Baseball's Greatest Hitters of the 80s

Rickey Henderson takes off for second base as Eddie Murray covers first.  Note Cal Ripken at shortstop in the background.  All three are in baseball's Hall of Fame.
Rickey Henderson takes off for second base as Eddie Murray covers first. Note Cal Ripken at shortstop in the background. All three are in baseball's Hall of Fame. | Source

Game Winning Hitters

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.

The left-handed hitting Brett had a distinctive and effective batting stance.
The left-handed hitting Brett had a distinctive and effective batting stance. | Source

Batting Leaders of the 1980s

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 All-Star 9 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.

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 decade. 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.

"Steady Eddie" Murray played first base for the Baltimore Orioles and the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 80s decade. 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.

Five out of ten years he hit over .300, and in all but one of those years (17 in 1986), he hit over twenty home runs. Murray was named an All-Star six times during this span.

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.

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.

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.

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 callup (1982, when he hit .289).

Tony Gwynn died on June 16, 2014 at age 54 after losing his battle with cancer.

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.

Milwaukee Brewers infielder, Paul Molitor, had a great Nineties decade, 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).

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: One 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 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 have a batting average as high as Tram's usually, 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).

Alan Trammell's reliable bat helped the Detroit Tigers win the World Series in 1984.
Alan Trammell's reliable bat helped the Detroit Tigers win the World Series in 1984. | Source

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. Also led the AL in runs scored (133) and triples (15).

Cal Ripken Jr., 1983: 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 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. The 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 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.

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Comments 29 comments

Wendell Patterson profile image

Wendell Patterson 4 years ago from Alabama

Great article , I love to study of the history of the game


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for reading and commenting, Wendell Patterson. That's the great thing about an older institution like baseball, there's so much there to digest for devoted fans.


josh3418 profile image

josh3418 4 years ago from Pennsylvania

Jason,

This is an incredible article on America's favorite past time! I appreciate the time and effort you put into making this hub! I am only 25 years old so it is awesome to learn from when I was not alive! This is much appreciated! Thanks again for sharing Jason, and have a great day!


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for the great comment, josh3418. I like Billy Beane's (portrayed by Brad Pitt) comment in Moneyball, "How can you not be sentimental about baseball.' I remember all the players on this page fondly. Their batting prowess was something I tried to emulate and, later, teach to others.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 4 years ago from Virginia

Excellent hub....and I am very glad to see my favorite baseball player from the 1980s making your list.....I followed Dwight Evans through the newspaper box scores(how come I could not grow up with the internet?) from 1975 to his final year in Baltimore.....every year I rooted for him to get the magic 100 RBIs....the man could get on base I think he was of the few people to reach base over a 4,000 times in his career.

The rest of your selections are all very memorable players....I enjoyed reading and remembering all these great players....although I have to admit I never really liked Rickey Henderson....but he was very talented.

Voted up and awesome.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Both Rickey Henderson and Dave Winfield developed some bad press while playing for the Yankees. I try to remember that most stars who play for NY go through that. Dwight Evans was valuable to the Red Sox because the other guys in the lineup drove in so many runs, and Evans always seemed to be standing on first base! Thanks for your personal memory, it means a lot, Cogerson.


ruprect profile image

ruprect 4 years ago

Nice article - I hadn't thought about those guys for a long time - it brought back many good memories. I remember following the Molitor hitting streak - awesome


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for reading, ruprect. I saw Paul Molitor play in Tiger Stadium a few times. He was one of my favorite players of the era, too. And, of course, as a designated hitter in the 90s he was one of the best ever.


Paul Kuehn profile image

Paul Kuehn 4 years ago from Udorn City, Thailand

Jason,

This is a very nice, interesting hub and I can't disagree with any of your choices as greatest hitters of the 80s. As a long time Brewers fan, I'm extremely happy that Molitor, Young, and Cooper made your list. During the early 80s they batted 1-3 in Milwaukee's lineup. Voted up and sharing!


summerberrie 4 years ago

My nephews play baseball-thought I'd share this with them via facebook!


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Paul Kuehn. Cooper, in particular, is overlooked by many. I remember watching him play, and he was a very dangerous hitter.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks so much summerberrie! I hope your nephews enjoy the article.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

Batter up it's another homerun of a hub for you Jason! Well done! :)


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, Sunshine625! When I write for HubPages, I swing for the fences.


