The 10 best pure hitters
Well ... there were a few people who were not too crazy about my
• Very angry
I suppose those weren't the people I expected to hear from. I mean, hey, I sort of figured everyone here knows how I feel about
And then it occurred to me that what these folks craved -- what it seems so many people craved -- was a list of the 10 best PURE hitters. But what's the difference between "pure" hitter and "great" hitter? Hard to say. I can remember from a very young age hearing announcers talk about how someone is a "pure hitter."
Best I can tell, a pure hitter is someone who:
1. Has a high batting average.
So, yeah, I put together a little "pure hitter" formula that considers hits, batting average, consistency, longevity and the ability to avoid strikeouts. And I threw a little subjectivity in there. I think this list will make more sense to those Tony Gwynn and Pete Rose fans -- and not only because they are prominent on the list.
I should add: This list is only from 1947 on. Two reasons for that, one being the obvious one.
1. Obvious: There's no way I could tell you that
I know there are people who think that we talk TOO MUCH about segregation in baseball, but when it comes to lists and discussions like this I think we actually talk about it way too little. Many of the best players of the 1950s and 1960s (all-time greats, really) would have played in the Negro Leagues 10 or 20 years earlier. When you see all the the names, it's pretty staggering:
... Right there you have 25 greats or near greats, all making their debut in the big leagues in about an 18-year period, 1947-64. And there are more, of course. It's a staggering assortment of talent. So we can only imagine how much talent was in the Negro Leagues in the 18-year period from 1930 through '47.
2. The pure hitters from before integration are already well known to baseball fans -- Cobb,
For this list, I started in 1947 -- and every player with 5,000 at-bats and a lifetime .290 average was eligible.
From 1961 through 1972 Clemente hit .331, which was by far the best average over that time period. Only five players hit .300 in the 1960s (min. 4,000 plate appearances) -- Clemente, Rose, Aaron, Robinson, Mays. Clemente, of course, led the way. Of the five, only Robinson had a .400 on-base percentage (or anything even close). Clemente walked only 428 times in 6,231 plate appearances in the 1960s, which is staggering enough. It's even more staggering when you realize that 132 of those were intentional. Clemente came to the plate to hit.
Molitor was a great old hitter, of course. This made him difficult for me to appreciate for a while. From age 20 through 29 he hit .291, he was injury plagued and he had the drug issue. Because of this, my picture of Paul Molitor was as a pretty good player, but nothing special: Sort of a rich man's
And then at age 30, blammo, the guy hits .353, punches up a 161
In 1980 Brett hit .469 with runners in scoring position. He hit .425 when the score was within a run either way. He hit .534 when there was a man on third base. I know these are tiny sample sizes, but that's not my point: You know how seriously baseball people take such numbers.
Brett was intentionally walked 16 times all year.
That's it. He didn't even lead the league in intentional walks --
Teddy Ballgame would have been much higher on the list, of course, except I'm starting in 1947 -- and he only barely made the 5,000 at-bat cutoff after 1947. If you were doing a historic list of greatest pure hitters EVER, Williams and Cobb probably would be where you start.
Here's a fun Williams' stat: Take away his last three seasons, and he walked 1,796 times and struck out 592. That would be a better than 3-to-1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
From 1955 through '74 -- that's 20 seasons -- Aaron never hit fewer than 20 homers and never hit 50. He batted .300 14 times, never struck out 100 times, led the league in doubles four times, runs three times, RBIs four times, slugging percentage three times, batting average twice, hits twice and sac flies once. See this is the thing about Aaron: He was a great hitter. He is best known for breaking Ruth's career home run record, and that's good because it was an amazing achievement, especially when you consider the circumstances of his chase. But more than that, he was a great hitter with those remarkable wrists and the ability, year after year after year, to hit baseballs hard.
I just talked about how Hank Aaron is best known for the home run record and and in a weird way the rest of his game is underappreciated because of that. I think the same is true for Rose and the hit record. On the one hand, the hit record is his proudest achievement, the one that keeps him in the history books. He calls himself "The Hit King," and nobody would argue the point.
Thing is -- and I'll admit that I might be the only person in the world who sees it this way -- the hit record in some ways diminishes just how good a player Pete Rose was. Pete played until he was 45 years old so he could get the record, and he was not a particularly good player the last seven years of his career. I think that's the Rose people remember -- the chunky Rose who hit .274 and slugged .333 from 1980 through '86. Obviously he did win the World Series in 1980, and that helped solidify him in the minds of many as a true "winner," but if he had retired after the 1979 season, these would have been his career achievements:
.312 batting average, 3,372 hits, more than 1,700 runs scored, 126 OPS+, a Rookie of the Year award, an MVP, three batting titles, four times leading the league in runs scored, three times in doubles, six times in hits, a couple of Gold Gloves. That's an absolute slam dunk Hall of Famer -- probably 98 or 99 percent of the vote -- and that's the Pete Rose that people saw play in the 1960s and 1970s. That right there is one of the purest hitters in baseball history.
But then he faded to the finish line. And then, of course, we know what happened. Rose got the hit record, and it's a remarkable achievement. I suspect that record could stand for a long, long time. But in a weird way, he might have lost something with that record, too.
Carew was famous for having a slightly different batting stance for every pitcher. And I love that the Minnesota Twins signed
From 1969 through '83, Carew hit .300 every year. He hit .338 for the entirety of the 15 seasons.
A player is a fool, obviously, if he does not take advantage of every gift he is given. Wade Boggs hit .369 in more than 3,000 at-bats at Fenway Park. In his career he hit .354 at home, .302 on the road. In his five batting-title years, he hit .397, .418, .357, .411 and .382 at Fenway Park. It would not be right to say that Boggs was a Fenway Park creation, but there seems no doubt that he used it to his full advantage.
So what does that say about Boggs? This is one of the tricky parts of context. How much differently would we view Boggs if he had signed with, say, the Oakland A's? (He hit .241/.338/.304 in 393 plate appearances in Oakland.) Would he have adjusted his game to the park? Would he have won those batting titles anyway because he had such a great eye, and because great players adapt to their environment? Or would we have an entirely different view of Wade Boggs?*
If you include his pre-1947 years... well, we're not including those. But if you do, he's a Top 5 pure hitter, I think. Here's a great stat: In 1943 Musial had 701 plate appearances and struck out 18 times. EIGHTEEN TIMES. I realize the competition level was a bit down, but 18 times... that's a bad week for
Could Gwynn have hit .400 in 1994 had the strike not come along? I think it's certainly possible. He was absolutely at the top of his game -- from 1993 through 1997 he hit .368 in almost 2,500 at-bats. He won the next three batting titles. He hardly every struck out . He was hitting the ball hard -- he had a .568 slugging percentage when the season was shut down, the highest of his career.
Two amazing things about that season:
1. In 110 games Gwynn hit into TWENTY double plays. Only 12 men have hit into 30-plus double plays in a season -- Gwynn had a real shot at it.* How about a guy who hits .400 and hits into 30 double plays?
2. Gwynn finished SEVENTH in the MVP voting that year. I'm not a batting average guy, I think we all know that, but how about a guy who hit .394 finishing seventh in the MVP voting? To be fair, the Padres were terrible, and