happy anniversary designated hitter

April 6, 2008 · 1 comments



today marks the 35th anniversary of the dh rule in the american league. not an anniversary i particularly am pleased exists as i'm ardently against the the dh. this article over at si (itself and excerpt from the book 'change up: an oral history of 8 key events that shaped modern baseball) documents how it came about and the key players in the dh's inception. truth be told, i thought the dh as much older than 35 years and defined the difference between the american and national leagues a lot longer.

straight-up, without my own personal biases, i now understand how and why the dh came about. while i still don't agree with it, i know the purpose it did serve. i don't believe that purpose still exists, but the position (if you want to call it that) is too entrenched in the american league to go back now. you have teams that have for years based their whole system on the dh rule and they're just not going to relent on the matter.

to condense the history down, 1973 was a year dominated by pitching and the owners needed to make a change to balance the game more. and don't think it was purely about the sport being balanced either, their ledgers needed to balanced as well. see a pitching dominated league was less interesting than an offense dominated league, so revenues ebbed downward as people came to the ballparks less because it wasn't as exciting to watch. so the owners got together and instituted the dh, though not an original thought. the notion had been around since the early 1900's. and so on april 6th 1973, ron bloomberg (pictured above) of the yankees became a footnote in the annals of baseball as the first designated hitter.

my biggest beef with the dh is one of athleticism, both in symmetry and versatility. a baseball team should consist of 9 players who on the defensive end, take to the field to collect three outs and then offensively take turns batting. there is a completeness and tradition of players and teams who do this. in terms fo value to the team, a specialized player who can only bat really detracts from a team in a lot of situations where other skills are required. essentially, a dh takes the spot of a player who can provide more value to the team in situations outside of just hitting.

in reading this article, i found it interesting how the dh role has evolved over time. it started as a way to generate more offense and make the games more interesting. of course, this was still at a time where the fundamentalist approach of the game was still in fashion. that being get men on base, move them over and bring them home. that compared to the power game of today which has players thinking the long ball. so the dh of old would have been something i could be on board with. they were athletic type guys who drove in runs, got on base themselves, hit for a high average, and otherwise put up all-around decent numbers.

fast forward to today where designated hitters are all about power, with home runs being the key stat to mark a decent dh of today. that's only one facet of the game, and outside of fan excitement, one that has less on-field value than other stats. homers are still rarities (in perspective to other types of hits) so banking on that one long shot every so often isn't as good a return as a solid hitter, who when not clearing the bases those few times is contributing in other ways, like getting on base himself or moving other runners over.

as i will always do, there are points to support the dh, which i will share. it extends a players career, provided that they were a good batter. look at george brett or paul molitor, they got a couple extra years by moving over to dh. now tis point is only reserved for those players that can continue to perform at a high level at the plate. no one should extend a career if it is out of vanity or ego or something else if they aren't performing, so becoming a dh to extend your career better be for the right reasons.

proponents will also say it alleviates the demands on the pitcher as they are the only ones on the field who do as much constant and tiresome work. i'll give em that, but today's pitchers are a lot more coddled than in the past when they did have to bat. so perhaps they could toughen up some. besides, no one expects the pitcher to really do anything at the plate anyway, so get in there and take a couple swings.

to quote the movie bull durham, kevin costner's character says: "there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf and the designated hitter." i couldn't agree more. it's a hack rule that further babies half the pitchers.

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