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:
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.