Victor Jesus Martinez is a professional hitter. We often refer to players as such, but mostly they are position players. Victor Martinez, erstwhile catcher and first baseman, rarely takes the field for the Detroit nine. In post-1974 baseball, that’s not such a bad thing. Victor Martinez, or V-Mart, is a natural DH.
It wasn’t always this way: from 2004 through 2007, Victor played more than 130 games in the field for Cleveland, most of them as catcher. As recently as 2010, he caught 110 games for the Bosox and played another 14 at first base. But he was never a stellar receiver, and once allowed 100 stolen bases in a season. Since signing with the Tigers in 2011, Victor’s job is to hit. (Since he missed all of the 2012 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament and is now 35 years of age, this decision is even easier for the Tigers to make.)
This hitting-only thing? V-Mart has a pretty good handle on it; he had 41 hits in 31 games during August and was named the American League Player of the Month. He just might catch little Jose Altuve of the Astros for the batting title, although every time there’s a chance of that, Altuve has an outburst like Sunday and Tuesday against the Rangers and Angels—an 8-for-10 barrage that brought his BA back up to .340. Tuesday’s performance was classic Altuve 2014: a home run, his 50th stolen base, a double and two runs scored. (I say a season like this, despite Houston’s position in the standings, is worthy of MVP consideration.)
But back to V-Mart: if there were not a DH, would the Tigers have a place for him on the field? First base? Then where would Miguel Cabrera play? If he had to play the field, would he hit as well as he does now? He has a career-high 28 home runs–would he have that many if he had to drag his ass out to first base in Arlington on a hot Saturday afternoon, or throw on the catcher’s gear on a cold, breezy night in San Francisco? This is one of the great debates of the past few decades of baseball—is it fair to allow one player to specialize to this degree and rest while his teammates toil, to exclude the pitcher from the responsibility of batting, and the manager from thinking about replacing him?
Victor Martinez is from Ciudad Bolivar, capital of Bolivar state and the “gateway to the south” for Venezuela. Hard by the banks of the mighty Orinoco River, Ciudad Bolivar was originally called Angostura and is the place where the fame Angostura bitters, used in cocktails like the Manhattans and the Old Fashioned, were invented (by a German, no less). The Designated Hitter, conversely, has become much more than an additive to American League lineups. The DH is a staple of many a lineup: look at Big Papi Ortiz in Boston, to name one example: he is the rum in the pina colada, the Jack in the Ginger.
I hardly recall baseball before the Designated Hitter, although I do remember the Yankees’ Ron Blomberg being the first player to bat the position. I don’t want to be an Angostorian bitter old man, railing about the old days and sending the pitchers up to the plate, demanding that a slice of pizza be sold for 50 cents along with a subway token. But I would like to keep the distinction between the American and Natonal Leagues, a line which gets fuzzier with each Interleague game.
Let Victor Martinez bat. He is wonderful at the task. But if the Tigers make the World Series, and the game is in a National League park, also let him take the field. That’s not bitter; that’s just baseball.