A National League DH. Really?

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Here we go again, and I give the same response each and every time it starts: “A National League DH? Really?” I’m still trying to figure out whatever possessed MLB to start using them in the American League. MLB made a serious mistake by implementing the designated hitter (DH) rule, and now it looks like they’re going to try and screw up the National League with it.

History 101

On January 11, 1973, the 24 team owners voted to allow teams in the American League (AL) to use a “designated pinch-hitter” that could bat for the pitcher, though the pitcher would remain in the game. This idea wasn’t new in ’73, as MLB great Connie Mack reportedly suggested it as early as 1906.

In the early 1970s, A’s owner Charlie Finley became the concept’s biggest spokesperson and advocate. His intentions were good, even if the logic was flawed. Finley theorized that by using a DH, generally nonproductive pitchers for a batter who could hit, thus increasing the action in the game.

MLB attendance was down in the ’70s, and Finley theorized that by using a DH, added offense would draw larger crowds. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn bought into it hook, line and sinker (no pun intended), allowing the American League to use the DH. Why the AL, you ask? Because they trailed the NL in both runs scored and attendance.

On Opening Day in 1973 (April 6th), Ron Blomberg of the Yankees stepped to the plate as MLB’s first designated hitter. In case you’re wondering, he went 1 for 3, with an RBI and a walk. the rule would be tweaked over the next several years until morphing into the current version in 1986.

From the time of its inception, the rule was criticized by many and the rift between pro- and anti-designated hitter fans has continued into the present day.

Not Much Difference With a DH

The short answer; no, not really. Some years it proved beneficial, other years it didn’t.

In 2019, the average American League team scored 791 runs, while their National League counterparts averaged 774 runs. Hell, the Astros sign-stealing scandal was probably good enough to cover the 17 run difference. In 2018, the AL teams averaged 733 runs; the NL teams averaged 709 runs. Just to test the waters, I also looked randomly at the year 2003. That year AL teams averaged 788 to the NL’s average of 747. You can check the stats out for yourself, but trust me, they’re correct!

Because I’m fanatical about math and statistics (and a glutton for punishment), I decided to crunch a few numbers. Of the three years I looked at, 2003 had the greatest difference of average runs scored (41). I multiplied the 15 AL teams by their average of 788 runs (11,820), then did the same for the NL (11,205). The difference works out to be just 615 runs over a total of 4,860 games played that year (regular season only). In simpler terms, it equates to all of twelve-one-hundredths of one run per game!

Preserve the Integrity of the Game

Until 1973, pitchers batted for themselves. They did it in the minors, they did it in college, and they did it in high school. I played Little League for a lot of years, and come to think of it, we didn’t have a DH either. Hitting is part of the game. Period.

I understand that pitchers need to be more focused on pitching than hitting, but that’s part of the game. Guys like Jon Lester, Jacob DeGrom, Michael Lorenzen and Tyler Chatwood can hit; why can’t the others? The American League is not without pitchers who can hit. The Angels also have Shohei Ohtani and he seems to do pretty well for himself.

Not every pitcher is going to bat with proficiency, but then again, neither do a lot of position players. For years, the Cubs have had issues with offensive production out of centerfielders, but the league hasn’t offered a DH to fix that.

Despite adding the DH and a few extra runs, the AL still generally trails the NL in attendance. Maybe it’s time the American League starts playing by the National League’s rules.

The DH is ruining the integrity of the game and it doesn’t belong.

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Ken Allison is the senior of two MLB Department Heads, as well as a writer and editor for Overtime Heroics. A life-long MLB fan, he's also written for CubsHQ and had the opportunity to try out for the Chicago Cubs in 1986.