A designated hitter (often shortened to "DH"), is an official position adopted by Major League Baseball's American League in 1973 that allowed teams to boost sagging offensive performances by designating a player to bat in place of the pitcher. Since then, most amateur and minor leagues have adopted the same or similar rule, but the National League has not. No team is required to use a DH although every American League team does have one.
The designated hitter may not play a field position and he may only be replaced by another player not currently in the lineup. However, the designated hitter may change positions to become a position player at any point during the game. However, if he does so, his team forfeits the role of the designated hitter. Thus, the pitcher or a pinch hitter must bat in the newly-opened spot in the batting order. The designated hitter could also become the pitcher, in which case the pitcher or a pinch hitter must hit when that spot in the batting order comes up again. The designated hitter is often called the tenth man.
The rationale was that, with a few exceptions, pitchers are usually weak hitters. Babe Ruth was an outstanding all-around player; a prolific hitter who had begun his career as an equally prolific pitcher with the Boston Red Sox, and soon began playing in the field on days he did not pitch (to prevent severe arm injury, a given starting pitcher will perform once every 5 games). However, Ruth was eventually made a full-time outfielder during his first year as a member of the New York Yankees, 1920, and pitched very sporadically afterward. Generally, Ruth's post-1920 starts for the Yankees were at home, for the main purpose of boosting attendance.
The designated hitter, like other experimental baseball rule changes, was in part the brainchild of A's owner Charlie Finley. It was used first in spring training games in 1969, and was later adopted by the American League beginning in 1973.
On April 6, 1973, first baseman Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees became the first designated hitter in Major League Baseball history, facing Boston Red Sox right-handed pitcher Luis Tiant in his first plate appearance. "Boomer" Blomberg was walked.
Strategically, the designated hitter offers American League managers two primary options: they can either rotate the role among players, using left-handed hitting DHs against right-handed pitchers and vice-versa, or they can employ a full-time designated hitter. The adoption of the designated hitter rule has virtually eliminated the use of the double switch in the American League.
On June 12, 1997, San Francisco Giants outfielder Glenallen Hill became the first National League player to be the DH in a regular-season game against the American League's Texas Rangers at the Ballpark in Arlington, Texas (now Ameriquest Field in Arlington), when they met in interleague play. When the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the AL to the NL in 1998, the Brewers no longer used the DH on a regular basis, and, as also usually happens when a minor-league pitcher joins an NL team, their pitchers needed to take batting practice. The desginated hitter has only been used in a ntional league only game in spring training only. Most recently with Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants, while he recovered from a knee injury. To be able to do this Bonds had to get special permission from Major League Baseball as well as have agreement with the opposing team.
In recent years, full-time DHs have become rare, and the position has been used to give players a partial off-day, allowing them to bat but rest while the other team is batting. In 2005, only four players, David Ortiz, Travis Hafner, Carl Everett and Raul Ibanez, had more than 300 at-bats as a DH.
Baseball purists, and fans of the no-DH National League, argue that use of the designated hitter destroys the symmetry of the game. When the pitcher bats, all nine players take turns at the plate and in the field. With the DH, there are, effectively, three different classes of players, distinctly separating pitchers from other fielders and designated hitters.
While the DH is batting in what would be the lineup spot for the pitcher, the pitcher may be inserted into another spot in the lineup when the DH role is terminated, inconsistent with the principle that a player's position in the lineup is fixed for the entire game.
The designated hitter rule also changes manager strategy in late innings. Traditionally, a manager must decide when to let a pitcher bat or remove him, as well as who to pinch-hit with and where or if that player should take the field afterward. When the decision to remove a pitcher is made, the manager may also elect to double switch, delaying the new pitcher's turn at bat.
On the opposite side, a manager in a close game may have to choose whether or not to pitch around a DH in the late innings, possibly granting an intentional base on balls to avoid a potentially hard-hitting slugger in place of a relatively weak pitcher, while an NL manager will not have to choose whether or not to give up a baserunner (and the associated wear and tear on his pitcher's arm) to avoid a DH.
Advocates of the DH point to the fact that it has extended many careers, and, in a few cases, created long, productive careers for players who are weak fielders or have a history of injuries, such as Edgar Martinez. Moreover, Hall of Fame members George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, and Paul Molitor were able to extend their prolific careers by a few years as designated hitters. Dick Stuart, a notoriously poor fielder, played before there was a DH rule.
