Yankees' Top 5 designated hitters: Hoch'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 5 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 Bryan Hoch’s ranking of the Top 5 designated hitters in Yankees history. Next week: Right-handed starters.

Yankees' All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF

1) Jason Giambi, (2002-08)
Giambi signed an eight-year, $120 million contract with the Yankees prior to the 2002 season and slugged 209 homers with 604 RBIs over a turbulent run in pinstripes. Giambi won a Silver Slugger Award in his first season with the Yanks, batting .314 with 41 homers and 122 RBIs, and maintained his high on-base abilities throughout his tenure. The slugger’s two-homer performance off Pedro Martinez in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series helped to set up Aaron Boone’s pennant-winning homer.

A benign tumor shortened Giambi’s 2004 campaign, but he bounced back over the next two years. Giambi twice led the AL in walks (’03, ’05) and paced the circuit with a .440 on-base percentage in ’05, compiling a 22.0 bWAR and 143 OPS+ with New York. Giambi registered the final hit at the original Yankee Stadium, an RBI single, and his 619 walks and 109 hit-by-pitches were the most of any American Leaguer from 2002-08. He has apologized for using performance-enhancing drugs during his career.

2) Oscar Gamble, (1976, ‘79-84)
Instantly recognizable by a distinctive Afro hairstyle that refused to be contained by his ballcap, Gamble served two tours with the Yankees, hitting 17 home runs in 1976 before being traded to the White Sox in the deal that brought Bucky Dent to New York. Gamble returned to the Yanks in a July 1979 trade with the Rangers, and the lefty-swinging slugger batted .259/.361/.496 with 87 homers, 276 RBIs and a 141 OPS+ over his complete Yankees tenure.

“The Big O,” as Phil Rizzuto called him, utilized an unorthodox batting stance in which he stood in a deep crouch with his back nearly parallel to the ground. He played in three postseasons with the Yanks -- including the 1981 AL Division Series, when he homered twice to help power his club past the Brewers. Gamble retired with more walks (610) than strikeouts (546), and his quote about the Yankees’ unpredictability under George Steinbrenner -- “They don’t think it be like it is, but it do,” -- still makes the rounds.

3) Ron Blomberg, (1969-76)
The first overall selection of the 1967 MLB Draft, Blomberg’s arrival in New York carried great anticipation. A '73 Sports Illustrated cover touted Blomberg and teammate Bobby Murcer as the “Pride of the New Yankees,” intimating that they would comprise the next generation of pinstriped greatness. Though neither was destined for Monument Park, Blomberg compiled a robust .302/.370/.486 slash line with 47 homers and 202 RBIs (148 OPS+) during his time with the Yanks, tallying 9.5 bWAR.

Blomberg collided with history on April 6, 1973, at Boston’s Fenway Park, as manager Ralph Houk selected him as the first Yankee to bat under the new DH rule. The Yankees sent eight men to the plate in the first inning against Red Sox starter Luis Tiant, including the No. 6 hitter Blomberg, who worked a bases-loaded walk in the first plate appearance by a designated hitter in MLB history. The bat Blomberg held for that plate appearance resides in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

4) Darryl Strawberry, (1995-99)
Steinbrenner could never resist headlines or a redemption story, and Strawberry’s saga provided the ultimate opportunity for the slugger to make good on the New York stage following a lengthy battle with substance abuse. Returning from suspension, Strawberry played on three World Series-winning Yankees rosters, recapturing some of the magic that he had shown in his younger days across town with the Mets.

In 231 games as a Yankee, Strawberry batted .255/.362/.502 with 41 home runs and 114 RBIs (121 OPS+). Strawberry hit three homers in the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles and enjoyed a productive postseason in ’99, helping to power the Bombers past the Rangers, Red Sox and Braves to cap his 17-year career with a championship ring. Strawberry’s battle with colon cancer served as a rallying cry for the ’98 squad.

5) Don Baylor, (1983-85)
A 19-year veteran who was touted by Steinbrenner as the kind of “take-charge leader” he felt the Yankees had sorely lacked prior to his arrival, Baylor’s time in pinstripes was relatively short, but it was productive and bookended by Silver Slugger Awards.

An AL Most Valuable Player Award winner with the Angels in 1979 who later went on to manage nine big league seasons, Baylor is one of six men to win multiple Silver Sluggers as a DH -- listed alongside luminaries like David Ortiz (7), Edgar Martinez (4), Paul Molitor (4), Nelson Cruz (2) and Frank Thomas (2). With New York, Baylor compiled a .267/.345/.472 slash line, slugging 71 homers with 265 RBIs in 420 games (126 OPS+). He was traded to the Red Sox in exchange for Mike Easler prior to the ’86 campaign.

Honorable mentions
Carlos Beltrán (2014-16) offered veteran presence and a powerful stroke from both sides of the plate during his two and a half seasons in pinstripes, batting .270/.327/.470 with 56 homers, 180 RBIs and a 116 OPS+. ... Ruben Sierra (1995-96, 2003-05) was a part-time contributor for three memorable Yankees seasons, and delivered a clutch home run in Game 2 of the 1995 ALDS against the Mariners, going back to back with Don Mattingly. ... Danny Tartabull (1992-95) had just led the Majors with a .593 slugging percentage when he signed a five-year, $25.5 million contract with the Yankees on Jan. 6, 1992 -- the most lucrative contract in team history at the time. Tartabull’s first year with the Yanks was solid, but he was largely unable to live up to the expectations of his celebrated arrival and requested a trade during the ’95 season. ... Hideki Matsui (2003-09) was included on our list of the Yankees' top left fielders, as only his final two seasons in pinstripes were as a regular designated hitter. However, Matsui enjoyed one of the all-time great World Series performances as a DH, driving in six runs in Game 6 of the 2009 Fall Classic to secure MVP honors.