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5 Major Rule Changes in the History of Baseball

The Designated Hitter

No rule change in baseball has caused more controversy among fans and baseball traditionalists than the designated hitter rule, adopted by the American League in 1973. The reason for the rule change was simple: money. For years, the American League had been sluggish on offense [source: McKelvey]. Most baseball fans don't want to drop good money on tickets to see a 1-0 outing with three hits and no home runs. If you can improve the offensive output, the argument goes, you will sell more tickets. But how do you boost batting averages overnight? Ditch the pitcher.

It has been statistically proven that the worst offensive performers on every baseball team -- in both leagues -- are the pitchers. Pitchers are trained and recruited for a very specific skill: hurling a ball upwards of 90 miles (144.8 kilometers) per hour toward a shrinking strike zone. They don't spend much time in the batter's box, and they usually have the .154 batting average to prove it. For years, some major league owners wanted to bump the pitcher from the lineup altogether and replace him with a designated hitter, a guy whose sole job was to bat. The National League owners repeatedly struck down the DH, but in 1973, after a four-year trial period in the minors, the American League voted yes.

Designated hitters had an immediate effect on the game. The very first major league DH to take the field was the Minnesota Twins' Larry Eugene Hisle during a 1973 preseason game against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Hisle hit a three-run homer and followed it with a grand slam [source: Nilsson].

Baseball purists continue to argue that the designated hitter rule sullies the integrity of the sport by adding a tenth man to a nine-man game. But it remains the most significant difference between American League and National League play. During the World Series, the designated hitter rule only applies to games played in an American League stadium [source: Dodd]. Same for interleague regular season play, which began in 1997. Starting in 2011, every All-Star Game now uses the designated hitter rule, no matter the location.

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