Ranking the Top 5 designated hitters in Red Sox history
There's only one choice for best designated hitter in Red Sox history, but just in case there's any doubt, we'll quote broadcaster Dave O'Brien with the signature call from his WEEI days: "DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ! DAVID ORTIZ!"
No sense in even pretending there's any suspense on this one. What's fascinating about ranking the Red Sox DHs, however, is just how few of them have actually held down the position for any length of time over the years. Only nine players have made at least 200 appearances there with the Red Sox since the DH was introduced in 1973, and four of them — Carl Yastrzemski, Jim Rice, Dwight Evans, and Manny Ramirez — have already appeared elsewhere in our outfield rankings.
That leaves five men to fill out the list, and about the only difficult omission is slugger Jose Canseco, who made 184 appearances between 1995 and 1996.
5. Don Baylor
This may be sentimentality speaking, since the 1986 Red Sox hold such a special place with children of the '80s, but Baylor was a pivotal figure on that team.
He arrived right before opening day in a DH swap with the Yankees (the other half of that deal appears later in this list). The 1979 MVP with the Angels, Baylor joined Boston with legitimate power and a penchant for being hit by pitches (he's 4th all-time with 267). He didn't disappoint on either count, blasting 31 homers and being hit a league-leading 35 times en route to a Silver Slugger Award. He was also a respected leader, instituting the Kangaroo Court that fined players for mental mistakes.
His two-run homer in Game 5 of the ALCS set the stage for Dave Henderson's heroics, and after that season ended in heartbreak, Baylor joined the Twins the following September before hitting .385 in the World Series win over the Cardinals.
4. Reggie Jefferson
If there's one unexpected sight on the all-time Red Sox leaderboards, it's Jefferson. But there he is, seventh in average (.316), right after Jimmie Foxx, and ninth in slugging percentage (.505), one spot ahead of Hall of Famer Jim Rice.
A classic Dan Duquette find — the Red Sox signed him in April of 1995 when the strike ended — Jefferson's prior claim to fame had been his part in a straight-up trade from the Indians to the Mariners for Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel. Jefferson spent five seasons in Boston and reached his greatest heights as a murderer of right-handed pitching after giving up switch hitting. He hit .347 in 1996 as a platoon player and then followed with a .319 average in 1997, good for eighth in the AL.
His Red Sox career ended in disappointing fashion, however, when he was left off the 1999 playoff roster because he couldn't hit lefties. He spent 2000 in Japan before retiring.
3. Mike Easler
The Hit Man occupied those lost seasons between the Yaz Era and the arrival of Roger Clemens as a superstar in 1986, but for two years in between, he delivered.
By the time he arrived in Boston in 1984, he had already been purchased or traded six times, including once prior by the Red Sox in 1977. Acquired the second time around from the Pirates — with whom he won a World Series in 1979 — for future 20-game winner John Tudor, Easler was outstanding in his Red Sox debut, batting .313 with a career-high 27 home runs and 91 RBIs. Alongside Wade Boggs, he gave the lineup two left-handed hitters happy to slice balls the other way off the Green Monster.
His numbers dipped a bit in 1985 to 16 homers and 74 RBIs before he was traded to the Yankees in the aforementioned deal that brought Don Baylor to Boston. He returned to Boston as hitting coach in 1993.
2. J.D. Martinez
When Ortiz retired following the 2016 season, the Red Sox discovered how difficult life could be without an alpha in the middle of their lineup. Everyone from Mookie Betts to Xander Bogaerts to Andrew Benintendi struggled, leading president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to target Martinez in the winter of 2018.
Signed during spring training to a five-year, $110 million contract, Martinez immediately delivered, hitting .330 with 43 homers and 130 RBIs and flirting with the Triple Crown. More importantly, he became the lineup's center of attention, à la Ortiz, taking the heat off of Betts, who won an MVP and never stopped crediting Martinez for his success. A cerebral student of hitting, Martinez followed up with 36 homers in 2019 before opting back into his contract.
If the National League adopts the DH for 2021, this could be Martinez's last season in Boston. If so, he leaves as the most important piece of a championship offense.
1. David Ortiz
What is there to say? The man who turned the Red Sox into winners through sheer force of personality, Big Papi will be remembered as one of the greatest clutch performers in Boston sports history alongside Tom Brady, Larry Bird, and Bobby Orr.
He walked off the Yankees on consecutive days during the magical ALCS comeback in 2004, and he finished his World Series career nine years later with one of the most overwhelming performances ever, hitting .688 en route to an MVP award vs. the Cardinals. But Ortiz was so much more than the big hits and the clutch moments. He personified Boston, never more so than during his famous, "This is our (bleeping) city," speech following the Marathon bombings. He retired with over 500 homers, including a team-record 54 in 2006.
He walked off for good in 2016 at age 40 by hitting .315 and leading the league in doubles, RBIs, slugging percentage, and OPS.