In the first inning of a game at Fenway Park on April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg worked a bases-loaded walk to give the Yankees an early 1-0 lead. A few hours later, Terry Crowley popped up to third base to lead off the second inning for the Baltimore Orioles in a home game against the Brewers. These two at-bats seem normal enough, but in fact, they changed the game of baseball forever. Blomberg and Crowley became the first ever designated hitters in baseball history, a concept which was introduced for the ‘73 season.
The pitching dominance of the 1960’s from aces such as Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Denny McLain led to Major League Baseball’s decision to implement the position after decades of debate over adding it.
Last Saturday marked the 40th anniversary of the DH, and sparked another bit of controversy over the extent of the AL-exclusive position. And this year–the first in which there is at least one interleague game every night where there is a full slate of games–is an especially poised year for the debate to finally turn into action.
In every single season since its inception in 1973, the American League has bested the National League in batting average for the season.
We have seen the careers of aching veterans extended due to the couch-potato essence of the designated hitter. When Jorge Posada’s knee left him unable to start behind the plate, he was shifted to the DH and played another summer on the diamond.
Maybe Lou Brown should have considered doing the same with Jake Taylor as his playing career came to an end. No one is complaining, though, as Taylor’s managerial expertise helped the fictional 1994 Indians win a pennant over Parkman and those pesky White Sox.
Real-life White Sox DH Adam Dunn, whose career in left field is long gone, is now in his third season as a full-time designated hitter after coming over from the Nationals. Dunn, who may not have found a place on a team without the position, hit 41 home runs last year, tied for fifth in all of baseball.
The same designated hitter success can be said for otherwise immobile players, such as David Ortiz and Frank Thomas.
But there is an obvious common thread among all the players that have been mentioned. They have all played in the American League. The National League’s DH discrimination has prevented these players from seeking out any teams in that other league. So why keep the DH confined to the American League?
In baseball’s new interleague play format, teams from opposite leagues go head-to-head not over a span of a few weeks, but sporadically throughout the year. With more interleague games comes more embarrassing hitting performances from pitchers who haven’t stepped into a batter’s box since they lost their last teenage pimple.
These pitchers are forced to take remedial hitting and bunting lessons in the days leading up to their start on the mound. In most cases, the practice doesn’t even do them any good. They end up swinging and missing badly anyway. Not all big league players can rise to the level of Chris Davis, who has shown mastery of both the mound and the box.
There is one solution that seems to take care of all the problems: expand the DH to the National League.
The comic relief that pitchers hitting provides is short-lived, and by the second game of interleague play, we’ve had enough of the comedy and we’re more annoyed at the wasted at-bat. And spare me the arguments of outliers such as Micah Owings and Carlos Zambrano. If they want to pitch in the NL and hit as well, use them as your designated hitter.
In the years after the MLB God-willing decides to eradicate the idea of pitchers trying to make solid contact, we will look back at the Dark Ages we are now living in as pure stupidity. To, during interleague play, give such an advantage to the National League pitchers who hit year-round, is preposterous.
So, if Bud Selig and Major League Baseball have a minute to spare from their steroid witch-hunts and instant replay bouts, take a minute to consider a change in the practical way in which the game is played.