Batters who can hit from both sides of the plate have long been valued in baseball. A select few of the greatest hitters in the history of the game have been switch-hitters, notably Mickey Mantle and Eddie Murray, both members of the Hall of Fame.
Despite the advantage that switch-hitters get in each matchup, only nine switch-hitters have ever won a batting title in more than 140 years in the major leagues. Only four have done so in the American League.
With about a week left in the season, Detroit’s Victor Martinez, a switch-hitter, ranks second in the American League in batting average. After Houston’s Jose Altuve went 3-for-3 on Friday to elevate his average to .343 it seems unlikely that Martinez can capture the title, even with a 2-for-4 performance that raised his mark to .335 on Friday evening.
If VMart does manage to win the title he’ll join these nine switch-hitting champions:
Mickey Mantle, 1956
Major League Baseball went more than 75 years without a switch-hitting batting title winner before Mickey broke the spell. 1956 was Mantle’s watershed season as he won not only the batting crown but also the triple crown. Just 24 years old, Mantle hit .353 and won the first of his three Most Valuable Player awards. Oh, he also led the Yankees to the World Series title.
Pete Rose, 1968-69, 1973
The first switch-hitter to win the batting crown more than once, Rose was equally adept at banging out hits from the right or left side. He won the MVP Award in 1973.
Willie Wilson, 1982
He might have been the fastest man to ever play regularly in the major leagues. At first, Wilson was a one-trick pony: able to beat out infield hits and steal bases. But by 1982 he was a good hitter, even from the left side, which was not his natural side. Wilson was a tremendous athlete who probably could have had a successful career in the NFL also.
Tim Raines, 1986
The speedy leadoff hitter nearly won the batting title a few other times too. In contrast to Wilson, who was also a quick outfielder, Raines was a more polished baseball player when he arrived in the big leagues.
Willie McGree, 1985, 1990
The only switch-hitter to win the batting title in both the National and American leagues, McGee was a line-drive hitter with excellent speed. In 1990 he narrowly beat out Eddie Murray (a noted switch-hitter) to win the batting title.
Terry Pendleton, 1991
The year after McGee won his second batting title in the National League, Pendleton had a career year with the lumber to win the crown. Pendleton was known for his defense, so when he slipped into a key offensive role for the Braves in ’91 it was surprising to most that the switch-hitter had a great season. He hit .319 and led the league in hits while helping the Atlanta Braves to go from worst to first in a single season.
Bernie Williams, 1998
One of the older switch-hitters to win the title, Bernie was 29 years old in 1998. Even an injury that shelved him for almost three weeks couldn’t slow Williams, who became the first Yankees’ batting champ since Don Mattingly.
Bill Mueller, 2003
With all of the batting titles the Red Sox have won, Mueller is the only switch-hitter to do so for Boston. The lesser-known third baseman had several clutch hits in his tenure with the Red Sox and he gained notoriety for hitting well against Yankees’ closer Mariano Rivera.
Chipper Jones, 2008
The oldest switch-hitter to win the batting championship, Jones did it at the ripe old age of 36. His .364 average is the highest ever by a batter who hit from both sides.