Connie Mack was manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Athletics, and president of the Athletics. He helped establish the American League.

The DH Blues

Connie Mack was manager of the Milwaukee Brewers and the Philadelphia Athletics, and president of the Athletics. He helped establish the American League.

Today, Wednesday October 19th, begins the greatest show in all sports, the World Series 2011. The MLB championships culminate with the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals hosting the American League’s Texas Rangers baseball club.

Once again, this event brings up the controversy of the Designated Hitter. Remember, this is the position created to bat in place of the pitcher.

The concept was first suggested in 1906 by the future Hall Of Famer, Philadelphia Athletics Manager, Connie Mack. He had just finished watching 2 of his 3 star pitchers, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, flailing away at the opposing pitchers’ offerings, to no avail. As it turns out, both Bender and Plank made the Hall Of Fame, and were decent hitters, for pitchers  (The 3rd to-be Hall Of Fame pitcher on that staff, Rube Waddell, wasn’t much of a batsman).

The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws.”
Rick Wise (1974)

Various other suggestions on behalf of this concept were made during the years, but it took a perfect storm of necessity and Charlie O. Finley, the owner of the Oakland Athletics, to make the “DH rule” happen.

Innovator of the slider? Some credit Charles "Chief" Bender as the first to use it in the 1910's, then called a "nickel change."

During the “high mound” era, offense diminished, and with it, the crowds in attendance at games. Finley was always looking for ways to improve attendance. He was one of baseball’s great innovators, and was able to garner enough votes from the other AL owners to carry the day. His argument: more offense will bring in more fans. So, in 1973, the AL instituted rule 6.10, the so-called “Designated Hitter” rule. It still exists in the American League.

I have mixed views on the rule. It does produce more offense, the DH usually being a more accomplished hitter than most pitchers. And, a majority of fans prefer more offense. I, on the other hand, prefer the more complex strategy brought about by the pitcher being in the lineup. Also, double switches in the lineup require more managerial strategy than a DH-present lineup. In essence, significant baseball strategy is lost when a DH is used.

During the 2003 season, Brooks Kieschnick of the Milwaukee Brewers became the first player in major league history to hit home runs as a pitcher, designated hitter, and pinch hitter in the same season.

Many have pointed out that World Series results don’t seem to reflect a DH-included lineup having much difference in won-lost stats. Does a potential 7-game series with either 3 or 4 games involving a DH constitute too small a test sample? Probably.

Eddie Plank has eight 20-win seasons and has the most career shutouts (69) by a left-hander in MLB history.

John Kruk, former All-Star first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, and current featured analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, believes the DH is a detriment for the American League teams. He explains that their clubs are built for a DH, and then when playing in a National League venue, the AL lineup is out-of-sync, thereby, diminishing the ability of the team to play well. Kruk cites other strategic reasons, such as severely reduced protection for hitters when a pitcher is adjacent in the lineup. I think Kruk is correct.

Pitcher Mark Langston pinch-ran for designated hitter Hubie Brooks in the top of the 9th inning, scored on a single, and then was in the remainder of the extra-inning game as the DH finishing with two strikeouts in a game at the Chicago White Sox on June 10, 1992.

In the case of the 2011 Rangers, they are less affected than most teams because their preferred DH, Michael Young, is also a Gold Glove-level infielder. Young can seamlessly play an infield position one game, a DH the next. Yet, in an NL park, there is still the matter of a pitcher protecting an adjacent batting order slot.

Of course, the DH rule does allow great hitters to have another season or two in the sun. I remember taking my son, Brian, to see his first Major League game at the old Turnpike Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Boston Red Sox were playing the Texas Rangers, and it was widely believed this would be the last trip to the Lone Star state by the great Carl Yastrzemski. The future Hall Of Famer, as a DH, collected a base hit that day, and my son and I went home happy.

So, there is at least one redeeming value to the purpose of the DH.

Now, time for the World Series 2011 to begin!

  • Maschek

    Great post. Since I’ve grown up focused on the American League in the post DH era, I don’t have as much of a feel for the intricacies of the non-DH/ NL game. Though it’s an obvious advantage for the NL. This is so unique. Of all major sports across the globe, this has to be the most unique feature. What other sport has such a significant difference in rules for teams who are, for all intents and purposes, in the same league?
    It seems the rules will never go back.
    Minor point of contention: Micheal Young is no longer a gold-glove level infielder. He is tremendously versatile, but seems severely average at the hot corner.
    p.s. Cardinals are about +140 to win the series. There is value there, no?

    • Paul Gillespie

      You are right about the uniqueness of the DH concept in major sports.  As a note, the Pacific League in Japan also has a DH rule while its counterpart, the Central League, does not.

      As for Michael Young, we still have him rated as a Gold Glove-level infielder even though we show him to be rated higher at 2B and SS than at 3B or 1B.  I decided to split the difference in favor of Young.

      There is value in the Cardinals at +140, especially since they are the home team. Enjoy the Series!

  • CubsForever31

    Despite the great experience you had of seeing Carl Yastrzemski at the end of his career when he was a DH, I believe we need to abolish the DH rule and return to NL rules for both leagues.  Rick Wise’s quote about having someone else shoot free throws for Wilt Chamberlain is spot on.  This is one reason why baseball and several other sports have an edge over the modern game of football: everyone is required to play both offense and defense.  Of course, there are many other reasons why baseball eclipses all other sports (see the famous comparison of baseball and football by the late George Carlin), but the DH rule hurts the game and relieves pitchers from having to step up to the plate to face the other team like the rest of his teammates.  It takes away from team spirit and it weakens the integrity of the game. 

    • Paul Gillespie

      Agreed! You are a real baseball fan. Enjoy the Series!

  • CubsForever31

    By the way, I’ve been following your fine blog posts, including the anecdotes about and photographs/captions of great historical players and figures in baseball.