What’s a “pure hitter” anyway?

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That Wade Boggs post put the term “pure hitter” — as in “he’s the best pure hitter …” — in my mind. You hear it a lot. Boggs was called that. Tony Gwynn. Rod Carew. Whoever is the batting champ type at any given time tends to have that moniker hung on him.  But I really don’t get it, actually. And in some ways it seems like a backhanded compliment at best, a bit of obfuscation at worst.

As it is commonly used, “pure hitter” seems to mean “a hitter for average but no real power.” No one ever called Barry Bonds “the best pure hitter of the 90s” or whatever. Ted Williams is often called the best hitter who ever lived and maybe he was, but no one ever calls him a “pure hitter.” Why? Too many homers!  To be a “pure hitter” you sort of have to be a contact hitter. Which, in effect, distorts the term “pure” to mean “one dimensional.”

And when you do that, are you not giving a backhanded slam to great contact hitters? Tony Gwynn was a GREAT HITTER. There can be no denying that. I get that when you call him a “pure hitter” you’re trying to give him his own category so you’re not comparing him to Mike Schmidt or Barry Bonds — a comparison Gwynn would lose because they were better and more productive than him overall — but adding that “pure” on there has the effect of adding an asterisk. Of signaling that he’s not the best, even if you intended to give him a compliment. I don’t think that’s the idea any more than I think it diminishes Gwynn or whoever to note that, well, maybe he wasn’t the absolute best even if he was outrageously good at a certain thing. You can be great at some stuff and not great at others and still be great. Saying a guy doesn’t do one given thing well isn’t to say he’s bad at baseball.

And if “pure hitter” is a backhanded slam to the contact hitters, it’s a front-handed slam to more well-rounded hitters. Is there something “impure” about a guy who mixed in a bunch of homers, walks and strikeouts to his hit total? Hank Aaron had over 3,000 hits even if you took all his home runs away! No one ever calls him a “pure hitter.” But is there anyone you’d rather have at bat than Hank freakin’ Aaron?

I know I’m spilling a lot of ink on something almost 100% unimportant in the grand scheme of things. But “pure hitter” is a phrase that bugs me. It’s in the same league as a lot of other broadcaster phrases that sound good and give the illusion of imparting wisdom but which really serve to obscure what’s going on in a baseball game and what’s important (see also “nice piece of hitting” and “professional hitter”).

I wish we could cut that junk out.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. named ALCS MVP

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Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series after his club punched its ticket to the World Series on Thursday night against the Astros.

Coincidentally, the Astros’ Game 5 starter Justin Verlander was ALCS MVP last year en route to a championship.

Bradley went 0-for-3 with a walk in Thursday’s Game 5, but he hit a three-run double in Game 2, a grand slam in Game 3, and a go-ahead two-run home run in Game 4. That’s nine RBI and three extra-base hits across five games. He also drew four walks.

Though Bradley had a solid regular season, he was not near the top of the list most people would’ve expected to win ALCS MVP heading into the series. During the season, he hit .234/.314/.403 with 13 home runs, 59 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 535 plate appearances.