forever be associated as a DH.
Martinez though won’t be the only DH taking the stage this summer.
Today’s Modern Game Committee (one of four special committees born out of the ashes of the old Veterans Committee that reconsiders players that have exhausted the standard decade of eligibility) struck first with the DH love back in December.
The committee elected 21-year big leaguer Harold Baines into the Hall of Fame. Baines was the first DH to participate in an All-Star Game (he was a six-time All-Star) and ended his career with 2,866 hits, 384 homers and 1,628 RBI.
The election of Baines drew plenty of ire from the sabremetric sect and media members. The question was asked how could a player with good but not great numbers, no major awards (best finish in MVP was 9th) and who was never considered one of the best players of era be allowed to become part of the hallowed halls of Cooperstown?
It is a fair question to ask.
When one thinks of Baines — Hall of Famer doesn’t spring to mind and in many ways he is somewhat forgettable when it comes to stars of that era.
Baines though is part of a recent trend of honoring the best players of the 1980’s — an era much like the DH position itself — that is woefully undervalued.
The division of the Veterans Committee back in 2016 into the Early Baseball (Prior to 1950), Golden Days (1950-69), Modern Baseball (1970-87) and Today’s Game (1988 to present) has also shown us a growing respect for that time period that had long been lacking support-appreciation by the BBWAA.
The underappreciated 1980’s star Tim Raines finally got in on his final year of the writer’s ballot in 2017. Then last year, the Modern Baseball Committee elected 1980’s star pitcher Jack Morris and shortstop Alan Trammell into the HOF. With the addition of Baines and fellow 80’s star relief pitcher Lee Smith this year, this will likely help pave the way for such 1980’s stalwarts Don Mattingly, Dave Parker and Dale Murphy the next time one of the committees casts a vote.
This acceptance and push for the DH, and closer positions to a lesser extent, also stems from the hard line stance several BBWAA voters have taken when it comes to those players associated with PED use.
The best hitter and pitcher of their generation, and maybe of all-time, appear that they won’t make it into the HOF on the writer’s ballot. Barry Bonds (59.1 percent) and Roger Clemens (59.5 percent) received the most support of anyone associated with the steroid era of baseball but with only three years left on the writer’s ballot they both still have a long way to go to reach the 75 percent threshold for enshrinement. Twice-suspended for drug policy violator Manny Ramirez (22.8 pct., 3rd year) and Sammy Sosa (8.5 pct., 7th year on ballot) meanwhile have even lesser odds of getting in.
The steroids era backlash will soon meet the new-found love for the DH in 2022.
That is when David “Big Papi” Ortiz will become eligible for the first time for the Hall of Fame. Ortiz did test positive for PEDs but the Boston Red Sox World Series hero also did a great job of owning it and the public seemed to forgive him and accept him — unlike the others mentioned here.
How ironic is it that on the first year of Ortiz being eligible to get into the HOF that it is also the last year Clemens and Bonds will appear on the ballot. And what if Ortiz gets in before Bonds and Clemens? That could very well be the most respect the DH position will ever receive and a prospect that appears closer to becoming more of a reality now than ever before.