The designated hitter is a critical part of baseball
Baseball has been played for over 100 years. During that time, the sport has seen some drastic changes.
One noticeable difference in baseball now is how the American League and National League set up their lineups. The National League does not use a designated hitter. The American League does use a designated hitter.
In Major League Baseball, the designated hitter is a hitter who does not play a position in the field, but instead fills bats for the pitcher. The DH may only be used for the pitcher and not any other position player in the game.
The designated hitter can be moved on defense during a game. If the DH is moved to another position, the team would forfeit the usage of the designated hitter for the remainder of the game. This would also put the pitcher into the lineup.
Momentum to implement the DH did not pick up until the pitching dominant era of the late 1960s. In 1968, Denny McLain won 31 games and Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA. Boston Red Sox outfielder Carl Yastrzemski led the American League in batting with a .301 average. After that season, baseball lowered the mound by five inches. Still, pitchers were winning the edge over hitters.
On April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball history. He faced Boston Red Sox right-handed starter Luis Tiant in his first plate appearance.“Boomer” Blomberg was walked by Tiant.
From 1973-1975, the DH was not used in the World Series. Instead they played without a designated hitter and by National League rules. 1976 was the first year that a designated hitter was used in a World Series. It was then decided the designated hitter rule would apply to all games in a World Series, regardless of venue, but only in even-numbered years. Beginning with the 1986 World Series, the designated hitter rule was used in games played in the stadium of the American League representative home field.
Since 1997, MLB now has Interleague play take place during the baseball season. The availability of the DH rule is determined by the identity of the home team, with the rules of the home team’s league applying to both teams. If the game is played in an American League park, the designated hitter is in effect. If in a National League park, the pitcher must bat or else be replaced by a pinch-hitter.
All-Star Games have seen changes in how the DH is used. Until 1988, there was no designated hitter at a MLB All-Star Game. Beginning in 1989, the rule was only applied only to games in American League stadiums. If the All-Star Game was scheduled for an American League stadium, fans would vote in the DH for the American League’s starting lineup. On the other hand, the National League’s manager would decide that league’s starting DH for the game.
In 2013, the Houston Astros moved to the American League. This created fifteen teams in each league. This now requires at least two teams to interleague play year-round. This means at least one team in both leagues will play each other for a series of games during the season.
Many old-school baseball fans are in favor of not having a designated hitter. In the National League, there is often more strategy for a manager to deal with. They have to decide when or if to pinch-hit for the pitcher. These people also believe that pitchers are athletes and not just pitchers.
This can affect teams in the World Series. In 2013, the Boston Red Sox were forced to use David Ortiz in a different role because of the location of the game. Ortiz played first base because they were playing in a national league site without a designated hitter. This meant that his team would either lose Ortiz or have him in the field.
National League teams also face a problem with the designated hitter rule. Their teams are not used to having a designated hitter. These teams might have a bench player as their designated hitter.
“It’s worse for National League teams,” one GM said. “When we go play in an American League park, they have a power guy as their DH hitting in the middle of their lineup. We have a fourth outfielder or backup infielder as our DH in the bottom of the lineup. You don’t build a National League team the same way.
People in favor of the designated hitter point out how it has extended many careers. It has also created long and productive careers for players who are weak fielders or had a history of injuries, including Edgar Martínez and David Ortiz.
MLB Hall of Famers George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, and Paul Molitor continued their careers longer than they ordinarily would have because of the designated hitter.
Also pitchers are more likely to get hurt if they are not used to hitting and running. On June 15, 2008, New York Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang was taken out of a game against the Houston Astros due to a right foot injury he sustained while running the bases. At the time, the Astros still were in the National League. As a result, Wang was forced to him for himself. Wang was later diagnosed with a torn Lisfranc ligament and a partial tear of the peroneus longus of his right foot. Since then, he has been unable to reach his performance after the injury.
The year 2013 also marked the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter in baseball. Little has changed since then. Hopefully, both leagues will play under one set of rules in the near future.