January 11, 2011

The DH Was Adopted 38 Years Ago Today

On this date in 1973, the American League voted 8-4 in favour of a three-year experiment using a designated hitter for the pitcher. Initially, it was also called a "designated pinch-hitter" or DPH. (Rule 6.10(b) can be read here.)

In the National League, the proposal was defeated 6-4, with the Phillies and Pirates both abstaining. According to a 2008 article in Baseball Digest, Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter was on a fishing trip and could not be reached by phone, and Pittsburgh's representatives had been instructed to vote with the Phillies. NL president Chub Feeney said, "We like the rules the way they are." (However, as we will see, the NL approved the use of a DH back in 1928.)

The idea of having a substitute batter for the pitcher goes back approximately 120 years. Bill James wrote in his Historical Abstract that it was first discussed in the 1890s, but he did not give a citation. I found a post on a baseball message board claiming that, in the December 19, 1891 issue of The Sporting News, former manager Ted Sullivan suggests that pitchers should not be allowed to bat and Pirates president William Temple (who sponsored the Temple Cup*, sort of a precursor to the World Series) recommended replacing the pitcher in the lineup with another hitter. Someone else thought the pitcher should simply be skipped in the lineup (making an eight-man batting order, I guess). The idea of a designated hitter was also mentioned in The Sporting Life the following month.

* Keith Olbermann recently posted some pictures (and their decidedly erroneous captions) taken during the 1894 Temple Cup.

In 1906, Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack resurrected the DH idea. As the Philadelphia North American reported:
The suggestion, often made, that the pitcher be denied a chance to bat, and a substitute player sent up to hit every time, has been brought to life again, and will come up for consideration when the American and National League Committees on rules get together. This time Connie Mack is credited with having made the suggestion. He argues that a pitcher is usually such a poor hitter that his time at the bat is a farce, and the game would be helped by eliminating him in favor of a better hitter. Against the change there are many strong points to be made. ... It is a cardinal principle of baseball that every member of the team should both field and bat. ... The better remedy would be to teach (the pitcher) how to hit the ball.
Other press accounts called Mack's proposal "wrong theoretically".

In the late 1920s, National League president John Heydler (who was also a former umpire and former sportswriter) made repeated efforts to introduce a 10th-man experiment. The Reach Guide reported that at the winter meetings in December 1928:
Heydler wants to modify the rules so that the manager has the option to select a pinch-hitter before the game and permit him to bat for the pitcher. In other words, a manager could keep a weak-hitting pitcher, or pitchers, from ever batting if he so selects.
The NL approved the idea for the 1929 season, but the American League did not, and the matter was scrapped. (I wonder how much more offense would have been generated in 1930 had the NL -- which batted .303 as a whole! -- gone ahead on its own.)

During the 20th century, various minor and amateur leagues have experimented with a DH. In 1940, the Bushrod Winter League (a California amateur league) tried it out. The Pacific Coast League was set to use a DH in 1961, but the idea was nixed that spring (by an 8-1 vote) by the Professional Baseball Rules Committee.

Four minor leagues -- the International, Eastern, Texas and New York Pennsylvania leagues -- used a DH for the 1969 season. In fact, the American and National leagues tried it out in spring training games that spring, with the AL also using with a designated pinch-runner. On March 26, 1969, however, MLB nixed the idea for the time being.

At the winter meetings in January 1973, AL owners vowed to "exert every effort" to pass three changes for the coming season: interleague play, a designated hitter for the pitcher, and a designated pinch-runner, who could be used several times a game. In January 1973, the AL owners voted for a designated hitter.

Oakland A's owner Charlie Finley:
The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn't come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game. I can't think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can't hit my grandmother. ... I pushed the DH for three years. They thought I was nuts, but after continuously harping, I finally woke them up.
After the AL vote, nuclear engineer and computer scientist Arthur V. Peterson ran some simulated seasons for Sports Illustrated and reported what he thought would be the increase in batting. An article in February noted that the DH rule had been adopted with no public debate or any real discussion.

The increase in team scoring was minimal, less than one additional run per game. In the three years before the DH (1970-72), an American League game averaged 7.55 runs. In the first three years of the DH (1973-75), that average increased to 8.43. And attendance rose, as hoped, so the AL made the DH a permanent part of its game.

However, it is not mandatory for an AL manager to use a designated hitter. There have been four games in which a team chose to have its pitcher bat:
October 2, 1974 - Ferguson Jenkins batted for Texas (at Minnesota) (the final game of the season; Fergie went 1-for-2)

September 27, 1975 - Ken Holtzman batted for Oakland (vs California) (the penultimate game of the season)

July 6, 1976 - Ken Brett batted for Chicago (at Boston)

September 23, 1976 - Ken Brett batted for Chicago (vs Minnesota) (The White Sox were shut out in both games)
In September 1980, Baltimore manager Earl Weaver used a pitcher from his bench as his DH in 21 of the season's last 24 games*. It gave Weaver -- who relied extensively on statistics to gain any possible platoon advantage -- the option of making a last-second substitution without burning an actual pinch-hitter in case the opposing starter left the game very early because of injury or ineffectiveness.

* The first time Weaver did this was September 10 in Detroit. He had Steve Stone batting 6th, but Stone wasn't at the park. In fact, he wasn't even in the country. Stone had gone to Toronto ahead of the team because he was starting the next day against the Blue Jays.

Weaver used Stone 12 times, but he also penciled in Jim Palmer (3 games), Mike Flanagan (3), Tippy Martinez (2), and Scott McGregor (1), usually in the 6th spot. After the season, MLB passed a rule closing Weaver's loophole.

The first National League DH? Glenallen Hill of the San Francisco Giants on June 12, 1997. He faced Darren Oliver of the Rangers and fouled out to first.

