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.

Video: J.D. Martinez hits league-tying 23rd home run

Seattle Mariners v Boston Red Sox
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The Red Sox and Mariners left nothing on the table Friday night, going head-to-head in a series opener that eventually ended 14-10 in the Sox’ favor. Led by Steven Wright and Wade LeBlanc — neither of whom made it past the fifth inning — the teams combined for 34 hits and four home runs, including two moonshots from Seattle’s Nelson Cruz and a five-run rally that gave Boston the edge in the seventh.

In the sixth inning, however, the Red Sox were still scrambling to make up a four-run deficit. Left fielder J.D. Martinez cut it in half with one swing, pouncing on an 89.5-mph fastball from Seattle right-hander Nick Vincent and posting it to dead center field for a two-run shot.

The 427-foot blast was Martinez’s 23rd of the season, tying Mike Trout for the most home runs in the league this year. While he still has a ways to go before eclipsing the career-best 45-HR mark he set in 2017, he’s off to a strong start this season: Entering Friday’s game, the 30-year-old slugger was batting .315/.386/.623 with a 1.009 OPS and AL-leading 55 RBI in 308 PA. He finished Friday’s game 4-for-5 with five RBI, just one triple shy of hitting for the cycle.

Heading into the All-Star Break, both Martinez and Trout still have some competition for the home run title. Jose Ramirez is sitting at 22 homers, while Nelson Cruz and Khris Davis are tied at 20 apiece.