The best argument for the Designated Hitter?
Next time you're near a TV, watch a pitcher hit.
Or rather, watch a pitcher try to hit.
Sure, there's Mike Hampton. But he's just one man, and he's not getting any younger.
Ah, but what of the younger generation, those super-athletes who can do it all, and are supposed to prove that yes, pitchers really can hit?
In 24 major-league games, Mark Prior has seven extra-base hits (not bad!) but also has just two walks and a .204 batting average (bad!).
When Darren Dreifort wasn't pitching for Wichita State, he was a hard-hitting DH who hit .327 with 22 homers in his last college season. As a major leaguer, though, Dreifort's batting just .185. Yes, he does have nine doubles and six homers in 232 at-bats, but -- like Prior -- his poor batting average and plate discipline make him something less than a threat.
Rick Ankiel has some power, too -- some of us still remember those two home runs in 2000 -- but his .209 career batting average tells the true tale.
Even Mike Hampton, the poster boy for dual-purpose pitchers, hasn't been that good. Sure, he was fantastic with the Rockies. But if you take those two seasons (2001 and 2002) out of the equation, Hampton's batting .233 with a .298 on-base percentage and .280 slugging percentage. What's more, all 10 of Hampton's career homers came while he was wearing a Rockies uniform. So yeah, he's a decent hitter ... for a pitcher.
All of which is to say, the new Wes Ferrell is probably not just around the corner.
And exactly who (some of you might be asking) was Wes Ferrell?
Wes Ferrell was only the best-hitting pitcher since Babe Ruth. But there were others (if none lately) who could do some damage with the stick, enough damage to justify the eighth spot in the batting order and the occasional pinch-hitting appearance. Here are my picks for the five best-hitting pitchers since the Babe ...
1. Wes Ferrell (1928-1941)
With 38 home runs, Ferrell tops the career list for pitchers, and his .280 batting average is good for fourth on the list of pitchers with at least 500 at-bats. And Ferrell even drew a fair number of walks, resulting in his fine .351 career on-base percentage.
2. Red Ruffing (1924-1942, 1945-1947)
A Hall of Famer and one of the two or three greatest pitchers in Yankees history (at least according to my book), Ruffing's pitching record was significantly helped by his hitting. In part because he pitched forever, Ruffing's 98 doubles and 273 RBI both rank atop the all-time lists for pitchers (with Walter Johnson, who pitched even foreverer, second in both categories).
3. George Uhle (1919-1934, 1936)
If he wasn't famous for pioneering the slider, Uhle might be (moderately) famous for his hitting, because his .289 batting average is the record among pitchers with at least 500 at-bats. Uhle didn't have the power of Ferrell or Ruffing, but he sure could put the bat on the ball.
4. Red Lucas (1923-1938)
Red Lucas is the all-time champion among the pinch-hitting pitchers. According to Great Hitting Pitchers (SABR, 1979), Lucas' 114 career pinch-hits are almost twice as many as the next guy (Ruffing, with 58) on the list. In fact, Lucas held the MLB record for pinch-hits by any sort of player until catcher Smoky Burgess broke the record in the 1960s. Lucas finished his career with a .281 batting average in all at-bats.
5. Bob Lemon (1946-1958)
Lemon actually started his career as a third baseman, then played a few games in the outfield before they finally figured out he was a pitcher (and a good enough pitcher to eventually join Ruffing in the Hall of Fame). But while Lemon wasn't a good enough hitter to play in the outfield, as a pitcher he was a great hitter. With 37 career home runs, he trails only Ferrell.
Honorable Mention goes to Don Newcombe (1949-1951, 1954-1960), Schoolboy Rowe (1933-1943, 1946-1949) and Lynn "Line Drive" Nelson (1930, 1933-1934, 1937-1940; he deserves mention if only for his nickname) and Special Awards for Hitting Decently After Bob Lemon Retired go to Ken Brett, Terry Forster, Rick Rhoden, Earl Wilson (35 career home runs), Don Drysdale (29 HRs) and ... yes, Mike Hampton. But Hampton might be the last winner for quite some time.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes four columns per week during the baseball season. His new book, "Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Lineups," has just been published by Fireside. For more information, visit Rob's Web site.