In the 42 years since their own Ron Blomberg became baseball's first ever designated hitter in 1973, the Yankees haven't made quite as great use of the controversial position as many of their American League competitors. They've never really had a star at DH, like a David Ortiz, an Edgar Martinez or a Harold Baines. Instead they've preferred to employ the spot as short-term parking for aging vets on smaller deals and as a rest vehicle for other regulars. That's changed this year, though, as soon-to-be 40-year-old non-All-Star Alex Rodriguez has taken amazingly well to full-time DH duty. Starting only three games in the field for the entire first half, A-Rod's hitting .279/.384/.516 with 18 dingers and a team-best 148 wRC+.
Using the criterion of more than 50% of one's games being played there, A-Rod is well on his way to what may be the best DH season in Yankee history. Here's a look at how Rodriguez compares with some other top contenders for that title.
Don Baylor, 1983
On December 1st, 1982, George Steinbrenner made headlines by signing Baylor, a 33-year-old former AL MVP who'd fallen on hard times over his final three years on the Angels, to a then impressive four-year, $3.675 million contract. Though he played only three of those seasons as a Yankee, the future inaugural skipper of the Colorado Rockies rewarded the Boss's faith in his first full season by hitting .303/.361/.494 with a 134 wRC+ that was third on a 91-win club, trailing only Dave Winfield and platoon catcher Butch Wynegar. Baylor played the field in only 7 of 144 games and placed second on the team in home runs with 21 and RBI with 85. He added 17 stolen bases and finished with an fWAR of 3.1, one of the better marks of his long career.
Jack Clark, 1988
The Yankees' signing of longtime Giants and Cardinals slugger Jack Clark to be their primary DH is generally seen as a bust because his batting average, home run and RBI totals all tailed off considerably from his fantastic '87 season in St. Louis. Through a modern lens, though, Clark was actually very productive in his lone season in New York. The 32-year-old hit .242/.381/.433, good for a 131 wRC+, which was second among Yankee regulars, topping Don Mattingly and Rickey Henderson. Clark led the team with 27 homers and 113 walks before getting dealt to San Diego for a slew of no-names led by Lance McCullers, father of the current Astros rookie of the same name.
Danny Tartabull, 1993
Danny Tartabull is another major Yankees signing of yesteryear that's unfairly maligned "because batting average." After a successful, if injury-shortened first year in New York in '92 that saw Tartabull post a .409 OBP and a 153 wRC+, the 30-year-old former Royal met the 50% DH criteria for the first time in '93 by playing only 50 of 138 games in the outfield. As the regular cleanup hitter on the Yankees' first winning team in five years - a team whose success is much more often attributed to Mattingly, Paul O'Neill and Mike Stanley - Tartabull batted .250/.363/.503. He led the team with 31 home runs, 102 RBI, a .253 ISO and a 15.3 percent walk rate.
Jason Giambi, 2006
Though he should never have been allowed anywhere near a glove, 2006 was only one of two of Jason Giambi's seven years with the Yankees where he DH'd more than he played the field. He barely made the cut at that, starting at DH 70 times compared with 68 at first. Still, a .253/.413/.558 batting line and a 147 wRC+ earns him a mention, as do 113 RBI and a team-leading 37 home runs in a season when the Yankees lost several of their other big bats to injury. The Giambino loses points, though, for being significantly worse when DHing, as he was for most of his career. In '06, he hit .224/.373/.531 when not in the field compared with .289/.459/.592 when at first, which forced Joe Torre to make do with his abhorrent defense much more often than he should have.
Hideki Matsui, 2009
After he missed major time with injuries in two of three years between 2006 and 2008, the Yankees decided to make Hideki Matsui their full-time DH. He didn't play a single inning of defense in '09 and it paid off with him posting his best offensive season in years. As he turned 35, Matsui slashed .274/.367/.509 with a 127 wRC+, 28 home runs and a .235 ISO. Godzilla's final rampage in pinstripes culminated in a dominant World Series performance where he hit .615/.643/1.385 over the six games against the Phillies and took home MVP honors.