Lenny Harris didn't receive any hall of fame votes when he was eligible for the first and only time a few years ago, and Jesse Orosco managed all of one vote during his time on the ballot as well. This isn't exactly the most shocking news since neither of them had anybody's example of a hall of fame career, yet they were both arguably among the best ever in their roles in the game. In most years, the thought of someone like Matt Stairs being mentioned in the same breath as an all time great like Barry Bonds would be ludicrous. But because the hall of fame voters laid an egg and elected no one, this would be the perfect year to celebrate the not so greats who excelled in their particular niche. Pinch hitting has always been an important part of baseball and left handed relief specialists have evolved to become a necessary asset on any roster. Considering they are both rolls that tend to be utilized in the later innings when the game is on the line, perhaps it's time to officially recognize the players who were the greatest all time at pinch hitting and the loogies who were brought in to face them.
When Lenny Harris retired, he held many of the pitch hitting records including most hits and appearances all time, which was a testiment to his longevity in the role. Since the trend towards versatility on modern rosters is making the full time pinch hitter obsolete, it's likely his records won't be broken anytime soon. While Lenny Harris may be the most prolific pinch hitter in the game's history, there are many others who could lay claim to being the best. According to the pinch hit leverage index, Harris had a lifetime mark of 1.26, which was lower than many other all time pinch hit leaders except for Mark Sweeney, who had the second most hits all time as a pinch hitter but had only a 1.25 ph/ev.
Of all the players who accumulated enough pinch hits to finish among the all time leaders, Smokey Burgess had the highest ph/ev with a whopping 2.21. A heavy hitting catcher who was also an all star six different seasons, Burgess went on to drive in 134 runs as a pinch hitter, which was over thirty more than the next highest player. When he retired nearly fifty years ago, Burgess held many of the pinch hitting records and while they've since been broken he is still considered by some to be the greatest pinch hitter ever. The player who originally broke his record could also lay claim to being the best, as Manny Mota finished with a 2.07 ph/ev and was the only one other than Burgess to drive in more than 100 runs as a pinch hitter.
Another ex-Dodger who deserves to be in the discussion was Dave Hansen, who finished his career third all time in pinch hits, with a respectable 1.48 ph/ev. During his career, Hansen had at least 25 plate appearances as a pinch hitter in all but one of his 15 seasons in the big leagues. The lone exception was his first year when he had all of seven plate appearances as a 21yo, although three of those were as a pinch hitter. He also holds the record for the most home runs in a season as a pinch hitter with seven, although he falls short of Matt Stairs who hit a record 23 homers as a pinch hitter. Stairs finished his career with a 1.62 ph/ev, which was just behind another power hitter who might have had the greatest season for a pinch hitter in history. In 1961, Jerry Lynch received MVP votes in a year in which he came off the bench to hit 5 home runs and drive in 25 runs for the pennent winning Reds. Lynch finished his career with a 1.66 ph/ev and 18 home runs as a pinch hitter.
One player who didn't hit too many home runs in the role but is still in the top twelve all time in pinch hits is Red Lucas, who is notable mainly for being a starting pitcher. With an ops of .687 over his career, Lucas was frequently his team's top hitter off the bench on the days he wasn't on the mound. As a left handed hitter, old Red would likely have ended up facing his share of loogies if they'd existed in his day, but the left handed specialist is something that has only evolved in modern times. Pitchers like Arthur Rhodes, Mike Stanton and Dan Plesac filled up major league rosters year after year simply for being able to pitch to dangerous left handed hitters, and Jesse Orosco managed to linger well into his 40's because of his left arm. Orosco appeared in more games than any pitcher in the history of the game during his career, and many of them were to face one batter. Whether that makes him the greatest loogie of all time is open for debate, but he has to receive some praise for being in more games than anyone else.
If there's one pitcher who could make a case for being the best loogie ever, it would be Mike Myers. If there is ever an award in the future handed out to situational lefties it should be named after him, although not because he had the best stats. Myers lasted 13 seasons in the majors and never once had more innings pitched than games appeared, which is the definition of a true loogie. So come on Hall of Fame. Since the so called writers decided to drop the ball this year, perhaps it's time to honor the players who never came close to actual enshrinement but were still the greatest ever at the roles they had in the game.
If for some weird reason, the Hall of Fame actually agreed to enshrine a pinch hitter, who should it be?
Lenny Harris (2 votes)
Manny Mota (4 votes)
Dave Hansen (0 votes)
Matt Stairs (1 vote)
Smokey Burgess (4 votes)
Jerry Lynch (1 vote)
12 total votes