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Orioles' Top 5 designated hitters: Trezza's take

@JoeTrezz
May 18, 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

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 Joe Trezza’s ranking of the top 5 designated hitters in Orioles history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

Orioles' Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1. Harold Baines, 1993-95, '98-99, '99-2000
Key fact: Elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame by Today’s Era Committee in 2019

Across parts of seven seasons with his hometown Orioles, Baines never once grabbed a glove. The six-time All-Star was the consummate designated hitter, making all of his 2,415 plate appearances in Baltimore at the position, accumulating almost 400 more than any other DH in club history. That volume helped Baines secure a near monopoly atop the club’s all-time DH leaderboards, where he holds Orioles records for runs, hits, doubles, homers and RBIs at the position.

A native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Baines was drafted by the White Sox with the top overall selection in the 1977 MLB Draft. The pick was made by future Orioles GM Roland Hemmond, who’d later bring Baines home for three separate late-career stints in Baltimore. He was a full-time DH by then, after knee problems ended his days playing the outfield after seven seasons.

But that never stopped Baines from being productive at the plate. He hit .300 eight times in his career, topped 20 homers in 11 seasons, was an excellent postseason performer and remained a steady offensive threat well into his 40s. All told, Baines hit .301/.379/.502 across parts of seven seasons in Baltimore, walking almost exactly the number of times that he struck out. He is one of the three full-time designated hitters enshrined in Cooperstown, and the only one to suit up for the O’s.

2. Lee May, 1975-80
Key fact: Led AL hitters with 109 RBIs in '76

Looking to recharge after consecutive years of falling in the American League Championship Series, the Orioles swung a series of deals in December 1974 with an eye toward reconfiguring their lineup. A day before acquiring Ken Singleton from the Expos, the Orioles made a swap with the Astros to acquire May, who was coming off seven consecutive seasons of 20-plus homers.

May homered in his first at-bat with the Orioles in 1975, then totaled 123 dingers over the next six seasons. But only the last three years employed him as a full-time DH, as May moved away from first base to accommodate an emerging star named Eddie Murray. Still, the man known as “Big Bopper” ranks second behind Baines among Orioles’ DHs in notable offensive categories like homers and RBIs.

3. Nelson Cruz, 2014
Key fact: MLB home run champion in '14

Perhaps the greatest one-year acquisition in club history, Cruz played a critical role in the O’s capturing the 2014 AL East title, their first division crown in 17 years. Signed to a discounted one-year deal the previous winter, Cruz hit .271 with 40 homers, 32 doubles, 108 RBIs and an .859 OPS, leading all MLB hitters in round-trippers. It was a career year at the time, which Cruz punctuated with All-Star honors and two key postseason homers.

Cruz left to sign a four-year, $57 million contract with Seattle the next winter, and he would hit at least 37 homers in each of the next five seasons with the Mariners and Twins. Still, he makes this list on the strength of his 2014 season alone.

4. Luke Scott, 2008-11
Key fact: Logged three consecutive 20-homer seasons in his first three years with the Orioles

The primary return in the December 2007 deal that sent Miguel Tejada to Houston, Scott’s sweet left-handed swing resulted in three productive years from '08-10. He was the O's main source of power during that time, hitting 75 of his 84 homers with the club. Scott improved each season, enjoying three straight career years before leaving for Tampa Bay following a disappointing '11 campaign.

In the end, Scott was arguably better in Baltimore than Tejada wound up being in Houston, and he certainly out-produced him after Tejada's short-lived return to Baltimore in 2010. Scott was statistically one of the AL’s six best hitters that season, hitting .284 with 27 homers and a .902 OPS.

5. Tommy Davis, 1972-75
Key fact: AL Outstanding DH Award winner in '74

A former two-time batting champ and longtime star with the Dodgers, Davis arrived in Baltimore via trade in August 1972 and settled in as their first primary DH when new rules were established the following season. He was well past his prime by then, but he enjoyed enough of a late-career resurgence to warrant a spot on this list.

The 34-year-old Davis hit .306 in his first full season in Baltimore in 1973, tying for second in the AL batting race. He placed second in the league with 181 hits the next season, capturing the AL Outstanding DH Award in the process. Davis received down-ballot MVP votes and helped the O’s to ALCS appearances in both those seasons.

Honorable mentions
Aubrey Huff highlighted his checkered and sometimes controversial 2 1/2 years in town by earning AL Silver Slugger honors in 2008, the year he hit .304 with 32 homers and a .912 OPS. ... Larry Sheets served as the O’s primary DH during their “Why Not?” summer of 1989. … Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome finished their Hall of Fame careers with short stints in Baltimore. … Ken Singleton, Eddie Murray, Mark Trumbo and others logged significant time at DH but were considered at other positions for this exercise.

Joe Trezza covers the Orioles for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeTrezz.