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.
For lots more information on baseball and other American traditions, explore the related links below.
Author's Note: 5 Major Rule Changes in the History of Baseball
My life would have been a lot different if I had been born in the 1830s instead of the 1970s. On the downside, I may not have survived my infancy due to chronic ear infections. And there's the whole lack-of-indoor plumbing thing, which is kind of gross. But on the plus side, I would have been a much better baseball player. I quit little league baseball in the fifth grade because I was sick of the opposing teams' pitchers using my head as target practice. Each of these overgrown 11-year-olds thought they were the next Roger Clemens and hurled the ball with reckless fury in the general direction of home plate. If we were playing the 19th century game, the pitchers would be tossing gentle underhand lobs, something I could really whack. If not for my almost certain death in the Civil War, I'd be boarding my secret time machine tomorrow.
- Baseball Almanac. "Babe Ruth Stats" (July 25, 2012) http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/player.php?p=ruthba01
- Baseball Almanac. "Baseball Rule Change Timeline" (July 25, 2012) http://www.baseball-almanac.com/rulechng.shtml
- Dodd, Mike. USA Today. "National League builds case against using DH rule in World Series." November 1, 2010 (July 26, 2012) http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/2010-10-31-nl-builds-case-against-using-dh-in-series_N.htm
- James, Bill. ESPN. "The Mighty Fastball." June 15, 2004 (July 25, 2012) http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=1822135
- McKelvey, G. Richard. All Bat, No Glove: A History of the Designated Hitter. McFarland, 2004 (July 27, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=HxxcVNKQpsMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Miklich, Eric. 19c Base Ball. "The Abner Doubleday Myth" (July 25, 2012) http://www.19cbaseball.com/game-2.html
- Miklich, Eric. 19c Base Ball. "Evolution of 19th Century Baseball Rules" (July 25, 2012) http://www.19cbaseball.com/rules.html
- Major League Baseball. "Official Baseball Rules: 2011 Edition" (July 25, 2012) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/downloads/y2011/Official_Baseball_Rules.pdf
- MLB.com. Base Ball Discovered. "The Diary of William Bray" (July 25, 2012) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/mediacenter/baseball_discovered/braydiary.jsp
- MLB.com. Base Ball Discovered. "Rounders" (July 25, 2012) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/mediacenter/baseball_discovered/rulesofthegame.jsp?content=rounders
- Nemec, David. The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated. The Globe Pequot Press, 1994 (July 25, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=6NGwe135o5EC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Nilsson, Jeff. The Saturday Evening Post. "The History of Baseball's Designated Hitter Rule: Or, the Decline and Fall of Western Civilization?" (July 25, 2012) http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/2010/01/09/archives/then-and-now/history-baseballs-designated-hitter-rule.html
- Rader, Benjamin G. Baseball: A History of America's Game. "The Era of Ruth." University of Illinois Press, 2008 (July 25, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=6jplRWwEmVIC&pg=PA126&lpg=PA126&dq=1920+rule+change+lively+ball&source=bl&ots=21Ceedxt-b&sig=UxKFuh-AsQHmp5PSZBBdY-yU2mA&hl=en&sa=X&ei=2lwNUPXbJca40QGb68yJBA&ved=0CFsQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Wright, Russell O. Dominating the Diamond. McFarland, 2002 (July 25, 2012) http://books.google.com/books?id=LtoOzy36AhQC&dq=1920+rule+change+lively+ball&source=gbs_navlinks_s
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