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.