Some DH quotes:

Pitcher Rick Wise, 1974:
The designated hitter rule is like having someone else take Wilt Chamberlain's free throws.
Rob Neyer, 2003:
I'm starting to wonder if it's time, after 30 years, for the designated hitter to go the way of the Federal League, flannel uniforms, and multi-purpose stadiums. ... [N]obody needs help scoring runs any more ... 30 years is long enough.
Tony LaRussa, New York Times, October 22, 2006:
There's no doubt in my mind that the game of baseball in all its beauty and entirety is the National League game. I would kick the DH out so quick it would make your head spin.
Jim Leyland:
Everyone in the world disagrees with me, including some managers, but I think managing in the American League is much more difficult [because of the designated hitter]. In the National League, my situation is dictated for me. If I'm behind in the game, I've got to pinch hit. I've got to take my pitcher out. In the American League, you have to zero in. You have to know exactly when to take them out of there. In the National League, that's done for you."
Bill James, The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, 1986:
One of the complains that baseball traditionalists have about the Designated Hitter Rule is that it drains the game of strategy, eliminating the need to make a series of crucial decisions and allowing a manager to cruise through the last few innings or to concentrate on something else. ... What the DH rule actually does, I suggested [in an earlier Abstract], is eliminate from the game a series of forced, obvious moves, which involve in fact no option on the part of the manager, and thus no strategy. ... The DH rule saves the pinch hitters, and thus in effect makes the roster larger. As such it creates, not eliminates, strategic options for American League managers. ...

I'm not an advocate of the Designated Hitter Rule; I'm only an advocate of seeing the truth and telling the truth. ... Does strategy exist in the act of bunting? If so, the Designated Hitter Rule has reduced strategy. But if strategy exists in the decision about when a bunt should be used, then the DH rule has increased the differences of opinion which exist about that question, and thus increased strategy ... [I]f strategy is an argument, then I would argue that there is more of a difference of opinion, not less, in the American League.


laura k said...

Nice history lesson, thank you.

mattymatty said...

Great write up, Allan.

FenFan said...

Another great post, Allan!

FenFan said...

Didn't you write a post once giving your opinion of the DH rule? Or am I thinking of another blog? I tried a Blogger search and found a lot of nothing. :S

allan said...

I am anti-DH.

nick said...

Thank you for that! Very interesting. I'm not thoroughly pro- or anti-DH, but I'm glad there aren't designated runners.

Maybe I'm dense, but I don't understand what Weaver was doing by putting pitchers the DH slot. How could he put someone in the lineup who wasn't there? Who would bat?

Amy said...

Thanks, Allan, very interesting. I had no idea how long this idea had been kicking around before 73.

I am generally anti-DH, especially since I was a NL fan until 75. But now I am so used to it that NL games seem very odd to me. I would prefer going back to the traditional game, but more importantly, I would like to see consistency between the two leagues: either both use the DH or neither.

Do you know whether the NL has ever reconsidered the DH rule? I assume the AL has not.

Thanks again!

allan said...

It was quite a chore finding out the NL vote. All I could find was "narrowly defeated". I ended up stumbling on the BD article right before I posted. (You'd think that info would be easier to find.) I don't think the article mentions how Carpenter would have voted. If he said Yes to the DH, it would have been 6-6. Then what? Would the league president break the tie?

Maybe I'm dense, but I don't understand what Weaver was doing by putting pitchers the DH slot. How could he put someone in the lineup who wasn't there? Who would bat?

The pitcher would never actually bat. Weaver would have whoever was going to be his normal DH pinch-hit -- but if the starter was knocked out, maybe he would go with an opposite-hitting batter as DH. Like if Tito was going to have Drew DH against a RH. He puts Lackey (last night's starter) in the lineup as DH. If the RH starter is still when the DH spot comes up, Drew hits for Lackey and is the DH. But if for whatever reason, the RH starter is not in the game and a LH reliever is in (1st or 2nd inning, so it is unlikely), then maybe Tito would pinch-hit a RH batter instead of Drew as his DH. I did not look to see if the opposing pitcher ever left early in those Orioles games.

(I wish I was in New York. It would have been easy to zip down to the NYPL on 42nd Street and look at the 1890s microfilm for the exact quotes.)

allan said...

Nick: Or are you talking specifically about Stone on the 10th? Maybe they did not announce that he was not with the team that night? Was that done them?

If the umpire knew Stone was somewhere else, and Weaver had him in the lineup, would he say something? ... Of course, the umpires had to know Weaver would not actually have his pitcher bat as the DH no matter what, so it is kind of the same thing.

I have no recollection of this back in 1980.

I have never read Weaver's autobiography. I should.

allan said...

All issues of Baseball Digest are online, so I'm looking for any articles about the leagues trying a DH out in 1969 spring training.

In April 1969, there is an article by John Justin Smith of the Chicago Daily News stating that the recent election of Bowie Kuhn as baseball's newest commissioner "will bring about the end of the American and National leagues, as we know them. The two leagues will either be merged into one big league or possibly will be split into three leagues."

And Baseball Digest picked the Mets to finish in last place in the NL East.

Amy said...

And Baseball Digest picked the Mets to finish in last place in the NL East.

Do they usually do such a fine job of prognostication?

allan said...

The March 1969 issue has three stories on possible changes to the game, including having pitchers simply wave a guy to first on an intentional walk rather than throwing four pitches. Things never change ....

Anonymous said...

I'm actually rather intrigued by the concept of the 8-player batting order. Don't have to have the quasi-automatic out, but also don't have the guy who rides the pine all game except for four trips to the batter's box.

I would never go for it in 2011, but back then...maybe not a bad idea!

andy said...


allan said...

Good to "see" you again! I hope all is well.