On January 11, 1973, the owners of America’s 24 major league baseball teams vote to allow teams in the American League (AL) to use a “designated pinch-hitter” that could bat for the pitcher, while still allowing the pitcher to stay in the game.
The idea of adding a 10th man to the baseball lineup to bat for the pitcher had been suggested as early as 1906 by the revered player and manager Connie Mack. In 1928, John Heydler, then-president of the National League (NL), revived the issue, but the rule was rejected at that point by the AL management. By the early 1970s, Charlie Finley, the colorful owner of the Oakland A’s, had become the designated hitter rule’s most outspoken advocate, arguing that a pinch-hitter to replace the pitcher–a player that usually batted poorly, exceptions like the legendary Babe Ruth notwithstanding–would add the extra offensive punch that baseball needed to draw more fans.
At a joint meeting of the two major leagues in Chicago on January 11, 1973, presided over by baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the owners voted to allow the AL (which lagged behind the NL in both scoring and attendance) to put the designated hitter rule into practice. The NL resisted the change, and for the first time in history, the two leagues would play using different rules. Though it initially began as a three-year experiment, it would be permanently adopted by the AL and later by most amateur and minor league teams.
On April 6, 1973—Opening Day—Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the league’s first ever designated hitter. In his first plate appearance, he was walked on a full count by the Boston Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant. From the beginning, baseball purists decried the designated hitter in bitter, moralistic terms, arguing that it took away from baseball’s integrity. The rift between pro- and anti-designated hitter fans has continued into the present day. At first, the designated hitter rule did not apply to any games in the World Series, in which the AL and NL winners met for the world championship. From 1976-1985, it applied only to Series held in even-numbered years, and in 1986 the current rule took effect, according to which the designated hitter rule is used or not used according to the practice of the home team.
History Of The American League Designated Hitter
This rule was basically conceptualized with the acknowledgment that the pitchers are the weakest batters in the whole team. This rule therefore allows baseball teams to designate a player to bat in.
This rule was basically conceptualized with the acknowledgment that the pitchers are the weakest batters in the whole team. This rule therefore allows baseball teams to designate a player to bat in lieu of the pitcher. This player is known as the designated hitter and can be anybody from the team.
Although the game of baseball has undergone a lot of changes since its inception in the 1880's, there are some professional leagues that are not very open to the adaptation of these changes, including the designated hitter rule. Perhaps, this rule has aggravated a lot of doubts regarding the purpose and objective of its implementation. Who are to benefit with this rule? Is this rule the most practical solution to the batting insufficiency of pitchers?
These are questions that have caused MLB's National League and NPB's Central League to refuse the adaptation of the designated hitter rule. These prominent professional baseball leagues must certainly have reasons for doing so. Perhaps it is best to carefully analyze this rule and weigh out its advantages and disadvantages.
The idea of introducing a designated hitter in Major League Baseball started when sometime in 1972, fewer customers were drawn by nine out of the twelve clubs in the American Leagues. This led them to believe that the scores seem not to be going anywhere because of the pitchers that hit so weakly then. This was certainly true, for aside from the legendary Babe Ruth, most of the other pitchers fall into this category. The solution that was presented by Charlie Finley, who was then the owner of The Oakland A's is the introduction of a tenth player which would be batting in place of the pitcher. Practically, this 10th player should be the hardest hitter among the players. The designated hitter rule then came into birth and was adopted by some of the major league teams.
Although the introduction of the designated hitter did stir up some excitement in the games, a lot of people are still not comfortable with a tenth player in the field. In fact, some even consider the idea taboo, and unfitting of the game. This has been the root of debates for many years now. Has the game indeed become more fun with the designated hitter rule? Or has it spoiled the originality and objectives of the game.
In order to settle this dispute, the option of using the designated hitter rule is left open. Teams in the major league may or may adopt this rule. Correspondingly , this has resulted positively since people with contrasting opinions regarding this rule have come to compare the outcomes of the games with designated hitters and those that are without and judge the rule themselves.
The National League nearly adopted the DH rule in 1928
American League baseball teams have used designated hitters in their lineups in place of pitchers since 1973. But according to the 1947 book Judge Landis and 25 Years of Baseball by Hall of Famer J.G. Taylor Spink, both leagues nearly instituted the rule much earlier.
Back in 1928, it was the National League that proposed the institution of the DH, with baseball’s first commissioner — Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis — likely to rule in its favor if it came to him for a deciding vote.
At the 1928 meetings the Commissioner just missed casting the deciding vote on a measure which would radically have changed the playing of baseball, not only in the majors, but all the way down the line. National League president John Heydler, usually a conservative gentleman, proposed a radical change in the rules whereby a tenth player could be used by a manager to bat in place of the pitcher throughout the game. If the manager had a hitting pitcher, he could, of course, have permitted him to hit, but under the suggested rule most managers would have carried an extra player whose sole duty would have been to bat. It would have been a paradise for the “good hit, no field” guys.
The National League generally favored the innovation. The American League was opposed. In those days, it was a usual procedure for each league to oppose anything, no matter how commendable, which emanated from its rival. It looked as though it would be up to Landis to break the deadlock, and I heard at the time he would have supported the Heydler idea. When he had been a Chicago fan, he had suffered too often when some weak-hitting Cub or White Sox hurler spoiled a rally by smacking into a double play. However, just before the joint meeting, the National League withdrew the “tenth player” suggestion, and the public never did get to know whether Landis would have voted “yes” or “no.”
