Since the 2022 MLB season, both the American and National League now have a designated hitter spot in their lineup. The DH (designated hitter) is a batter in the lineup that does not play the field. Before the 2022 season, the National League had the pitcher hit in the lineup, while the American League did not.
So, what is the designated hitter rule? Why was the DH spot created in the first place? Who was the first ever player to start in the DH spot in the lineup?
Here is the complete breakdown to the DH rule in baseball.
What is the Designated Hitter rule?
1973 was the first year when teams had a DH spot on their AL roster. The DH rule allows one player, who is the DH, to bat in place of the starting pitcher in the batting order lineup. With the batter taking the batting lineup position of the pitcher, the DH does not play the field for that baseball game.
During a baseball game, a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner can take the place of the DH in the starting lineup. However, once a player takes the position of the DH in the lineup, they become the DH for the Major League Baseball game. Once a DH player is taken out of a Major League Baseball game, they can’t return. Further down this article, you will see even more rule changes that take place with the DH.
Why was the DH Rule Created?
Back in 1906, Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack began championing the idea of the DH. In the 1920s, National League president John Heydler began championing the idea of a designated hitter but again fell flat with other clubs. It was not until the late 1960s for this DH idea to start.
In 1968, starting pitchers owned the baseball diamond with their stats. Pitchers’ at-bats were brutal most of the time, so the game was almost all pitching. Bob Gibson had a 1.12 ERA while Denny McLain won 31 games that season. To make matters even worse for hitters, Carl Yastrzemski led the AL with a .301 average, so something had to change. While the pitching mound went form fifteen feet high to ten, a new emphasis on a designated hitter became more apparent.
In 1973, American League owners led the vote 8-4 to adopt a DH strategy in the game. What began as a trial run for a bit in the International League and some Minor Leagues was ready for the big leagues. 1973 made history with the first official DH to play in a Major League Baseball Game.
Who Was the First Designated Hitter?
In 1973, Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees made history as the first DH in a Major League Baseball Game . The opponent of the Yankees was the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, and Ron walked in his first plate appearance. What seems like a small headline became a more obvious advantage at the end of the year. The American League as a whole had a better team batting average than the National League with the DH in the lineup. With DH rule changes having a positive impact with the team’s stats, owners saw an increase in fan attendance in the American League as well.
The Future for the National League Rule
The National League owners would need a majority vote to pass the DH rule for their league, but the ballots never came. As of 2020. the DH is only part of the AL but may change to all NL teams in 2022, according to CBS Sports. Rob Manfred continues to bring the discussion up with owners and players as something to consider with moving the game forward. Of course, you also have critics, purists, and fans who enjoy seeing the pitcher at bat during games in the National League. Some purists consider the National League to be more traditional, so they want to preserve that portion of the game. In addition to tradition, the NL has more strategy during the match with swapping pitchers for new batters.
In 2022, the new DH rule allows National League teams to use the DH spot in their batting lineup.
Famous Designated Hitters
There have been plenty of famous designated hitters to play Major League Baseball over the years via their home runs. Edgar Martinez from the Seattle Mariners, David Ortiz of the Boston Red Sox, and Frank Thomas from the Chicago White Sox are famous DH players. Both Edgar Martinez and Frank Thomas are in the Baseball Hall of Fame as of 2020. Other prominent DH players include Hal McRae, Don Baylor, Travis Hafner, and Paul Molitor.
Awards + Controversy
The DH role has fans split when it comes to awards. To recognize DH players (like baseball does with pitching and defense), players like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz win many exclusive DH awards. However, you generally won’t award a DH player the MVP award because they don’t play the field. People argue that the DH can’t be part of the MVP discussion, but Paul Molitor and David Ortiz each won the World Series MVP for their team as a DH. The only player to win a World Series MVP never to play the field was Hideki Matsui.
Do Teams Only Want a Permanent DH?
Most teams use the DH spot as a rotation to give position players rest from the field. Cycling players out of their defensive position gives them rest while keeping their bat in the lineup. A great defensive player can also benefit from being the DH if they are rehabbing from an injury as well.
For example, you may have a player who is recovering from a hamstring injury. By limiting them to only batting, you reduce their chances of injuring themselves from playing the field. The DH role keeps players on teams without putting them on the injury list if they can still bat.
What Happens to the DH During Interleague Games?
During interleague play in Spring training, the regular season, All-Star Games, or World Series, you play by home team rules. Home team rules mean if the game is in an AL park, you have the DH. During a game in the NL park, pitchers hit and there is no DH.
Different Rule Changes to Know
With everything in baseball, you can expect confusion when managers need to replace a DH. Technically speaking, a DH can move into the field during the baseball game. The manager comes over to the umpire to let them know the switch with the new lineup card. When the DH goes into the field, the team forfeits their DH spot and moves the pitcher into the batting order. An example is if the DH is the starting catcher, and the catching backup receives an injury during a game. To keep a catcher in the field, you move the DH catcher to the field, forfeit the DH spot. By forfeiting the DH spot, you then then have the pitcher bat in the lineup. When a change like this takes place, you can expect TV commentators or PSA to let fans know what’s happening.
The DH rule was to create more offense in baseball while giving older players more years to play. Players like David Ortiz had the DH role spark new life into their playing career for example. Players could play the game longer and still be impactful for their organizations for many years. If the DH was around when Babe Ruth was playing, you could imagine his stats being even better.