Hershberger: The inevitability of the designated hitter

From SABR member Richard Hershberger at Ordinary Times on June 9, 2015:

I fully expect to see the National League adopt the designated hitter (DH) rule within my lifetime, and I am no longer young. This prediction brings me no joy. I have been a National League guy most of my life, and prefer the traditional rule of the pitcher batting. I am not writing, however, to argue this. You either know the arguments by heart by now, or don’t care. My subject is why the rule has become inevitable.

The DH was introduced to the American League in 1973 in response to a period of historically low offense. The idea was to remove the worst hitter from the lineup and put in some guy who can actually swing a bat. This was a valid point, but irrelevant to later discussions. The National League worked things out without the DH, and level of offense has nothing to do with the subsequent and continuing spread of the rule.

Peter Ueberroth, coming off successfully organizing the Los Angeles Olympic games, was made Commissioner of Baseball in 1984. One of this goals was to reunify the rules. This went nowhere with the owners, and the idea was quietly dropped. The discussion stands out today in that it was open about which way the rules would go. Ueberroth was agnostic about whether the DH should be adopted by the NL or abandoned by the AL. It was possible in 1984 to think of the DH as an experiment that had been given a fair chance, but which had run its course. This is inconceivable today. No one seriously, and few even frivolously, would suggest that the AL abandon the DH. What has changed?

Read the full article here: http://ordinary-gentlemen.com/blog/2015/06/09/the-inevitability-of-the-designated-hitter

Originally published: June 10, 2015. Last Updated: June 10, 2015.