It’s tough to imagine all the ways baseball history would have been changed if both leagues started using designated hitters in the late 1920s. Would great home run hitters have been able to extend their careers? Would sluggers who never saw much playing time due to bad gloves now line the record books?
Also, it’s fun to consider that there was a time when the American League and National League had a legitimately contentious rivalry.
All of your DH (and anti-DH) arguments are missing the point
There are too many good baseball writers in the world to confidently and objectively declare one as “the best”, but my personal favorite is The Ringer‘s Ben Lindbergh. Ben (he has been part of my morning commute for about half a decade, so I feel that I’m on a first-name basis with him) is smart and analytical while being consistently engaging, though he is not necessarily a man known for hot takes. Tempting as it might be to parlay a national readership into a new career as baseball’s Skip Bayless (“Mike Trout lacks the killer instinct clutch gene!” he screams into the void as Trout wins his 34th MVP award), he has usually steered clear of controversial topics, or even of declaring an opinion on basic baseball arguments.
Last Thursday, however, Ben expressed an opinion on a baseball rule which is hardly an uncommon opinion. And boy, did he hear about it. The article “Let’s Stop Pretending That Pitchers Can Hit” is a 2,500+ word powerhouse detailing one inarguable point–that, as the title suggests, pitchers are dreafully poor hitters–while reaching one far more hotly debated conclusion–that the National League should adopt the Designated Hitter.
First of all, do I have to explain the designated hitter (DH) rule? This is, like, a fundamental enough part of baseball that everybody knows it, right? Okay, for anyone who doesn’t know what the DH is, here’s the Wikipedia page on it. Honestly, you only need to read the first two sentences.
The designated hitter rule adopted by the American League is sixteen years older than I am. It has been a fundamental part of baseball debates for as long as I have existed. If you are under the age of fifty, you do not know a world in which the designated hitter does not exist. And yet, for legions of (National League) baseball fans, it is treated as at best a curiosity, and at worst an affront to all that is good and pure about baseball.
I’ve watched DH arguments for decades. I’ve heard countless arguments for and against the designated hitter. And yet, unlike the normally moderate Ben Lindbergh, it is I that does not have a strong opinion on the matter.
There is one part of the designated hitter rule that has always bugged me–that it established pitchers as a unique class. Pitchers are a unique class in the sense that they are measurably worse at hitting than any other position: the wRC+ gap between pitchers and the next-least effective position at the plate, catchers, is 111 points (-24 for pitchers, 87 for hitters), while the gap between catchers and the best offensive position, first basemen, is just 21 points. Do we really need a rule that says a team can only use a designated hitter for the pitcher? Until Shohei Ohtani reached the Los Angeles Angels this season and, in between hitting triple digits as a starting pitcher, posted a 150 wRC+ while moonlighting as a DH, using the DH for a non-pitcher bordered on inconceivable, particularly in the modern era.
The best hitting pitchers of the 2010s, by a fairly wide margin, have been Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner. The former displayed, relative to other pitchers, a shocking ability to avoid strikeouts the latter has a downright competent level of power (17 home runs in 560, basically a full season’s worth of, plate appearances). Greinke’s wRC+ this decade is 54 Bumgarner’s is 51. For perspective, this century, no qualified St. Louis Cardinals position player was this woeful at the plate. Only three position players with 300 or more plate appearances were worse: 2001 Mike Matheny had a wRC+ of 50, 2013 Pete Kozma had one of 49, and 2007 Adam Kennedy had one of 47. Even if a team with the option to use a DH for one of these players had Greinke or Bumgarner, they would likely decline even if they truly believed the numbers (all three of these position players had batting averages on balls in play below career norms)–the gap is too small to justify the dramatic drop in batting ability once relievers enter the game. But why not change the rule? Nothing will actually change in practice–I’ll just be less annoyed by the arbitrariness of it all.
There is a slippery slope argument to the designated hitter, one often dismissed as stirring the pot rather than an earnest stance, that asks that if teams are going to have one DH, why stop at one? While this might be a tongue-in-cheek suggestion meant to highlight the arbitrariness of the position (oh, to answer the question: the DH has been around for 46 years and multiple DHs has never actually been proposed–if this were going to happen, there would be some traction for it by this point), it does point out that those who support the DH in its current form draw the line for efficiency somewhere.
The argument in favor of the designated hitter is all about efficiency–that it only makes sense, if possible, to put the best players in the middle of the action. Sure, there are NBA and NHL players forced to be exposed as poor offensive or defensive players because they are good at the other part, but the action is fluid and stopping game action every time there is a turnover in possession would fundamentally change the sport. Football once had required two-way players, but at the pro and even college level, they are now an anomaly. The designated hitter has the same effect as not requiring quarterbacks to play defense, a thing most football fans agree is a good thing, as it preserves the most important player on the field (this is a slightly apples/oranges comparison as baseball is a mostly non-contact sport while football is a human demolition derby, but pitchers getting hurt on offensive duty happens–from Adam Wainwright in 2015 to Masahiro Tanaka last Friday).
