With the anticipated arrival of the designated hitter in the National League in 2022, the New York Mets will have plenty of DH options to choose from on the current roster. The first time the Mets used a designated hitter was in Game 3 of the 1986 World Series; Danny Heep got that honor. Eleven years later, Butch Huskey became the first Mets DH in a regular-season game when he batted fifth against the New York Yankees on June 16, 1997 -- the same day that Dave Mlicki tossed a shutout at Yankee Stadium.
But what if the Mets had a DH years before Heep or Huskey took the field?
Say that the DH came to both leagues, instead of just the American League, starting in 1973. Who might the Amazins have slotted into that role? It likely would have been a player who possessed a strong bat but was weaker defensively, so those characteristics provide a useful starting point to come up with theoretical historical DHs.
Let’s take a look at three past Mets players who, if there had been a universal DH back when they played, could have filled that role in Flushing.
The man known as “Kong” was the definition of “feast or famine” at the plate. When he connected, the ball generally went very far -- Kingman hit just .236 with a .302 on-base percentage over his 16-year career, but he slugged 442 home runs along the way and had seven seasons with 30-plus home runs. Back in the day, purists likely didn’t think much of Kingman’s “all or nothing” approach at the plate, but put his numbers in today’s game, and he would have been a star.
Nearly all of his home runs were no-doubters, like these two he blasted against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sept. 10, 1975.
Unfortunately, Kingman’s awe-inspiring baseball prowess did not extend to his defense. He twice led the league in errors, as a first baseman in 1974 and as a left fielder in 1981. Kingman also posted a career defensive WAR (per Baseball Reference) of -16.7 and had a positive dWAR in only one of his 16 total seasons, which came in 1973 with the San Francisco Giants.
FanGraphs’ defense statistic is no kinder to Kingman. The full name of the stat is “defense – fielding and positional adjustment combined (above average),” and over his career, the Sky King registered at -162.2 in that department. By comparison, Kingman was at 107.5 on FanGraphs’ “offense – batting and base running combined (above average)” statistic.
We often hear of “defensive specialists” in today’s game, but Kingman was clearly an “offensive specialist.” It would have greatly benefited the Mets in the mid 1970s and early 1980s if he could have been used solely as a designated hitter.