Fans of the DH rule argue that pitchers are able to play deeper into games than they otherwise might, by removing the manager's incentive to remove a pitcher from play in order to attain a short-term offensive advantage, and that since a pitcher's typical offensive "contribution" is at best to get out and at worst as a rally-killing double or triple play, it improves the play of the game to remove an "easy out" player from the batting order (AL fans also point out that the only baseball strategy removed by the addition of the designated hitter is the double switch; if anything, modern AL baseball with its dizzying array of specialist pitchers and batting styles is much more complex than baseball before 1973). Some National League baseball fans also claim that the designated hitter encourages beanball wars by removing the pitcher from the batting order, where he might be subject to retaliation. However, the numbers have not borne this out; inside pitching and intentional hit batsmen have actually decreased Template:Dubious in both leagues since 1973.
There is considerable debate over whether the designated hitter rule should be continued. Some have even argued that the National League should adopt it full-time. There are also fans who enjoy the fact that the different leagues use different rules, arguing that there should be some differences between the American and National Leagues and the Designated hitter is a fine example of that. Two generations of baseball fans in American League cities have grown up with the Designated Hitter rule being in place, and for them, the DH is as much a traditional part of baseball as the pitcher batting is for fans of National League teams.
The role of the designated hitter in the controversial interleague play schedule, implemented in 1997, is used or not used depending on which league the home team is a member of. If the home team is a National League team, it is not used; if the home team is an American League team, it is. The same format is adhered to in the All-Star Game and World Series play. From 1976–1985, the designated hitter rule was used in all World Series games played only in even-numbered years.
Critics also allege that, with this rule, the quality of play suffers because the home teams automatically receive a significant unnatural advantage no matter what league's rules are in effect. To combat this, Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan H. "Bud" Selig has proposed that the road team's rules would be followed for interleague games. It has proven to be an unpopular proposal.
On a lighter note, in the movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner's character, Crash Davis, says he believes (among other things) that "there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf and the designated hitter".
The designated hitter was ranked No. 9 overall in the book "Glow Pucks & 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" by author Greg Wyshynski (Taylor Trade 2006).
The designated hitter in amateur baseball
The use of the designated hitter rule in amateur baseball is nearly universal. The primary difference between the DH in the professional and amateur games is that the DH may bat in place of one player in any position in most amateur baseball leagues such as those that use National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules. Most high school coaches use a designated hitter in place of the weakest hitter in the lineup, if they use one at all. In amateur baseball, pitchers are often better hitters than non-pitchers and will often play another position when not pitching. Professional pitchers usually focus exclusively on improving their pitching, thus their batting skills often deteriorate compared to their teammates. However, in Canada, the DH must bat for the pitcher still.
One notable exception to the NFHS designated hitter rule in youth baseball is American Legion baseball. Legion rules exactly follow those prescribed in the Official Baseball Rules, which allow the DH only to bat for the pitcher. Prior to 1995, the use of the DH was not allowed in Legion baseball.
In college baseball, NCAA rules state that the designated hitter must hit for the pitcher, but in many instances the pitcher is also a good hitter, and the coach may elect to let the pitcher bat in the lineup. If the pitcher opts to bat for himself, he is treated as two separate positions — a pitcher and a designated hitter (abbreviated P/DH on the lineup card) — and may be substituted for as such (i.e. if he is removed as the pitcher, he may remain as the designated hitter and vice versa). However, if a player who starts a game as a P/DH is relieved as the starting pitcher, he may not return to the mound even if he remains in the game as the DH, and he may not play any other defensive position after being relieved as the pitcher. Conversely, a player who begins the game as the DH, but not as the pitcher, may come into the game as a reliever and remain as the DH (in effect becoming a P/DH), be relieved on the mound later in the game but continue to bat as the DH.
The designated hitter in international baseball leagues
The DH is used in most professional baseball leagues around the world. One notable exception is the Central League of Japan, where pitchers bat as they do in the National League.
The designated hitter in the minor leagues
Most, if not all, of the minor leagues have adopted the designated hitter rule for use in their games. Generally, the only exceptions are at the triple-A and double-A levels, and then only in games where two National League affiliates play each other. As players move up and get closer to reaching the majors, teams prefer to have the rules mimic (as closely as possible) those of the Major Leagues. A significant difference from the majors is that, in minor-league play, if either team is affiliated with an American League club, the DH is used regardless of the game site. Single-A and Rookie leagues use the DH in all games.
- Abolish the Designated Hitter (anti-designated hitter website)
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