He’s batting Cleanup?

Cleanup hitters . . . generally your most powerful hitters.  Baseball history (and the Hall of Fame) is full of legendary cleanup hitters.  Here are the players with most games batting cleanup in their careers:

Player Games Started
Eddie Murray 2038
Fred McGriff 1825
Willie McCovey 1607
Lou Gehrig 1537
Willie Stargell 1525
Jim Bottomley 1524
Greg Luzinski 1519
Dave Winfield 1466
Albert Belle 1446
Manny Ramirez 1439
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/21/2013.

A very representative list.  You wouldn’t think twice about slotting any one of those men in the 4th position of your batting order.

Then you have the atypical #4 hitters.  Whether by circumstance (wave of injuries to teammates), team slump (shaking up the lineup) or change in a player’s batting style (goodbye contact, hello power), some players get thrust into the cleanup spot well into their major league careers.  They may have led off, batted third or eighth, or somewhere in between for most of their time in the bigs, but now, they get the prestigious #4 slot.  Accomplished handlers of the bat such as Pete Rose (3,562 career games), Craig Biggio (2,850), Lou Whitaker (2,390) never started a game batting cleanup, but Yuniesky Betancourt has.

Yes, Yuniesky Betancourt . . . he of the .266/.290/.392 career line coming into 2013.  In game number 1,040 of Betancourt’s career (April 27, 2013), he was written in as the cleanup batter in the Brewers lineup.  This was his first of four such experiences this year as a cleanup man, after more than 1,000 games batting in every other spot in the order.  This got the VORG wondering which player went the longest into his career before getting to bat cleanup.

Thanks to the Baseball Reference Play Index (and some sleuthing collaboration with ESPN.COM’s Doug Kern) we have determined that Hall of Famer Paul Molitor had to wait the longest.  Career game number 2,397 was his first time he saw his name next to the “4” on the lineup card.

The 1996 Twins had been primarily using Marty Cordova or Scott Stahoviak in the cleanup slot, but on August 31 of that year, manager Tom Kelly chose to put Molitor in the 4 spot.  He went 2-4 with an RBI in a 3-2 loss.

Kern confirmed this finding, and then found that Lou Brock was most likely second (game 2,336, his only such game) and Tony Gwynn right behind them (game 2,268, also his only such game).

Note: We don’t have complete batting order data from the era of Cap Anson and Honus Wagner, so maybe someone from that period eclipsed Molitor’s mark.

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