But if a designated hitter is not used for a mediocre-hitting catcher (who is nevertheless considerably better at hitting than a pitcher), a line is being drawn as to what is palatable. Not allowing, say, the 2011 Cardinals to use one of their three above-average hitting bench players (Allen Craig, Nick Punto, Jon Jay through most of the season) to hit instead of below-average hitting shortstop Ryan Theriot is against the spirit of making the cumulative offense better. The difference in degree is enormous, but it concedes that there is some value in players playing both ways, a standard anti-DH argument. The sides simply divide on whether the value of two-way players exceeds the value of not having to watch pitchers hit. It’s a matter of personal taste.
The biggest false assumption in all of this, however, is that proponents of pitchers batting don’t realize that pitchers are terrible at batting. Some are delusional, citing any hit by a pitcher as proof that pitchers are turning a corner offensively (if y’all think the pitcher did a good job, you are going to have your mind blown by what an actual hitter does on a regular basis), but most appreciate pitcher hits because they are rare. Pitchers hitting is inefficient but that’s what makes it special on the rare case that it works out. For the second time in as many days, I will cite a Jon Bois video–this time the saga of Dae-Sung Koo, a New York Mets reliever who, in 2005, inexplicably managed a double in his second (and final) MLB plate appearance (off Randy Johnson!) and then scored from second on a sacrifice bunt (just watch the video). The entire appeal of a case such as Koo’s is the rarity of it–had Eric Valent or Marlon Anderson pinch-hit for Koo and duplicated his performance, nobody would have remembered the events a week later.
Are moments like Koo’s worth putting up with scores of unwatchably bad pitcher at-bats? Are they worth the offensive rallies stymied by what is a near-automatic out? I don’t have an answer to this. Even if I did, it would be my answer and not yours, and there is nothing objective here. Those who cite the data in these arguments are missing the point–enjoyment cannot be quantified. Teams which forfeit the DH are acting irrationally leagues which forfeit the DH are acting in the name of (perceived) entertainment.
But what fascinates me most about the endless designated hitter argument is how passionate the arguments are. I don’t think I’ve ever heard an anti-DH argument that didn’t result in somebody declaring that if the NL adopted the DH, they would stop watching. And all of the data suggests that they’re probably lying.
In 1973, the American League adopted the designated hitter, and in eight of the twelve American League ballparks, attendance increased from the year before. I would dispute that this proves that the DH substantially helps attendance–attendance, after all, has followed a general upward trend throughout history–but it certainly didn’t destroy fan interest. In 1998, the Milwaukee Brewers went from the National League to the American League, and despite an entire generation of pro-DH indoctrination, Brewers attendance jumped 25% despite the team losing four more games than in 1997.
When the Houston Astros switched from the National League to American League in 2013, despite being at the nadir of their bottoming out (they finished with a 51-111 record), attendance jumped 2.7%. As part of my quest to research articles while not researching that extensively, I asked my friend Emily, a Texas native and Houston Astros fan, if the move to the DH affected her fandom, and she indicated that the pleasure she took in watching her team play did not change at all. She supported the move to the AL not because she liked the designated hitter but because it established a natural geographic rivalry with the Texas Rangers. When it came down to it, it wasn’t the presence or absence of somebody batting for the pitcher that truly mattered for Astros fans, but attendance data for when the Rangers came to town suggests that the existence of an intrastate rivalry at least made the sport more compelling than the existence of the DH hurt it. After this discussion, I am willing to switch my DH apathy to being pro-DH if it means the Kansas City Royals join the NL Central. And not just because the Royals are terrible.
Like I said, I think that claiming to lose interest in baseball because of the DH is a bluff, but I do think it speaks to a level of passion in preserving the status quo that I do not totally understand, but which I certainly respect. And I think it’s more than a bit cultural. I grew up in St. Louis and have spent all but a few days of my life in territory where the MLB team of choice played in the National League without the designated hitter. The “pitchers batting is tradition” argument is a pretty weak one in the macro sense–the AL adopted the designated hitter during the Nixon administration and almost all professional leagues around the world use the DH–but pitchers batting is tradition for us. It’s why, even though I’m apathetic to St. Louis-style pizza as compared to other styles of pizza, I will defend it against those who blaspheme it. It is by the same token that a majority of American League fans are believers in the DH (though by a less dramatic degree than NL fans oppose it)–for them, it’s tradition.
While some have called the DH in the National League inevitable, I tend to err on the side of the status quo of two leagues with differing sets of rules remaining intact for a while. Baseball has had the designated hitter for essentially two generations, and those whose teams adopted the rule have developed an obnoxious sense of superiority that they are forward-thinking innovators while those whose teams have eschewed the DH have developed an equally obnoxious sense of moral righteousness. The more I hear arguments about the DH, the more I dislike both camps, but as I said, I don’t think the argument is going anywhere.
The History of Baseball’s Designated Hitter Rule: Or, The Decline and Fall of Western Civilization?
Just how important is a change in the rules of baseball? Can you alter a tradition without ruining what you were trying to preserve?
The best of The Saturday Evening Post in your inbox!
Traditions won’t take care of themselves. They’re living creatures that require our careful tending to survive across time. But the care and feeding of traditions is a tricky job. Alter a tradition too much and you can undermine its value. Leave it untended and it can lose its meaning and become an archaic curiosity.
We could offer hundreds of examples of the challenge of maintaining tradition, but this week is the anniversary of a particularly good example: the 1973 introduction of the Designated Hitter Rule to major-league baseball.
