“The DH…and how it’ll never last!”
This year is the 39th anniversary of the American League’s adoption of the “designated hitter.” Because of that, I wish that I still had my sophomore English report that I in wrote 1972. If my memory serves me, at the conclusion I predicted that “The designated hitter will never last!”
For those who know me and for those who do not, my track record for predicting the future, especially those represented by acronyms, is not very good. For instance, I remember the article in Time magazine that my boss, Lee, showed me while in high school; it was about one of his classmates at Brown University by the name of Ted Turner who was creating a 24-hour news network called CNN. I boldly predicted that it would never survive. “Really Lee, who needs to know the news twenty four hours a day?” Of course, now I wonder how society was able to survive without it!
My failure at predicting the future did not stop with CNN. Before I got married, my wife and I visited my future mother and sister in-law. I can still hear Mary informing me how the husband of her college roommate was a sports journalist and recently hired by a fledging cable sports network. His name was Bob Ley and he was hired at something called ESPN! Once again I took out my crystal ball and boldly predicted its failure.
“Mary, I love sports, but there really isn’t a need for sports news around the clock!”
Three strikes and you’re are out? I am much more careful with forecasting the future I’ll leave that to the prophets.
Then one evening, several years ago, Margie, another one of my sister in-laws called the house.
“Bobby, do you know who Ron Bloomberg is?”
This question was totally unexpected. It also brought back memories my of sophomore English paper.
“Why yes I do. He was the first ‘Designated-hitter’ in major league history!”
It seems that Margie was at a Borders Bookstore and Ron was there signing a book called “Designated Hebrew.” He co-wrote it with Dan Schlossberg, a SABR member that I have met on a couple of occasions.
As a self-proclaimed baseball historian, I realize that our National Pastime has been making changes to the way the game is played since 1880. Supposedly Rule 6.10 was made for this purpose in 1973, well for half of the MLB. The following is a basic definition of MLB Rule 6.10:
“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. A Designated Hitter for the pitcher must be selected prior to the game and must be included in the lineup cards presented to the Umpire in Chief.
The designated hitter named in the starting lineup must come to bat at least one time, unless the opposing club changes pitchers.”
Jeff Nilsson of the “The Saturday Evening Post” writes that baseball has been constantly changing since 1880 and that the majority of time it is for the improvement of the game, although sometimes this improvement has been mistaken for the game’s profitability. Opinions on this will differ depending on who you talk with. As a traditionalist and lifelong National League fan, I feel that the DH was conceived mainly for profitability. Traditionalists like me prefer the game without the DH because it alters the way the game originated.
Anyway, the first day that the designated hitter was used was on April 6, 1973 and baseball history was made in Boston. The New York Yankees were squaring off against the Boston Red Sox. Ron Bloomberg was the Yankee’s DH but he was batting 6th and he did not appear to be the likely one to achieve infamy. No, more likely this place in baseball history would belong to Orlando Cepeda; Boston’s DH who was batting 5th. The Red Sox placed second in 1972 and their lineup that day featured four future members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Two members, Aparicio and Yastrzemski, batted before Cepeda. The New York lineup did not feature any future members of the “Hall.” Instead, it was dotted with non- luminaries such as Horace Clarke, Gene Michaels and two of the Alou brothers who were past their prime. Of course, it also included youngsters of the likes of Murcer, Nettles and Munson. But Boston had the muscle, evident by its 15-5 clubbing of the Yanks!
Aside from a weak and unproven lineup, the ever tough Luis Tiant was on the mound. After the first two New York batters made outs, Matty Alou doubled, and then both Murcer and Nettles walked bring up Ron Bloomberg, baseball’s first designated hitter. In his book, Designated Hebrew: The Ron Bloomberg Story, Ron admits that when he heard about the DH, he thought it was a joke.
The first plate appearance by a DH did succeed in supplying offense; Bloomberg drove in the first run. Although not hitting the ball, he instead walked with the bases loaded!