It’s harder to define an intimidating hitter. It’s not about who the “best” hitter is—or else the list might begin and end with Ted Williams. Wade Boggs, Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn were superb hitters, but they were more frustrating than intimidating to pitchers. Sammy Sosa averaged 60 HR a season for four years, but his hop and smile didn’t intimidate anyone – meanness counts. At his peak, Edgar Martinez had no weakness as a hitter, but his preternatural calm seemed designed to lull, rather than panic. And it’s not just about size: Adam Dunn, Jose Canseco, and Dave Kingman could each launch a ball 500 feet; they were also out machines.
So how does one define “intimidating?” To paraphrase Don Sutton, it's the guy who doesn't just hit you; he takes your dignity. Boston's David Ortiz held the title for years, managing to terrify opposing pitchers while making everybody in the stadium smile. With his retirement, the opportunity is there for a young slugger to assume the mantle. Is it Giancarlo Stanton, who can warp a baseball (and, seemingly, the laws of physics) with the game’s most powerful swing? Bryce Harper, who channels the brash swagger of the game’s great intimidators? What of Mike Trout, who seems so good that lables may not apply? Or should we be looking beyond the land of giants, at someone like Jose Altuve, who can humiliate a pitcher in the box or on the bases?
For some context, a wholly unscientific, completely subjective list of the most intimidating sluggers in history:
9. Gary Sheffield: The swagger, the malice in the “bat wag,” the quickest, most violent swing in the game. Astonishingly, Sheffield also had one of the most level, controlled swings in the game.
8. Willie McCovey: A huge man with extraordinary power. His line drives were the stuff of legend. The fans knew when McCovey was coming to bat when opposing infielders took several steps back towards the outfield grass.
7. Frank Robinson: Mays played with glorious joie de vivre, Aaron with metronomic consistency. “The Judge” played hard.
6. Willie Stargell: He seems so… BIG in our memories. Even larger than his 6’1”, 200 Lbs. frame (a shortstop in today’s game). Maybe it was the sledgehammer he wielded in the on-deck circle (it was Stargell who inspired Sutton's great quip).
5. Dick Allen: A bad mother shut-your-mouth. And a great hitter. Swagger, scowl, strength: The physical embodiment of intimidation.
4. Josh Gibson: He may have been the strongest hitter who ever lived – to the game’s great shame we will never know. But the stories – what stories!
3. Ty Cobb: A vicious, whirling dervish of intent, Cobb may have been the most intimidating player to ever step onto the field. With the others on this list, there was fear of being embarrassed; with Cobb, there was fear of being hurt.
2. Babe Ruth: He looked like a pickled department-store Santa at the end, but Babe Ruth was the most feared hitter of his or any other era (until #1 on the list came along). Even today, the most majestic of home runs are described as “Ruthian.”
1. Barry Bonds: Intimidation isn’t really about stats. But: Bonds was intentionally walked 688 times. That’s more than Albert Pujols (302 as of this writing, second all-time) and Hank Aaron (293, third all-time) combined. More than George Brett, Willie Mays and Mike Schmidt, combined. In 2004 alone, Bonds was walked 120 times – more than the next eight category leaders combined. No one else in the history of the statistic has ever been intentionally walked more than 45 times in a season. Bonds in 2004 intimidated managers into playing a different game – one we hadn’t seen before, and won’t see again.
Who is the most intimidating hitter in today’s game? Let us know what you think in the comments.