Baseball's 10th Man
by Joseph Durso
Keep in mind that baseball continually changes. It has altered so much since its earliest form that a game played by 1880 rules looks oddly quaint to modern viewers. Year after year, the baseball commission had imposed rules to improve the game: making it safer, more competitive, and more enjoyable to play and watch. Some of the changes, though, were made to increase the profitability of the baseball. The Designated Hitter (DH) Rule falls into this last category. Team owners hoped that the DH would boost scores and, more important, revenues.
Subscribe and get unlimited access to our online magazine archive.
The rule was a response to a generally accepted fact of baseball: pitchers were generally the weakest batters on the team. They might be able to hurl thunder and lightning across home plate, or make a ball dance slowly toward home plate to seduce batters into fevered swinging, but they rarely had the additional talent for hitting the ball. So when it came time for a pitchers turn at bat, it was often the sleepiest part of the game.
The DH rule allowed a team to add a 10th player who would go to bat for the pitcher. Inevitably, the DH was a powerful batter who would rarely play the field. The first DH stepped into the batter’s box in 1973. Larry Eugene Hisle batted in place of the Minnesota Twins’ pitcher in a pre-season game and hit a home run with two men on base, then a grand slam.
According to a Post article,
“when nine of the twelve clubs in the American League drew fewer than a
million customers in 1972, the stampede was on. The villain: the 6-foot-4-inch pitcher with overpowering stuff. The victim: the man waving a baseball bat 60/2 feet away. The reason, suggested Gabe Paul: “The pitchers and the stadium grew too big.”
“Larry Hisle didn’t realize it at the time, but that was his cue. Actually, the cue had been sneaking up on him. In 1895, the infield fly rule was adopted to keep smart infielders from tricking unsmart base-runners. In 1901, it was revised to protect the innocent. In 1920, the spitball was outlawed. In 1950, the strike zone was defined (armpit to top of knee). In 1963, it was defined again (top of shoulder to bottom of knee). In 1969, would you believe armpit to top of knee again?
“Then men walked on the moon, the Mets won the pennant and the redink wretches of the American League began clamoring for somebody, anybody, to put more clout into the old ball game. Enter the tenth man: the ‘designated hitter.’
“He arrived in 1969, during the same summer Neil Armstrong arrived on the
shore of the Sea of Tranquility, but nobody paid much attention. Still, in places like Rochester and Syracuse and Toledo, he was often the talk of the town: the man who did nothing but bat for the pitcher… He was experimental that summer, his stage was the [highest level of the minor league] and his impact on the seas of baseball tranquility was immediate.
“Batting averages in the league promptly rose by as much as 17 points for the first-place club. More runs were scored. The designated hitters collectively batted 120 points higher than the pitchers they replaced. The pitchers — who were allowed to stay in the
game strictly as pitchers — began to stick around a lot longer.
“Also, since nothing takes so much time in a baseball game as changing [an exhausted] pitcher, the games zipped along: ten minutes shorter on the average. The fans, reported George Sisler, the league president, “overwhelmingly liked it” when polled.”
Today, the support is far from overwhelming. Many fans still refuse to accept the idea. To them, the DH rule is the worst change ever introduced to the game. They consider the DH an alien on the team — a creature spawned in the box office to ruin the spirit of the game.
Fortunately, baseball offers an alternative: the DH Rule is used by only half of the major-league teams there are no designated hitters on National League teams. So when fans debate the virtues and evils of designated hitters, they can compare the performance of teams between the two leagues.
You don’t have to be a rabid baseball fan to see an intriguing question beneath the controversy. The Designated Hitter Rule is a fundamental controversy that can be found in art, goverment, philosophy, and religion: is it better to change the rules to achieve desired results, or should we improve our performance within the existing rules? This question in this controversy is similar to that which launched the Reformation and split the artistic community over Modernism.
We can argue that altering the game of baseball to make it more appealing will ensure the survival of the sport. We can also argue that a game that’s changed to make it more amusing is no longer the original game. When we change the form of a baseball game, we also change its substance. And after 36 years, a lot of people don’t like the new substance that is Designated Hitter baseball.
At one level, it is just an argument about what makes good baseball. At another level, though, it is a debate about playing with tradition.
Some will say baseball is a metaphor for life. We believe what the learned theologian Rev. Arthur Heinze says: “Life is a metaphor for baseball.”
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now
DESIGNATED HITTER ADOPTED IN INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FIRST
Minor league baseball has long been regarded as the experimental laboratory of the major leagues. But that label is not confined to the area of simple player development.
Take the designated hitter, for instance. Most people trace the origin of the rule to the 1973 American League season but it actually began in 1969 in the International League.
The designated hitter concept was the brainchild of Tidewater Tides' general manager Dave Rosenfield and IL president George Sisler. The two met several times to formulate the rule, then sold it to the other IL executives.
"People had been talking about it for years," said Rosenfield. "George and I spent a lot of time kicking around ideas on how the rule should read. Then we wrote it and proposed it to the rest of the league, which adopted it.
"It was a tough rule to write, but I'm proud we (IL) had it first."
"You can't imagine how tough it was to devise the rule," said Sisler, who is now the general manager of the Columbus Clippers. "We had to start from scratch and try to imagine every possible situation which might arise."
