Boston's Top 5 designated hitters: Browne's take

May 18th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Ian Browne’s ranking of the top 5 designated hitters in Red Sox history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

Red Sox All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1) , 2003-16
Key fact: His 483 homers for the Red Sox rank him second in club history to Ted Williams

Where to start? The Red Sox picked Ortiz off the scrap heap in January 2003 after he was released by the Twins, and he turned into the most impactful clutch hitter in team history. It was largely due to the heroics of Ortiz that the 2004 Red Sox became the first -- and still the only -- team in history to overcome a 3-0 deficit in a postseason series. The fact that mammoth accomplishment came against the Yankees made it even sweeter. Curse of the Bambino? Once Ortiz came to Boston, he developed a Ruthian presence of his own. In those ’04 playoffs, Ortiz had three walk-off hits -- two of them homers.

Ortiz was a central figure in Boston’s World Series championship seasons of 2004, ’07 and ’13. If it didn’t seem like Ortiz could carry the club any more than he did in ’04, he somehow did in October of ’13. His grand slam with two outs in the eighth inning of Game 2 of the American League Championship Series tied the game and rescued the Red Sox when they were in danger of falling behind in the series, 2-0. In their World Series triumph against the Cardinals, Ortiz was an absolute machine, hitting .688 with two homers and six RBIs.

"I always felt like David was the first guy I ever played with who knew how I felt in October," Curt Schilling said. "The pulse was always elevated, the heart rate, the blood pressure. I treasured that feeling. I couldn't wait for that feeling. I was in love with that feeling. Is there any doubt that's exactly how David felt? It was his time. The '13 World Series might have been the greatest performance in the history of the World Series.”

Ortiz’s 54 homers in 2006 is a team record. He ranks fifth on the team’s all-time list in runs, sixth in hits, third in doubles, third in RBIs, fourth in walks, fourth in slugging percentage, third in extra-base hits and fifth in total bases. He isn’t just the best DH in Red Sox history, but arguably the best in baseball history.

2) , 2018-present
Key fact: His 79 homers over the last two seasons are second to Mike Trout among American Leaguers

In 2017, the year after Ortiz retired, there was a gaping hole for a Boston squad that suddenly became over-dependent on pitching. That all changed in the spring of ’18, when the Sox found a DH who put up Ortiz-like numbers. Martinez helped spark the Red Sox to the World Series in a monster first season, putting together a slash line of .330/.402/.629 with 43 homers and a Major League-leading 130 RBIs. Not only that, but he transformed the culture of the lineup by constantly leading discussions about hitting. Martinez is a thinking-man’s hitter and is often as involved in pregame scouting sessions as the coaches.

Though Martinez didn’t quite match those heroics last year, he remained a force to be reckoned with, hitting .304 with 36 homers and 105 RBIs. The beauty of Martinez is that he’s not just a slugger, but also a pure hitter. Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora frequently compared him to Manny Ramirez for his ability to hit with authority to all fields.

3) Reggie Jefferson, 1995-99
Key fact: Had a .981 OPS in 418 plate appearances in ‘96

Who? Exactly. Jefferson was overshadowed while sharing lineups with players like Mo Vaughn, Nomar Garciaparra and John Valentin on the Red Sox teams of the mid-to-late ‘90s. And he was a platoon player, generally only starting against righties. But Jefferson could really hit. Take a look at his ’96 season, when he slashed .347/.388/.593 with 30 doubles and 19 homers in just 386 at-bats.

Jefferson loved to hit at Fenway Park, where he could go to the opposite field and pepper the Green Monster. The only down note from his time with the Red Sox is that he left the team in the middle of the ’99 playoffs after being left off the AL Division Series roster.

4) , 1986-87
Key fact: Was part of a rarity -- a significant Red Sox-Yankees trade -- when he was acquired for Mike Easler just before the ’86 season

We have to go beyond the numbers a little with Baylor. It’s doubtful the Red Sox would have won the AL pennant in ’86 without Baylor’s presence in the clubhouse and the lineup. Boston had been known as a 25-players, 25-cabs type of entity until Baylor came in and changed that. He even instituted a kangaroo court, which led players to focus more on intangibles like driving in a run with a man on third and less than two outs.

Baylor got it done from the batter’s box also in that pennant-winning season, clubbing a team-high 31 homers to go with 94 RBIs. In short, he provided credibility for a squad that had many players who were inexperienced in pennant races. Baylor was fearless at the plate, getting hit by a career-high 35 pitches in ’86 and 267 for his career. If a pitch was coming in on him, he didn’t duck out of the way, but would instead turn a shoulder and take his base and never complain about the pain.

Before becoming a lumbering slugger, Baylor was a top athlete earlier in his career, stealing 52 bases for the 1976 A’s. He was the AL Most Valuable Player for the Angels in ’79.

5) Mike Easler, 1984-85
Key fact: Won a World Series ring with the ’79 Pirates

Though Easler never got to taste the playoffs in his short stint in Boston, he was a positive clubhouse presence with a classic upper cut to his swing. As part of a loaded Red Sox lineup in ’84, Easler more than did his part with a line of .313/.376/.516 with 27 homers and 91 RBIs. With numbers like that, you can see why Easler’s teammates loved to call him “The Hit Man." Easler wasn’t quite the same threat in ’85, but he still contributed with 29 doubles and 16 homers.

Honorable mentions
Yes, Jose Canseco was once a member of the Red Sox. The righty masher served as Boston’s DH in 1995-96, belting 52 homers in 882 plate appearances. The big problem was Canseco’s health made him unreliable. He was able to play just 64 percent of the available games in those two seasons. … Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda deserves a mention simply for being the first DH in Red Sox history. Though Cepeda played just one year in Boston, he pretty much did what he was hired to do, ripping 20 homers and driving in 86 runs. … A true DH by that point of his career, Jack Clark never wore a glove in the two seasons (1991-92) he played for the Red Sox. Clark smashed 28 homers for a ’91 team that was in the pennant race until the final few days of the season, but he slumped mightily in the final season of his solid career in ’92.