Baseball's Greatest Hitters of the '80s
For baseball fans, every decade brings new memories of spectacular displays of athleticism at the plate. Great hitters are remembered for their individual prowess, but on the baseball field, winning and losing as a team is what matters most.
The best hitters were, and still are, those who delivered hits when they were needed most by their respective teams. Hitting a towering solo home run means little if your team is down 10-0. Baseball is a game of runs. Scoring more than the other team is all that matters. Still, fans take notice of individuals who stand out in this team game. Great hitters should get notice—they are as important to baseball teams as the ace pitcher and great defensive fielder.
The 1980s was a decade of great teams. The men that excelled at the plate for those teams are forever etched into the memories of their fans. Where the 60s had many ballplayers who could do anything on the field, and the 70s saw the development of the pure power hitter, the eighties was a decade where most of the players that hit for high average didn't hit a lot of home runs. There began a clear definition between the power hitter and those that hit for average, stole bases, and scored runs for their respective teams.
Batting Leaders of the 1980s
1. George Brett
In 1980, Kansas City Royals' third baseman George Brett flirted with .400 and ended up winning the AL batting title and MVP Award with a .390 batting average. He also belted 24 home runs with 118 RBI. That year, he posted an incredible league-leading slugging percentage of .664.
For the decade, Brett was an All-Star nine out of ten years. In 1985, the Royals won the World Series and Brett won a Gold Glove. He won three batting titles and three Silver Slugger awards during the 80s, too. Brett played first base and third base during the 80s, both positions that teams like some power from. He wasn't a home run hitter, but he still provided the Royals with an average of 19.3 home runs from 1980-1989.
2. Robin Yount
A player with a batting stroke very similar to Brett's, albeit from the right side of the plate instead of the left, was Milwaukee Brewers shortstop/outfielder Robin Yount. The fellow Hall of Famer batted over .300 six out of ten years during the 80s. He wasn't a big home run hitter, but the ball shot off his bat and, many times, found outfield gaps. He led the league in doubles in 1980 and 1982 and led the AL in triples in 1983 and 1988. In 1982, he hit 29 homers with 114 RBI and a .331 batting average.
Yount was an All-Star three times in the '80s. Incredibly, he twice won the AL MVP award (1982, 1989), the first as a shortstop, the second as a center fielder.
3. "Steady Eddie" Murray
Murray played first base for the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 80s. He was an exceptional switch hitter, one who was also a threat to hit home runs from either side of the plate. Not since Mickey Mantle had the American League seen such a hitter.
For five out of ten years, he hit over .300, and in all but one of those years (17 in 1986), he hit over 20 home runs. Murray was named an All-Star six times during this span.
4. Wade Boggs
Wade Boggs was a left-handed hitting third baseman for the Boston Red Sox in the 1980s. He dominated the decade in the American League, seemingly a slap-hitting version of Ted Williams. Boggs won five batting titles during the decade. He led the AL in on base percentage six times.
The Hall of Famer wasn't a home run hitter, but in the eight years he played during the 80s, he hit an astonishing 314 doubles. Boggs was an AL All-Star in 1985-1989. He won five Silver Slugger awards in the 80s.
5. Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez hit over .300 six times during the eighties. The lefty first baseman was a very patient hitter, and he posted an on base percentage over .400 five times. 'Mex' went to the All Star game four times during this span, and he won two Silver Slugger awards. In 1982 and 1986, he and his fellow New York Mets won the World Series.
6. Rickey Henderson
Throughout baseball history, exceptional lead off men have always been a rarity. Rickey Henderson was one of those rarities. As a capable defensive left fielder for the Oakland Athletics and New York Yankees, the speedy Henderson hit over .300 four times during the 1980s.
With his ability to draw walks and get hits, Henderson had an on base percentage over .400 six times in the decade. He had a lot of power in his legs, which he used to lead the American League in stolen bases nine out of the ten years in the eighties. But he was able to use those strong legs to generate power in his bat, too. In 1985 and 1986, Henderson hit 24 and 28 home runs, respectively.
7. Tony Gwynn
Tony Gwynn was one of the greatest pure hitters to ever wear a baseball uniform. He wasn't particularly athletic-looking, but you know what they say, "Don't judge a book by its cover." Gwynn was a five-tool player who took slap hitting to a whole new level.