Even after the rule had been accepted, the IL had to get final approval from the baseball rules committee. The committee allowed the unusual rule, but only on a one-year experimental basis.
The rule was such a success, however, the IL asked for, and received, a two-year extension after 1969. Other leagues were quick to follow the IL's lead and soon the designated hitter was an accepted part of minor league baseball.
It has remained that way, although the age-old debate between National and American League fans still rages unresolved even today. NL fans argue that their game, minus the DH and with the pitcher hitting, is the way the game was designed to be played.
But AL fans counter their game is more exciting because of the additional offense.
"Strategy?," said Sisler. "Strategy is the product of the rules of the game. The DH changes the rules. That's why I like it."
Oddly, even though he helped pioneer the rule, Rosenfield remains loyal to his baseball roots.
"As a baseball purist, which I am, I prefer the game without the designated hitter," said Rosenfield. "But as a general manager, I recognize the bulk of the fans we need to attract like it."
In its first season, the DH received a great deal of scrutiny. Even some of the general managers of National League teams in the IL took public shots at it.
Privately, however, those same general managers felt the DH was good for business.
"I think, from what I know, we all liked it," said Sisler. "The concept is very simple. We were giving the fan the very best offensive show we could give him. And we were also giving him the best defensive show as well."
Sisler's point on defense was that the DH freed a manager to stick with his pitcher as long as he wanted. No longer did a manager, down by a run in the late innings, have to pinch hit to generate offense.
"It was the best of both worlds," said Sisler. "In my opinion, there is nothing as dull in baseball as watching a pitcher try to hit."
The DH rule stayed in the IL for a number of years, was dropped and then revived. But in its present form, Triple- and Double-A teams use it when two American League farm clubs oppose each other and when a National League team plays an American League rival.
When two NL farm clubs play, however, the pitcher hits for himself.
"I think that's probably a bit confusing for the fans," said Rosenfield.
National League teams pushed for the unusual arrangement. They didn't want their pitchers getting to the major leagues, where they would have to bat, without ever having had the benefit of hitting in the minors.
"I don't buy that logic," said Rosenfield. "To me, pitchers don't realize they're bad hitters until they bat. Plus I think some pitchers aren't gonna hit no matter how much practice they get."
"And some other pitchers are gonna hit even if they never get practice in the minors. To me if you can hit, you'll hit."
Rosenfield listed San Diego pitcher Walt Terrell as an example of his theory. Terrell has hit two homers in a major league game before and Rosenfield doubts whether Terrell ever had to hit in the minors.
Ultimately, of course, the American League adopted the DH rule in 1973. Bob Holbrook, secretary of the AL at the time, was the man who wrote the rule for the majors and it exists today almost exactly the same way he devised it more than 16 years ago.
"It happened because of Charlie Finley," said Holbrook, now retired and living in Boston. "At the league meetings the year before Finley had proposed a bunch of things: the DH, an orange baseball and a designated pinch runner."
"Charlie was a litle bit of a maverick, but the DH had a lot of support. It took me six months and I had a lot of help, but we got it done."
Even if it did come four years after the International League first adopted the designated hitter.
Designated Hitter: The Controversial Rule Turns 40 Years Old
Friday marks the 40th anniversary of one of the most controversial rule changes in baseball history—the American League's adoption of the designated hitter.
On Jan. 11, 1973, the American League owners voted 8–4 to add a non-fielding hitter. The original plan was for a three-year trial. 2013 will mark the 41st season of that trial.
The reasons for such a drastic change were obvious.
Baseball, once the king of all American sports, had fallen behind in popularity to the National Football League. One of the reasons for this was the lack of offense in the game.
After the 1968 season, where only one American League hitter hit .300, the pitching mound was lowered from 15 inches to 10.
That did help boost batting averages and runs scored—averages went from .230 to .246 and runs per game went up from 3.41 to 4.09—but as the '70s dawned, the dominance of the pitcher had returned.
Runs per game had fallen back down to 3.47 in 1972, and the league collectively hit an anemic .239.
While more and more young kids were starting to prefer football, baseball knew it had to do something.
That something was to create more offense. Taking the pitcher out of the lineup did just that.
Runs per game jumped up to 4.28, the highest average since 1962, and batting average climbed 20 points to .259.
The traditionalists hated it. The National League never even implemented it.
While the move did do what it was supposed to in creating more offense, baseball has yet to reclaim the crown as king of American sports.
What it did for the American League, however, was create a distinct strategy of playing the game differently than the National League.
National League offense turned into a game of precision. Pitching, speed and baserunning became the hallmarks of how to win games, with the home run just another tool.
American League baseball, on the other hand, turned into a power game. Getting runners on base and trying to hit a three-run home run became the dominant strategy of the DH era.
The other major result of the designated hitter was that older players played longer.
Sluggers such as Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Paul Molitor, Frank Thomas and others were able to move out of the field and stay in the lineup after their defense was gone.
Batters like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz became All-Stars because of their hitting abilities in the DH spot.
To this day, the argument goes back and forth on whether the DH is a good or bad thing. One thing is for sure: The fans love offense, and the DH gives them exactly that.
MLB will not keep universal designated hitters under approved 2021 protocols
Seven-inning doubleheaders and runners on second base to start extra innings will return for a second straight season under an agreement for 2021 health protocols reached Monday between Major League Baseball and the players’ association.
