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10 greatest designated hitters in MLB history

Home » MLB » Best Designated Hitters in MLB History: Greatest DHs of All Time

Even if they don’t contribute defensively, the best designated hitters in MLB history have all been special talents and among the best hitters of all time.

We just have to look past the fact that the greatest DHs ever don’t do everything. After all, they are only asked to swing the bat, and as long as they do that, they’re doing their job.

Best designated hitters in MLB history

Of course, now that the DH is universal, the competition to be one of the best designated hitters of all time will only grow more intense in the years to come. Even now, limiting our list to the 10 greatest designated hitters took some work and required hard decisions.

Unfortunately, we had to leave some truly talented hitters off our list. But here is our ranking of the 10 best designated hitters in MLB history. 

10. Travis Hafner

For whatever reason, Travis Hafner is often overlooked as one of the best designated hitters in baseball history. He didn’t have quite as much longevity as some others, but he did play 12 seasons in the majors.


That was enough time to hit 213 home runs while batting .273. He also hit six grand slams in one season, which is still tied for the all-time record.

9. Hal McRae

Throughout the 1970s and early 80s, it was tough to find a better DH than Hal McRae. He started his career with the Reds but hit his stride when he was traded to the Royals ahead of the 1973 season.

He would become a three-time all-star with the Royals while also helping Kansas City win the 1985 World Series. For his career, McRae hit .290 with over 2,000 hits, 191 home runs, and over 1,000 RBIs, just what you would expect from a DH.

8. Jose Canseco

Jose Canseco’s legacy is a complicated one because of his PED use. However, his resume, even if artificially inflated, is a good one.

He won Rookie of the Year in 1986 and MVP two years later. Canseco also led the majors in homers twice and was a six-time all-star. Perhaps most importantly, he became the first-ever member of the 40-40 club, which is nothing to scoff at, even if he had some help from PEDs. The same can be said of his 462 career home runs.


7. Chili Davis

Chili Davis was a trailblazer in the baseball world, becoming the first Jamaican-born player in the majors. He also ended up being one of the best designated hitters of all time and arguably the best switch-hitting DH ever.

Over his 19 seasons in the big leagues, Davis only made the All-Star Team three times. But he was consistent enough to rack up over 2,300 hits and 350 home runs. For what it’s worth, he played the outfield just as often as he was a DH during his career. But Davis was such an accomplished hitter, even late in his career, that he was able to extend his career by serving as a DH.

6. Harold Baines

Among left-handed hitters in the 1980s and 90s, Harold Baines had one of the sweetest swings one can imagine.

He showed incredible longevity, playing from 1980 to 2001. He hit over .300 eight times, helping him to finish with a career average of .289. With 2,866 career hits, 384 home runs, and six all-star selections, Baines finally got to Cooperstown in 2019. 

5. Frank Thomas

Affectionally known as the Big Hurt, Frank Thomas was one of the best pure sluggers of the 1990s and early 2000s. He got his nickname because he was consistently putting a hurt on opposing hitters.

Starting in 1993, he was an all-star in five straight seasons, finishing that run in 1997 when he was the battling title. Thomas also won back-to-back MVP awards in 1993 and 1994.

At the time of his retirement, he was just the seventh player in MLB history with an average over .300 and over 500 home runs. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Thomas was never linked with PEDs, making it easy to consider him among the best hitters of all time and a clear-cut Hall of Famer, getting elected to Cooperstown on the first ballot. 

4. Paul Molitor

Paul Molitor played the infield a little bit during his career, but his specialty was always with the bat, which is why he became such an impactful DH. He played 21 seasons in the majors, racking up 3,319 career hits while showcasing a little power with 234 home runs.

Molitor was an all-star seven times with his first selection coming in 1980 and his last coming in 1994, so he was consistently good for well over a decade. He also won World Series MVP honors with the Blue Jays in 1993. Once he got hits, Molitor was also able to impact games with his speed.

He remains one of just five players in MLB history with over 3,000 hits, an average of .300 or better, and at least 500 stolen bases, which ultimately helped to make him a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

3. David Ortiz

The man they call Big Papi was consistently overlooked during his career, but once he found a home in Boston, he turned into one of the best designated hitters in MLB history. For over a decade, he was a huge part of the Red Sox, helping them to break their supposed curse in 2004 and win two more World Series titles over the next decade.

During his career, David Ortiz led the American League in homers once and in RBIs three times. He was a seven-time Silver Slugger winner and a 10-time all-star. More importantly, Ortiz always seemed to come through in the clutch, winning ALCS MVP in 2004 and World Series MVP honors in 2013 on top of collecting 541 homers and over 2,400 hits in his career.

2. Jim Thome

While Jim Thome always did his best in the field, his bat made him the ideal DH. He spent the majority of his Hall of Fame career in Cleveland but ended up playing for six different teams during his 22 seasons.

Thome had the kind of power that only a few players can claim to have, smashing 612 homers during his career, putting him eighth on the all-time list. But he was so much more than an all-or-nothing hitter. He was a patient hitter who drew at least 90 walks 12 times and had a career on-base percentage of .402, as well as a career average of .276. In fact, his career OPS of .956 ranks among the top 20 players of all time.

1. Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is not only the best DH in baseball history but he also might be the most important DH.

After much debate among Hall of Fame voters about whether or not a primary DH deserved a spot, Martinez was elected to Cooperstown in his fourth season of eligibility, opening the door for other designated hitters.

His resume surely warrants a spot in the Hall of Fame and recognition as the best DH of all time. Martinez played 18 seasons in the majors, batting .312 while racking up 309 home runs and over 2,220 hits. He was a batting champ twice and a seven-time all-star. Historically, there are few players who can match his numbers, as Martinez is one of just 18 players to finish his career with an average over .300, an on-base percentage over .400, and a slugging percentage over .500 across at least 5,000 plate appearances. 

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