The left-handed hitting Gwynn won four batting titles in the 1980s (and four more in 90s) and the only year he hit under .300 was the year of his call-up (1982, when he hit .289).
Tony Gwynn died on June 16, 2014, at age 54 after losing his battle with cancer.
8. Don Mattingly
Don Mattingly didn't play his first full season until 1984, and he won the AL batting title that year. 'Donnie Baseball' was a power threat, too, winning the MVP award in 1985, hitting .324 with 35 home runs and 145 RBI. Perhaps even more amazing was that he led the AL in doubles that year, too.
Not to be overlooked were Mattingly's five gold gloves won in the 80s and his six All-Star appearances in that period.
9. Paul Molitor
Milwaukee Brewers infielder Paul Molitor had a great run in the nineties, but his efforts in the 80s should certainly not be overlooked. He hit over .300 five times during the period. He was good for a lot of extra-base hits (and some home runs) and was a threat to steal on opposing pitchers when he did hit a single. As a result, "Molly" led the AL in runs scored in 1982 (136) and 1987 (114).
10. Jim Rice
Jim Rice was a power hitting outfielder for the Boston Red Sox in the eighties. He averaged 21 homers per year during the decade, and he hovered around .300 most years, too. He was a big run producer for the BoSox, knocking in over 100 from1983-1986. He won two Silver Slugger awards and was a five-time All-Star during the 80s.
Memorable Detroit Tigers Hitters from the 80s
Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker were two of the greatest double play tandems to ever play baseball. 'Tram' and 'Sweet Lou' both provided memorable moments at the plate during the eighties.
Trammell won four Gold Gloves for his fielding prowess at shortstop, but he also hit over .300 for five out of the ten years in the decade. In 1987, he hit .343 with 28 homers and 105 RBI. That year, he posted an eye-popping .551 slugging percentage.
Lou Whitaker was a five-time All-Star during the 1980s. The sweet-swinging lefty made good use of the short right field porch at Old Tiger Stadium. And though he didn't usually have a batting average as high as Tram's, he was a patient hitter who made opposing pitchers pay if they made a mistake pitch.
Tram, Whitaker, and the other 1984 Tigers won the World Series that year.
Lance Parrish was only a lifetime .252 hitter, but during the eighties, he was one of the premier power hitting catchers in the game. His 225 home runs that decade made fans take notice, and 'The Big Wheel' was an All-Star seven out of ten years, wearing three different uniforms (Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies in the NL, and the California Angels).
Kirk Gibson won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1988 with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Overcoming injuries to both legs, the star outfielder mesmerized America with his postseason heroics that year.
Gibson is remembered fondly in Detroit, too. He was a former college football player that manager Sparky Anderson had high hopes for as a power hitter on his Tigers team. 'Gibby' didn't let Anderson down, hitting 108 home runs in a four year span for Detroit (1984-1987).
Big Batting Seasons in the 1980s
- Willie Wilson, 1980: The Kansas City Royals outfielder had a .326 batting average with a league leading 230 hits. He also led the AL in runs scored (133) and triples (15).
- Cal Ripken Jr., 1983: He led the American League in runs scored (121), hits (211), and doubles (47). The Baltimore Orioles shortstop batted .318 that year with 27 home runs and 102 RBI. To cap it all off, Ripken and the Orioles won the World Series that year.
- Tony Gwynn, 1987: The great Padres hitter posted a .370 batting average and scored 107 runs. That year he had a .511 slugging percentage and a .447 on base percentage. He also stole 56 bases.
More Great Hitters from the Eighties
- Cecil Cooper, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman, designated hitter: Led the AL in RBI in 1980 and 1983. Batted over .300 in 1980-1983.
- Carney Lansford, Oakland Athletics third baseman: Won the AL batting title in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Hit over .300 for five out of the ten years in the 1980s.
- Dwight Evans, Boston Red Sox outfielder: "Dewey" was a power hitter who had the uncanny ability to get on base. This combination resulted in the right-handed hitter leading the American League in OPS (on base percentage + slugging percentage) twice in the 80s (1981 and 1984).
- Dave Winfield, San Diego Padres and New York Yankees outfielder: Had over 100 RBI six times during the decade. Had a slugging percentage over .500 for an amazing four times and was an eight-time All-Star during the period.
- Kirby Puckett, Minnesota Twins outfielder: 'Puck' was a pure hitter, leading the league in hits in 1987-1989. He won the batting title in '89 with a .339 batting average.