#DiamondDebates: The DH
In the late 60s and early 70s, the offensive draught that plagued the American League (AL) seemed to indicate that there was need for action. The 1968 season saw only one American Leaguer hit over .300, and the league average hovered around a diminutive .230. The first response was to disadvantage pitchers, and the mound was lowered from fifteen inches to ten. Initially, it helped. The AL batting average went from .230 to .246, and runs per game went up from 3.41 to 4.09. But the relief didn’t last long. The early 1970s again saw pitching reign supreme as runs per game fell back down to 3.47 and the AL batted a collective .239.
Charlie Finley, owner of the Oakland A’s during the 1960s and 70s, saw the lack of offense as a major problem for attendance. "The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn't come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game," said Finley. With the AL trailing the National League (NL) in attendance by more than 2 million, Finley had a point. But he had a solution, too; the designated hitter. "I can't think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can't hit my grandmother,” Finley said. “Let's have a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher."
As the main proponent of the DH, Finley wouldn’t let the issue die. So, on Jan. 11, 1973, at a meeting of the major leagues, it came to a vote. American League team owners voted 8 – 4 in favor of the DH. The NL, however, didn’t adopt it. So, from that point on, the two leagues played under a different set of rules.
Fast forward to the present day. In the AL, the DH is alive and well. But, as the NL continues to operate without the DH, the argument surrounding the position persists. Which style of play is better? With the DH or without?
Not only does the DH protect pitchers, but it also injects excitement into the game. Adding more great hitters makes it more likely to see what the average fan comes to the ballpark for. “The designated hitter provides more offense and a more exciting game overall for the fans,” said Baltimore Orioles Owner Peter Angelos. “That is important because baseball has a tendency at times to be slow-moving and unexciting. This adds another dimension of excitement to the game and that's why I support it.”
“Thanks to the DH, the Junior Circuit has adopted a swing-for-the-fences mentality which precludes half the country from enjoying that added dimension of the game called strategy. I mean real decisions - only seen in the NL. The moves which have you arguing with your buddies the next day. Should the manager have ordered that sacrifice bunt? What was he thinking pulling that double-switch when there was still plenty of time to come back? To me, the only people who benefit from the DH are those 14 or so high-paid, aging superstars who grace us with their presence every couple of innings. Let's go back to playing the game the right way - sans DH."
While the AL relies on a consistent hitter in the DH, the NL has to give it a little more thought, deciding when and where to use a pinch hitter and whether or not to lay down a bunt. Using that kind of strategy and small ball is something that the AL sometimes forgets and the NL is often admired for.
There’s no clear winner of the argument as evidence for both sides continues to develop. There are pros and cons for both styles of play. As time goes by, the DH debate will only continue to grow. And in the eyes of MLB Comissioner Rob Manfred, there’s nothing wrong with that. “…the difference in the rules is a topic that people love to debate, and I am a huge believer in the idea that if people are talking about baseball, that's a good thing for us.”
Andrew Bevevino was the 2015 digital strategy intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum