The best pinch hitters in baseball history

Profile Picture: Robert Criscola

May 18th, 2020

There are few situations in baseball more exciting than when a pinch hitter comes up late in a game, with a chance to turn the tide. These five players turned those tense situations into an art form.

5. Smokey Burgess

Catcher Smokey Burgess, part of the 1960 World Series-winning Pirates, played in nine All-Star Games in his 18-year career and is the all-time leader in pinch-hit RBIs (146). In 1965, at the age of 38, he drove in 24 runs off the bench, one shy of the single-season record.

Burgess held the record for pinch hits (145) when he retired in 1967.

4. Cliff Johnson

Cliff Johnson broke into the majors with the Astros, then a National League team, and struggled to find regular playing time in parts of five seasons. But Johnson moved to the American League for nine of his final 10 seasons and took advantage of the designated-hitter rule.

Johnson also was invaluable off the bench. He produced a .876 OPS as a pinch hitter from 1972-1986. His 20 pinch-hit homer runs stood as the MLB record until 2010.

3. Matt Stairs

Matt Stairs was an everyday player for the A’s for several seasons, before he gradually transitioned to a bench role.

In a career that spanned 19 seasons and 12 teams, Stairs clubbed a major-league record 23 pinch-hit home runs. Fifteen of those were hit from 2006 to 2010, when he was 38-42 years old.

Not included in that regular-season pinch-hit home run record is his famous shot from Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, which kept the Phillies alive en route to a World Series title.

2. Gates Brown

A part-timer for most of his 13-year career, spent entirely with the Tigers, Gates Brown is the AL’s all-time leader in pinch-hit at-bats (414), hits (107), and home runs (16).

He had his finest season in 1968, the “Year of the Pitcher.” He batted .370, with six home runs in 92 at-bats, en route to a World Series victory.

1. Lenny Harris

Lenny Harris never had more than 333 at-bats in a season and spent his 18-year career in the NL, spurning a DH role in the AL.

But Harris carved an incredible niche for himself in the NL. He amassed the most pinch-hit opportunities in MLB history (804) and the most hits in that situation (212), between eight different teams. 

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