The deal did not include last year’s experimental rule to extend the designated hitter to the National League or expanded playoffs. After allowing 16 teams in the postseason last year instead of 10, MLB had proposed 14 for this year before withdrawing that plan last month.
Last year’s expanded playoffs agreement did not come together until hours before the season’s first pitch.
Major League Baseball players turned down a proposal by the league to delay the beginning spring training and the regular season for a litany of reasons.
There were 78 extra-inning games last year, and the longest by innings were a pair of 13-inning contests at Houston, won by the Dodgers on July 29 and by Oakland on Aug. 7. Every previous season since 1901 had at least one game of 15 innings or longer.
There were 45 games postponed for COVID-19-related reasons and just two were not made up, between St. Louis and Detroit. In order to accomplish that, there were 56 doubleheaders, the most since 76 in 1984. About 12% of games were part of doubleheaders, the highest percentage since 13.6% in 1978.
The agreement includes more sophisticated contact tracing for COVID-19 that includes the use of technology, and more league rules on behavior to comply with novel coronavirus protocols.
The Dodgers plan for Julio Urías to join Bauer, Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and David Price as starters. Where does that leave Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin?
Spring training opens Feb. 17 and the season starts April 1. The union last week rejected MLB’s proposal to delay spring training and opening day until April 28, a plan that would have led to a compressed schedule of 154 games per team instead of the usual 162.
Last season’s start was delayed from March 26 to July 23 because of the pandemic, and each team’s schedule was cut to 60 games.
Get our high school sports newsletter
Prep Rally is devoted to the SoCal high school sports experience, bringing you scores, stories and a behind-the-scenes look at what makes prep sports so popular.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.
Official Hall of Fame Merchandise
Hall of Fame Members receive 10% off and FREE standard shipping on all Hall of Fame online store purchases.
Hall of Fame Membership
As the keepers of the Game’s history, the Hall of Fame helps you relive your memories and celebrate baseball history.
Finley was convinced in the late 1960s and early 70s that a game suffering from shrinking offense needed to be enlivened, and – while not the only proponent of a designated hitter to replace the pitcher in a club's batting order – he finally received enough support to have the concept adopted in the American League.
What Hall of Famer Bud Selig, then in his fourth year as owner of the Milwaukee Brewers (who were then in the American League), called "the biggest rule change in the history of baseball to that point," became part of AL play in 1973.
The adopting of the designated hitter by the American League on Jan. 11, 1973, was as seismic a shift as had been felt in baseball since Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
But perhaps no one – not even Finley – could have anticipated the aftershocks still being felt from a fundamental change of the rules of the game.
"It was the only thing Charlie Finley ever suggested that I voted for," Selig said, looking back. "Both leagues were hurting for offense and the hope was that the National League would join us a few years later, but each of the leagues were pretty provincial at that time and now it's so ingrained that I doubt it will ever happen. But as (Philadelphia Phillies executive) Bill Giles likes to say, 'a little controversy isn't bad,' and it's helped keep a lot of popular players in uniform."
Oakland Athletics owner Charlie Finley, pictured with A's manager Alvin Dark, was a proponent of the designated hitter rule for years before the DH was adopted by the American League in 1973. (Doug McWilliams/National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
The controversy, of course, is multi-faceted, particularly in interleague and postseason games where American League teams lose their DH when playing in National League parks but NL teams get to add a DH in AL parks. Also, traditionalists argue that there is less strategy and fewer managerial moves with the DH because there is no need to pinch hit for a pitcher.
"It stinks," Sparky Anderson, then managing the AL’s Detroit Tigers, once said. "No one knows if I can manage or not."
Sparky had tongue in cheek since he had already established his Hall of Fame managerial credentials at the helm of Cincinnati's Big Red Machine and would lead teams to World Series titles in both leagues.
The history of the DH covers the history of baseball. There were discussions whether the pitcher should hit at the beginning of the 20th century, and future Hall of Famer Connie Mack, the famed owner-manager of the Philadelphia A's, was one of the leading supporters of a DH concept.
The Yankees' Ron Blomberg used this bat on April 6, 1973, as the first designated hitter in American League history. (Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
The big leagues took one major step to bolster offense after the 1968 season when the two leagues produced only six .300 hitters, the composite runs per game was only 3.41 in the AL and 3.43 in the NL, and Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals – en route to the Hall of Fame – produced one of the lowest earned-run averages (1.12) ever while Detroit's Denny McLain won 31 games. The mound was lowered and the strike zone raised, and Finley's push for a designated hitter became even louder.
As various minor leagues experimented with the DH, the American League finally adopted it by an 8-4 vote, having been outscored in 1972 by the same number of National League teams by 824 runs.
"Clearly, something had to be done. And personally I never got a thrill out of watching a pitcher hit,” future Hall of Famer Lee MacPhail, the New York Yankees general manager, said at the time.
On April 6, 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the Yankees became major league baseball's first DH (his bat is preserved at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum) and drew a walk against Boston's Luis Tiant, Finley’s dream became a reality. That season, the American League's composite batting average jumped 20 points and the composite runs per game increased by almost a full run.
