With all this talk about the potential of the National Leauge jumping on board with the designated hitter rule, it got me thinking about the origins of the rule. Discussions on adding the tenth player to the lineup to bat in place of the pitcher started back in the early 1900’s. The rationale was that pitchers were normally drafted for their pitching prowess versus their ability up to the plate.
In little league, pitchers were often some of the best hitters. However, as you progress through high school and beyond, pitchers spend less and less time on batting practice. That’s because at that point, any good coach that can recognize a potential pro level pitcher is going to have them spend a great majority of their time working on the mound. Of course, there are exceptions to that rule, most notably would be Babe Ruth who was initially drafted into the majors as a pitcher but etched his name into the history books with his bat.
In 1928, talk of the DH rule was revived by John Heydler, who was the National League president at the time, however, in an interesting twist of fate, it was the American League that voted against it. More than forty years went by before the topic was discussed again. The owner of the Oakland A’s, Charles Finley, became the biggest advocate of the rule in the early 1970’s. He did everything he could to rally the rest of the team owners to follow suit. His main reasoning was that he felt adding an additional batter to the lineup would increase the offensive side of the game and make it more exciting for the spectators. Most importantly, it would increase revenue and we all know how important that bottom dollar is. After all, running a MLB team is just like running a business.
The early ’70s were extremely tough on the American League. They lagged far behind the National League in both attendance and scoring for quite some time. In an attempt to try and fix this, AL owners lobbied to adopt the DH rule. On January 11, 1973, representatives of the two major leagues met for a joint meeting in Chicago, Illinois, presided over by MLB commissioner, Bowie Kuhn. The meeting was to vote on whether to allow the AL to put the rule into practice. While the NL resisted the change, it was voted that the AL was approved to use the DH rule for a three-year experiment. This was the biggest rule change in MLB history since 1903 when foul balls became strikes, as well as the first time in history that the two leagues would play under different rules.
It proved to be quite successful and later became a permanent rule change. Eventually, most amateur and minor league teams also adopted the rule. New York Yankee first baseman, Ron Blomberg, became the league’s first designated hitter in history on Opening Day, April 6, 1973. During the initial three-year agreement the DH rule did not apply to the World Series, however starting in 1976 the rule was altered to where it would be used during the even numbered years. It remained that way through the 1985 season, but starting in 1986, the current rule took effect. It’s now determined by the practice of the home team where each game was played. That equated to good baseball because the rule could vary from one game to the next.
So in conclusion, the reason why the AL adopted the DH rule comes down to one thing if you simplify it to its purest form, money. Most diehard baseball fans completely disagree with the DH rule, claiming that it takes away from the integrity of the game. However, if you can make the game more exciting, and potentially make more money, if that’s your motivation, why wouldn’t you adopt the DH rule. It almost makes you wonder what’s taking the NL so long to start utilizing it.