It Was 40 Years Ago Today...

This is a significant anniversary date for baseball, and time to open up this can of worms again.

No, this isn't a 20-years-past-Sergeant-Peppers Beatles post.

If you don't know why Ron Blomberg is important in baseball history, it was 40 years ago today that Blomberg became the very first major league designated hitter.

On April 6, 1973 at Fenway Park, Blomberg, batting sixth for the visiting Yankees, became the first player to bat as a DH. In the bottom of the first inning the Yankees put together a three-run rally, with Blomberg contributing. His first at-bat was somewhat prosaic: he drew a bases-loaded walk. All told, he was 1-for-3 with that RBI walk that day. Blomberg was expected to be a better hitter than he was, yet another Jewish player the Yankees hoped would do well in New York, but he couldn't hit lefties (.304/.367/.500 vs. RHP, .215/.306/.272 vs. LHP) and soon faded into obscurity.

The DH for the Red Sox that day was Orlando Cepeda; Cepeda went 0-for-6 as the Red Sox blasted the Yankees 15-5. Cepeda was the archetype of the player people thought teams would use in that role -- aging sluggers who couldn't play the field much, or well, any more. Others who did this in the early years of the DH include Hall of Famers Henry Aaron and Billy Williams.

But ESPN's Christina Kahrl, in this well-reasoned piece promoting the DH in the National League, says that doesn't really happen as much now; even so-called full-time DH's like Adam Dunn play many games in the field:

Witness that Dunn started 56 games at first base or in left for the White Sox last year. If anything, a team's DH is more like a guy doing what Chris Davis did for the Orioles, starting 38 games at first and another 39 in the outfield corners when he wasn't DHing. He was a moving part employed to provide power; sometimes that was as a DH, but that wasn't his sole role.

Cases like Dunn and Davis are examples of how the 12-man pitching staff forces teams to employ DHs who have to be ready to play the field as well. Almost gone are the days when the 1983 White Sox had to ask whether they could put the Bull, Greg Luzinski (138 DH starts, two at first base), in the field if they reached the World Series. Papi's the only guy we've had to worry about on that score any more.

Beyond that change in baseball rosters since 1973 -- the 12-man staff now common, while most teams used just 10 pitchers then, some even getting away with nine most of the season -- I'll echo Kahrl's conclusion:

It gives us one less way for pitchers to unnecessarily risk injury doing something most aren't even remotely good at. Considering the money shelled out to starters, you know that's a fairly massive incentive right there. And if National League owners want to avoid seeing the best free-agent hitters taking American League offers, you can bet they'll eventually come to terms with cashing in this element of tradition as well.

Here's hoping the NL sees the light before the 5Oth anniversary of Ron Blomberg Day. Here's hoping that we see the day when the DH isn't employed in just half of the games, but all of them.

You've heard me make these arguments before, and I think Kahrl makes them eloquently. We have now had 40 years with the DH; if you're younger than that you don't remember an era when it did not exist. The idea of the DH is nothing new; it was first proposed by Connie Mack in 1906 and was nearly adopted in the 1920s:

The next honcho to go to bat for an extra hitter was [John] Heydler, the president of the National League from 1918 until '34. Heydler, a former umpire and sportswriter, helped bring Kenesaw Mountain Landis to baseball and baseball to Cooperstown, and he wanted to bring a little more offense to the game. In the late '2Os he made repeated efforts to introduce a 1Oth-man experiment, and he came very close to getting National League clubs to agree to try it during spring training in 1929.

I realize we've had this argument many times before. I bring it up again because it's the 40th anniversary of the first one, and as I've argued before: we no longer really have separate "leagues" any more, even though they're still called by that word. We have one "league", Major League Baseball, with two NFL-style conferences, with one leader (a commissioner, no separate league presidents), and one set of umpires.

It's time to have one set of rules. Have at it, and vote in the poll.

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