The designated hitter became a reality when Ron Blomberg drew a first inning walk against the Red Sox's Luis Tiant on April 6, 1973, at Fenway Park. (National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)
The AL has been the stronger of the two leagues in almost every offensive category in virtually every year since adopting the DH, but only once did the National League come close to adopting it as well – and seldom was it on the agenda again during the period when AL and NL owners met separately.
It happened at an owners meeting in 1977, according to Giles, the Phillies executive, and it would have probably been approved, he said, if there had been cell phones then.
Giles said he was instructed by Ruly Carpenter, the Phillies owner then, to vote in favor it because "we had a major league player in Greg Luzinski who would have been perfect in that role and a minor league player in Keith Moreland who was also a terrific young hitter but limited defensively."
The NL had 12 teams and needed seven votes to adopt it.
"Our big rivalry at the time was with the (Pittsburgh) Pirates," Giles said, "and Harding Peterson, their general manager, was under instructions from his owner, John Galbreath, to vote the same way we did. However, at the meeting, it was decided that we wouldn't go to the DH until a year later (1979), and since we were going to wait a year I felt that I should talk to Ruly before voting.
“Unfortunately, he was on a fishing trip and I had no way to reach him, and so my only choice was to abstain, and so did Harding. There were six teams in favor, four against, and our two abstentions. If we had been going to adopt the DH immediately without that year's wait it would have been approved, and it never came up for a vote again.
"We came close, but no regrets. The debate over the DH is healthy for the game."
Originally a minor league known as the Western League which existed from 1885 to 1899, with teams in mostly Great Lakes states, the newly organized Western League later developed into a rival major league after the previous American Association (1882–1891) disbanded after ten seasons as a competitor to the older National League of Professional Baseball Clubs (usually known as the National League) which was founded in 1876. In its early history of the late 1880s, the minor Western League struggled until 1894, when Ban Johnson (1864–1931) became the president of the league. Johnson led the Western League into elevation as claiming major league status and soon became the president of the newly renamed American League of Professional Baseball Clubs (also simply called the American League) in 1901. The American League was founded in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the former Republican Hotel by five Irishmen. A historical marker is at the intersection of North Old World 3rd Street and West Kilbourn Avenue where the hotel once stood. 
George Herman ("Babe") Ruth (1895–1948), noted as one of the most prolific hitters in Major League Baseball history, spent the majority of his career in the American League with the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees (plus his first year with his hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles of the minor level International League). The American League has one notable difference versus the rival National League: in modern times since 1973, it has had the designated hitter rule. Under the rule, a team may use a batter in its lineup who is not in the field defensively, replacing the pitcher in the batting order, compared to the old rule that made it mandatory for the pitcher to bat. In the last two decades, the season schedule has allowed occasional interleague play. In 1969, the AL (and NL) were divided into East and West divisions, with a postseason playoff series for the pennant and the right to play in the World Series.
Until the late 1970s, league umpires working behind home plate wore large, balloon-style chest protectors worn outside the shirt or coat, while their brethren in the National League wore chest protectors inside the shirt or coat. In 1977, new umpires (including Steve Palermo) had to wear the inside chest protector, although those on staff wearing the outside protector could continue to do so. Most umpires made the switch to the inside protector, led by Don Denkinger in 1975 and Jim Evans the next year, although several did not, including Bill Haller, Lou DiMuro, Russ Goetz, George Maloney, Bill Kunkel and Jerry Neudecker, who became the last full-time MLB umpire to use the outside protector in 1985.
In 1994, the league, along with the National League, reorganized again, this time into three divisions (East, West, and Central) and added a third round to the playoffs in the form of the American League Division Series, with the best second-place team advancing to the playoffs as a wild-card team, in addition to the three divisional champions. In 1998, the newly franchised Tampa Bay Devil Rays joined the league, and the Arizona Diamondbacks joined the National League: i.e., each league each added a fifteenth team. An odd number of teams per league meant that at least one team in each league would have to be idle on any given day, or alternatively, that odd team out would have had to play an interleague game against its counterpart in the other league. The initial plan was to have three five-team divisions per league with inter-league play year-round—possibly as many as 30 interleague games per team each year.
For various reasons, it soon seemed more practical to have an even number of teams in both leagues. The Milwaukee Brewers agreed to change leagues to become the National League's 16th team, moving from the AL Central to the NL Central. At the same time, the Detroit Tigers were moved from the AL East to the AL Central, making room for the Devil Rays in the East. Even after expansion, the American League then continued with 14 teams. This situation changed again in 2013 when the Houston Astros moved from the National League Central division to the American League West. The Astros had been in the NL for 51 years since beginning as an expansion team in 1962. Since their move, both leagues now consist of 15 teams, a far cry from each of their original 8 for the first half-century of the 20th century.
Permanent interleague play Edit
For the first 96 years, American League teams faced their National League counterparts only in exhibition games or in the World Series. Beginning in 1997, interleague games have been played during the regular season and count in the standings. As part of the agreement instituting interleague play, the designated-hitter rule is used only in games where the American League team is the home team.
