I just finished reading Leigh Montville’s biography on the Babe “The Big Bam“. I’m ashamed to say that this was the first Babe Ruth biography that I have read, especially after reading a ton of bio’s about much more obscure players. One of the many factoids that stood out to me was this….
In December 1929, National League president John Heydler had showed up at the major league meetings in Chicago with a proposal he thought would add energy to the game, a proposal that would have been perfect for the 1933 Babe. Heydler had called it â€œten-man baseball.â€
The tenth man in the suggested ten-man baseball would be a permanent pinch hitter for the pitcher. Every time the pitcherâ€™s turn came to go to the plate, the tenth man would take his place. The pitcher never would hit. The tenth man never would play in the field. The game would be given a revolutionary, immediate injection of offense.
â€œWith the exception of two or three, practically all pitchers are weak hitters and weaker base runners,â€ Heydler, a former umpire and sportswriter, said. â€œWhen they come to bat, they literally put a drag on the game. No one expects them to do anything, and they literally suspend the action of the play.â€
Heydler had hoped the proposal would be put into action for the next season, 1930, by both leagues, but it found little support. Though traditionalist John McGraw surprisingly liked the idea, most baseball men had found it hilarious. The measure was tabled, never even brought to the floor for discussion.
â€œWith a rule like this,â€ Yankees scout Paul Krichell said derisively, â€œBabe Ruth could play until heâ€™s 50.â€
Ten-man baseball, alas, was not in effect. Not yet.
If you didn’t feel like reading the quote above, it essentially sums up a failed attempt to create the DH 43 years early for the 1930 season.
Most fans of Baseball History know that the National League in 1930 was the highest scoring league in the modern era. Just how high was it? The league batting average was .303, with an OPS of .808. Teams scored an average of 5.77 Runs per 9 Innings. The worst hitting team in 1930 had a batting average of .281. The best team in 2010 had a .272 batting average. This, of course, was with the pitcher in the lineup.
So when I though about the possibility of adding a Designated Hitter to this Run Scoring environment, I knew that I had to test out the possibilities.
First, I separated all position players from pitchers. Next, I calculated the BaseRuns to estimate runs produced for both of these groups. As I mentioned earlier, the league averaged 5.77 Runs/9 (before removing pitchers). The pitchers that year produced just 2.15 Runs/9 (256 Runs and 3,219 outs), while position players produced 6.17 Runs/9.
I’m making the assumption that the new “10th man” or DH would be a league average hitter. Doing this, we can replace the pitcher’s production with the DH’s. In those 3,219 outs, the DH’s would produce 735 Runs (3219 / 27 * 6.17) as opposed to the 256 Runs that the pitchers produced.
This means that by having added a Designated Hitter, the league would have scored 479 more Runs than it actually scored. On average, each team would have scored 60 more runs. And just imagine Hack Wilson with a DH in the lineup, with all those extra base runners, there’s a good chance his RBI record would be 200+ instead of 191.
But just as the quote above mentions, this change was never close to actually happening. But just imagine if it did. Records as we know them today could be different. Ruth could have extended his career and padded his numbers. Who knows, Bonds may have been chasing Ruth and not Aaron as the all-time leader.