This Day in Baseball History: January 11th, 1973

Definition of professional hitter, and designated hitter.

On January 11, 1973:

The American League approved a three-year trial of the designated hitter.

Hoping to jumpstart the offenses, the American League decided to try the designated hitter, a hitter who generally but does not have to bat for the pitcher. The National League had been beating the American League in most offensive categories, and the owners hoped the DH would solve those problems. They also hoped the improved offense would boost attendance.

This wasn’t the first time that the DH had been proposed. Connie Mack of the Philadelphia Athletics advocated a DH as early as 1906. In 1928, NL president John Heydler presented the idea on December 1st during a joint meeting between the two leagues. He hoped the DH would help speed up the game. In a move that might shock the present, the NL approved the decision to create a DH, but the AL refused the motion. Because both leagues needed to approve rule changes at the time, the rule was not put it into effect. How different the game could have been!

It seems as though the rule was not brought up again until Commissioner Howie Kuhn brought it up in the early 1970’s. In 1971, the Rules Committee shot down the motion with a 7-2 vote, but the DH gained ground in 1972, when the committee only shot it down 6-3. Kuhn brought together the owners and general managers a few weeks later to discuss the rule change. Support was more easily attained there, and they decided to use the DH on a trial basis. Other rules being discussed at that meeting were allowing a pinch-runner to enter the game without officially taking the other player out and having a limited interleague schedule only available to teams that played in the same city as another team from the opposite league. Lee McPhail, the Yankees’ general manager, argued:

I can tell you the advantages we felt it would accomplish. First, it would increase the offense of each team. Second, it would enable the club to retain a player, important in the club’s past, who possibly was no longer able to do the job defensively. Finally, teams would not have to remove pitchers for pinch-hitters. All these, we felt justified the rule change.

Even though it had been put into effect, it was not used in its current format of being used in AL parks even in the World Series and All-Star games until 1985 and 1989, respectively.

Here are some quick stats from 1972:
Attendance Average — AL 12,313; NL 16,699
Runs/Game — AL 3.47; NL 3.91
Home Runs — AL 1175; NL 1359
Batting Average — AL .239; NL .248

Here are some quick stats from 1973:
Attendance — AL 13,821; NL 17,173
Runs/Game — AL 4.28; NL 4.15
Home Runs — AL 1552; NL 1550
Batting Average — AL .259; NL .254

Here are some quick stats from 2008:
Attendance — AL 30,459; NL 34, 068
Runs/Game — AL 4.78; NL 4.54
Home Runs — AL 2270; NL 2608
Batting Average — AL .268; NL .260

Isn’t it weird thinking of the NL as the offensively-superior league? The DH helped even things out, and over time, it has led to the AL being the offensively-dominant league. The NL, however, still retains the lead in attendance.

I do think McPhail’s comment is interesting, mainly from the fact that he was right. Not that people can’t be right at predicting events, but usually things like this have unintended consequences. Other than some resentment, McPhail was absolutely right in his prediction. There’s more offense, teams can keep older players, and pitchers don’t have to be removed for pinch-hitters (although that one was easy to figure out).

Personally, I wish the DH would go away, but I’m okay with it staying put. It gives the AL an advantage over NL teams (maybe an unintended consequence), but over a seven-game series, it isn’t that big of a difference, especially considering the games played in the NL park where the DH either only hits once or has to play defense (which is presumably worse than the guy he’s replacing). The DH also gives baseball some of its charm. How many other professional sports have a major difference between the two conferences?


One Response to “This Day in Baseball History: January 11th, 1973”

  1. Ron Rollins Says:

    Great book on Matty. I highly recommend it. As well as this one on Walter.

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