Charter franchises Edit
There were eight charter teams in 1901, the league's first year as a major league, and the next year the original Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis to become the St. Louis Browns. These franchises constituted the league for 52 seasons until the Browns moved to Baltimore and took up the name Baltimore Orioles. All eight original franchises remain in the American League, although only four remain in the original cities (Detroit, Chicago, Boston, and Cleveland). The eight original teams and their counterparts in the "Classic Eight" were:
- Original Baltimore Orioles (were dispersed after 1902 season, not to be confused with the current Baltimore Orioles, see Milwaukee Brewers),  whether this franchise became, or was replaced by, the New York team that began play in 1903 is disputed. The NY franchise was nicknamed "Highlanders, " "Americans" and "Yankees" until the latter became official in 1923.
- Boston Americans (became the Boston Red Sox in 1908) (became the Chicago White Sox in 1904)  (became the Cleveland Indians in 1915) (name and locale unchanged from 1894 forward)
- original Milwaukee Brewers (became the St. Louis Browns in 1902 and the new Baltimore Orioles in 1954) (became the Kansas City Athletics in 1955 and the Oakland Athletics in 1968)
- Original Washington Senators (became the Minnesota Twins in 1961) 
Expansion, renaming, and relocation summary Edit
- 1902: Original Milwaukee Brewers moved to St. Louis, renamed St. Louis Browns
- 1902: Cleveland Bluebirds/Blues players attempted to adopt the nickname Cleveland Bronchos, which failed to catch on
- 1903: New York Highlanders Original Baltimore Orioles moved to New York dubbed "Highlanders" by press after their field, Hilltop Park, and "Yanks" as a shorter form of "Americans"
- 1903: Chicago White Stockings officially renamed Chicago White Sox
- 1903: Cleveland Blues/Bronchos renamed Cleveland Naps via newspaper poll, after star Nap Lajoie
- 1905: Washington Senators renamed Washington Nationals Senators name continued to be used by media
- 1908: Boston Americans (informal nickname) formally named Boston Red Sox
- 1913: New York Highlanders nickname dropped in favor of already-established alternative, New York Yankees
- 1915: Cleveland Naps renamed Cleveland Indians
- 1954: St. Louis Browns move to Baltimore, renamed Baltimore Orioles
- 1955: Philadelphia Athletics move to Kansas City
- 1957: Washington Nationals/Senators formally renamed Washington Senators
- 1961: Washington Senators move to Minneapolis-St. Paul, renamed Minnesota Twins
- 1961: Los Angeles Angels and newWashington Senators enfranchised.
- 1965: Los Angeles Angels renamed California Angels in late-season on September 2, 1965. For the following season, the Angels moved within the Los Angeles metropolitan area from the city of Los Angeles to the Orange County suburb of Anaheim.
- 1968: Kansas City Athletics move to Oakland
- 1969: Kansas City Royals and Seattle Pilots enfranchised.
- 1970: Seattle Pilots move to Milwaukee, renamed Milwaukee Brewers. (Four years earlier, in 1966, the National League's Milwaukee Braves had moved to Atlanta.)
- 1972: Washington Senators move to Dallas-Ft. Worth (Arlington), renamed Texas Rangers
- 1973: Oakland Athletics officially renamed Oakland A's
- 1977: Seattle Mariners and Toronto Blue Jays enfranchised
- 1980: Oakland A's officially renamed Oakland Athletics
- 1997: California Angels renamed Anaheim Angels. The change came more than 30 years after the team's move to Anaheim.
- 1998: Tampa Bay Devil Rays, representing Tampa-St. Petersburg, enfranchised
- 1998: Milwaukee Brewers transfer from the American League to the National League. (See above.)
- 2005: Anaheim Angels renamed Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
- 2008: Tampa Bay Devil Rays renamed Tampa Bay Rays
- 2013: Houston Astros transfer from the National League Central to the American League West.
- 2016: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim slowly phase out official use of "of Anaheim" sub-title in favor of just Los Angeles Angels
Current teams Edit
American League East Edit
- enfranchised 1901 as the Milwaukee Brewers, moved to St. Louis (1902) and to Baltimore (1954) enfranchised 1901, nicknamed the Americans  (adopted name Red Sox in 1908) enfranchised 1901 as Baltimore Orioles, moved to New York (1903) and nicknamed the Highlanders  ("Highlanders" dropped out of use after move to the Polo Grounds in 1913 officially adopted alternate nickname Yanks/Yankees by 1923)  enfranchised 1998 as the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (team name changed in 2008) enfranchised 1977 
American League Central Edit
- enfranchised 1894 as the Sioux City Cornhuskers, moved to St. Paul (1895) and to Chicago (1900) enfranchised 1894 as the Grand Rapids Rustlers, moved to Cleveland (1900) enfranchised 1894 enfranchised 1969 enfranchised 1894 as the Kansas City Blues, moved to Washington (1901), and to Minneapolis-St. Paul (1961)
American League West Edit
- enfranchised 1962 in National League as the Houston Colt .45s (team changed name to Astros in 1965), transferred to American League (2013) enfranchised 1961 as the Los Angeles Angels, then as the California Angels after moving to Anaheim (1966), then the Anaheim Angels (1997), then the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2005). This last remains the legal name of the franchise, but in actual practice, the team is known as the Los Angeles Angels. enfranchised 1901 [a] in Philadelphia, moved to Kansas City (1955) and to Oakland (1968) enfranchised 1977 enfranchised 1961 as the Washington Senators, moved to Arlington, Texas (1972)
Following the 1999 season, the American and National Leagues were merged with Major League Baseball, and the leagues ceased to exist as business entities. The position of the American League President and National League President became honorary.