One Short Argument for the Hall of Fame Candidacy of Designated Hitters
The debate over whether Edgar Martinez should be a Hall of Famer has typically swung on the question of the value of a designated hitter, and whether Martinez’s level of offensive production outweighs the loss of value from him not being available to play defense for the majority of his career.
A point in the debate that I haven’t seen emphasized (maybe I just haven’t looked in the right places) is the simple fact that American League teams are essentially required to have a designated hitter. (Rule 6.10 (b) in the major league baseball rulebook actually only says, “A hitter may be designated to bat for the starting pitcher and all subsequent pitchers in any game without otherwise affecting the status of the pitcher(s) in the game.” But of course an A.L. team that chooses not to use a dh puts itself at a substantial disadvantage to the other team.)
Martinez, Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, David Ortiz and others aren’t invalids being artificially preserved by not having to go out and field a position: they’re filling a position on their team that someone has to occupy. This is not the case for one and (rarely) two-inning relievers with hundreds of saves, such as Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, and Lee Smith, who are filling an optional, highly specialized role that actually arose after the role of designated hitter began in 1973. A designated hitter still isn’t doing as much for his team as a normal position player does, but when people accuse him of not pulling his weight, he can at least say that he has to be there at the position of dh.