By Michael LeCompte
On April 6, 1973 Ron “Boomer” Blomberg came to bat for the New York Yankees with the bases loaded against the Red Sox. The resulting at-bat, while fairly undramatic-Blomberg drew a walk from Boston’s Luis Tiant-was nonetheless historic. Blomberg came to bat as the first Designated Hitter in baseball history that day and the bat he held still as four balls flew past him is now in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Blomberg became the answer to a trivia question that day and Major League Baseball Rule 6.10 (which allows the designated hitter in the American League) has been in effect ever since, sparking debate about its place in the game and providing or prolonging the careers of several players for 42 seasons now.
The most common arguments against the use of the Designated Hitter are that it creates offensive and defensive specialization which, in turn, reduced the strategic element of baseball and it means pitchers in the American League do not have to be held accountable, either for their pitching or at the plate.
With the Designated Hitter in play American League managers can leave their pitchers in the game longer because they don’t have to worry about their spot coming up in the batting order at a crucial moment in a close ball game in the later innings.
National League clubs don’t have that luxury and managers must actively coach throughout a game, deciding when or if to let a pitcher hit so they can continue to pitch or to pull them for a pinch hitter, thus ending their start. Without the luxury of an extra bat in the lineup how long to leave a pitcher in, whether or not to let him hit, when his spot is next due up, are all elements that must be monitored and addressed at some point in every National League game.
The Designated Hitter has increased run production in the American League since its inception, making the game more exciting, at least offensively, for all but the purest of fans. There is no denying that the Designated Hitter has led to specialization. Now someone can be a professional hitter, they don’t have to worry about fielding a position or pitching, they can concentrate solely on batting.
Players such as David Ortiz and former Seattle slugger Edgar Martinez were able to have Major League careers because of the existence of the Designated Hitter, a fact which has led to more debate concerning whether a DH should get into the Hall of Fame. (The DH is a legal “position” on teams in the American League, filled like any other, so players that spent most or all of their careers as a DH should make the Hall of Fame.)
Martinez’s numbers certainly say he belongs in the Hall. He was a career .312 hitter and racked up 2,247 hits and although the yearly award for the best DH now bears his name, the Hall of Fame has not come calling since he has been eligible.
Recently debate about whether the Designated Hitter should expand to the National League or exist at all has increased as pitchers have been injured while attempting to bat. The variation between leagues, of only having the Designated Hitter in one, is not a bad thing, though. It is actually kind of fun to have some differences for fans of each league and style, and with interleague play and the World Series, teams have to play with and without the DH at certain points of the season anyway.
In regards to expansion of the Designated Hitter, though, new Commissioner Rob Manfred has stated, “I’m a status-quo guy on the Designated Hitter. I actually think it’s a topic that causes people to talk about the game and debate the game. I believe that debate is a strength of our game and should be encouraged.”
Indeed, as Rule 6.10 is endlessly debated among fans Designated Hitters continue to smash the ball out of American League parks and pitchers keep swinging awkwardly at the plate in the National League, and all the while the game carries on.