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What is a "professional hitter" and why does Ruben Amaro think Michael Young is one?

'Professional hitter" is a term used to describe some baseball players. I've always hated it. It surfaced again this week when it was used to describe Michael Young. Per Ryan Lawrence of, Phillies' general manager spake thusly of Michael Young, "He's had some years where he hit .280 and others where he hit .330. But at the same time, even when his numbers aren't extraordinary - and they were still pretty darn good last year, maybe better than anybody we had on our club - but the fact of the matter is he's a professional hitter." So what does Amaro mean by that?

Professional earnest looking, ineffective old guy.
Professional earnest looking, ineffective old guy.
Ezra Shaw

I have absolutely no clue. Personally, I think it is baseball code for some sort of jock menschiness. The alternative is that Amaro arrived at it as a result of the process of elimination. Obviously, with his ridiculously overpriced contract that the Phillies thankfully will only pay a fraction of, he's a "professional" baseball something. Clearly that something is neither a starting pitcher nor a relief pitcher. Despite a 2008 Gold Glove at shortstop, he sure as hell isn't a "professional fielder" though that is something a team might want to have at third base.

So what's left? "Professional hitter." Maybe deciphering "professional hitter" by looking at Michael Young isn't the best idea, though. Others have borne this lofty title in the past. Without the aid of Nexis or some fancy database (Fangraphs, sadly, only includes the regular positions, and not "professional hitter' in its player position designations), I am working from memory here, though Joe Posnanski has thoughtfully made up a helpful list here. Here are the ones I can think of:

  1. Harold Baines
  2. Michael Young
  3. Matt Stairs
  4. Raul Ibanez

What characteristics bind this band of brothers? Here are the obvious generalizations:

  1. They are old
  2. They are slow
  3. They can't field
  4. They can't throw
  5. They are kept around solely because of their bats
Young satisfies criteria 1 - 4, but it's not clear to me that he satisfies #5. So why is Michael Young a "professional hitter"? Process of elimination. Age and/or veteranitude. Lingering "goodwill" related to the increasingly inaccurate perception of his talents prior to their significant erosion. In short, I really don't know. You've all seen the stats and have made your own conclusions. You either must agree with me or you're wrong, amirite?

Perhaps Amaro's view of Young is similar to the way Justice Potter Stewart viewed obscenity [1]: "I know it when I see it." By that I mean that Amaro knows it when he sees it, because I can't can't see Michael Young as a hitter at all anymore. Perhaps it's just baseball code. For "cheap old guy that can't field and can sometimes hit a little who we happened to get really cheap to fill a hole, and he's our guy now so we can't really say that he's nearly washed up." That makes a lot more sense than, "professional hitter" but it doesn't sell shirseys or fill seats.

[1] Insert "pre-internet porn" joke here for cheap laugh.