Sunshine625 profile image

Sunshine625 4 years ago from Orlando, FL

And you hit outta the ballpark! Can you sign my ball? :)


tillsontitan profile image

tillsontitan 4 years ago from New York

Back when baseball was still the heart of the matter, not the paycheck! Great players, great hub!

Voted up, useful, and interesting.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

@Sunshine625 - *scribbles 'Babe Ruth' on your ball*

@tillsontitan - The NFL has a 16-game schedule. The NBA and NHL play 82 games. Major League ballplayers play a 162-game schedule. Being on the field so much and traveling weathers and ages the players like no other professional sport. They deserve nice paydays.

That being said, I liked the dialogue between Shoeless Joe Jackson Ray Liotta) and Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) in Field of Dreams:

"Shoeless Joe: Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game... The sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?

Ray: Yeah.

Shoeless Joe: I used to love travelling on the trains from town to town. The hotels... brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd, rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd play for nothing!"

Thanks for reading and commenting.


theframjak profile image

theframjak 4 years ago from East Coast

Great hub. I love reading about baseball history. However, Don Mattingly should also be on this list somewhere. I was a big fan back in the '80s and remember that the great hitters of the time were Brett, Gwynn, Boggs, and Mattingly. From '84 to '89 he averaged .327 wuth 27 homers 203 hits, and 114 RBI per season. Not too shabby.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, theframjk, for pointing out my omission. Mattingly was a great hitter, and his knack for driving in big runs was very important to the Yanks in those days. I've added him to the article.


Bff 4 years ago

Signed your baseball !


Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

Wesman Todd Shaw 4 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

Thanks for the great article. I started watching baseball in 1986 when I was twelve years old, and I've loved it ever since, and am in the process of watching the Rangers Vs The Yankees this very evening.

You sure mentioned all my faves, as my memory of times gone by slips, its hard to dispute anything said, but regardless, I was too busy enjoying it.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 4 years ago from United States Author

Baseball in the 80s produced some very memorable hitters (and pitchers). I'm glad you enjoyed the article Wesman Todd Shaw, and thanks for stopping by!


Raymond Bureau profile image

Raymond Bureau 3 years ago

I enjoyed this a lot, Jason. I would also like to add Andre Dawson to your list. He was a very solid hitter with the Expos and Cubs throughout the decade. He had very good power and hit .285 with 250 HE in the 80's. He also averaged 20 steals that decade.


jpgr6270 3 years ago

I am biased to the fact that I grew up during the eighties, but I feel that decade was probably the last legitimate one of pure talent. Once we begin to reach the '87-88 seasons and the emergence of Canseco and McGuire, everything changed at that point. Not to say that baseball still doesn't remain exciting but players went from being regarded as superstars to super athletes (machine-like). Could it just be the nostalgia of my youth, maybe but again, reminiscing of the likes of Brett, Puckett, Mattingly, Boggs, Gwynn, etc... brings up the argument that this group could be some of the best to play the game?


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 3 years ago from United States Author

@Raymond Bureau - The Hawk was a fine player. His numbers in 1987 (in his first season with the Cubs) were unforgettable: .328, 49 HR, 137 RBI, and a .568 SLG PCT.


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 3 years ago from United States Author

@jpgr6270 - Thanks for reading and commenting. The baseball era 1990-present will be judged critically by historians many years from now. Those of us who lived to see the transition from the 80s to the 90s will know there was a difference. Players body fat decreased, steroid use was on the rise, and training technologies made athletes into super-athletes. And those of us who lived to see modern baseball turn futuristic will never forget the Orioles' lead-off man, Brady Anderson, hitting fifty home runs in 1996 (he never hit more than 24 in the other years of his 15-year career) . I suppose that period of baseball history will be viewed as a time of growing pains. The stats were skewed by some questionable tactics in the Commissioner's office and by the rampant use of muscle and stamina heightening drugs.


olderbutnotwiser 2 years ago

I take it you're an American League fan. No Mike Schmidt? Three NL MVPS...


Jason Marovich profile image

Jason Marovich 2 years ago from United States Author

I stand corrected! The slick fielding third baseman walloped 295 dingers and knocked in 839 runs from 1980-1987. Thanks for pointing out the omission, olderbutnotwiser.


olderbutnotwiser 2 years ago

That's OK. I have a tendency to favor the NL...

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    Jason Marovich profile image

    Jason Marovich164 Followers
    39 Articles

    Jason played organized baseball in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. He grew up a fan of many of these incredibly gifted major league hitters.



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