Designated for change (cont.)
Posted: Friday March 21, 2008 12:57PM; Updated: Friday March 21, 2008 12:57PM
The Designated Lifestyle
Players had varied reactions to the role of DH in those first few seasons.
Tommy Davis: My favorite DH memory was the time I'm on the phone in the trainer's room talking to my first wife. The [Orioles] trainer came up and tapped me from behind. I said, "What do you want?" He said, "Tommy, you're up." "I'm what?" "You're due up right now and everybody's looking for you. They're waiting on you out there." I had to run all the way through the tunnel and as I get to the dugout, [manager] Earl [Weaver] is standing there, just looking at me with those eyes of his. He's burning. I don't even want to look at him. I grab my bat and run up to the plate. Man on second and I can feel Earl staring at me. Good thing I got a base hit, knocked in the run. When the inning's over, I get back to the dugout, and Earl's turning away, trying not to look at me. What could he say? I drove in the run. That was funny. Then I went back to the trainer's room. The phone's still open and I just picked it up and continued the conversation.
My other memorable game was a game I didn't play, if you could believe it. I had just DH'd in two games with the Orioles and went six-for-nine. I come into the clubhouse and look at the lineup. I'm not in it. So I walk into Earl's office and, like it's a joke, say to Earl, "Hey, baby, six-for-nine and he's not even in the lineup." Now, what you have to know about Earl is that he was a human computer before they had computers in baseball. He had stats for everything -- who you hit, who you didn't hit, how you did in certain parks at night or during the day. He grinned at me and said, "Hey, Tommy baby, do you know who's pitching tonight? Luis Tiant." He grabs some of his stat sheets and says, "Oh-for-two years, baby! You got to sit your butt down today." I hadn't realized it was oh-for-that-long, because Tiant would give you a nice, easy oh-for-four. So I sat down and Earl put in Tom Shopay and Tommy goes out and gets two hits. What could I say? Earl knew what he was doing.
Ralph Houk: When I went to the Tigers, I used Rusty [Staub] as the DH for two reasons. First, he was a tremendous hitter, someone who drove in a lot of runs for us. Second, Rusty was as prepared as any player on the team. He studied pitchers all the time and he concentrated on them when he was on the bench, looking for something that might help him pick up a pitch. You know, I watch baseball on TV, and I've been noticing pitchers who show a lot of white in their gloves when they throw their curveballs. We used to remind pitchers not to do that, but I see it happening today. Rusty would pick up on something like that immediately. So he had the sort of focus you wanted in a designated hitter. He trained himself to be a good DH. I used to send him to the trainer's room to take extra swings and stay warm while our team was in the field. Then he'd come out and watch the opposing pitcher. He did very well for me in that spot in a position that's a lot tougher than people realize, both for the player and the manager.
The DH'S Legacy
No other rule change in baseball has had as divisive an impact among fans as has the designated hitter. History does not report fan outrage at the reduction in the number of balls required for a walk or the mound being moved back to 60 feet 6 inches in the 1800s. There were no bumper stickers protesting those moves, or the creation of the foul strike, or any other movement on baseball's part. None have caused such a passionate outcry that resonates to this day.
For more than three decades baseball has had it both ways, as the National League has never followed the American into the world of the DH. Since the reasons for the designated hitter's institution have long since ceased to be relevant (scoring and attendance are not in danger of sinking to late '60s/early '70s levels anytime soon), there isn't much chance of the rule being adopted in the senior circuit. (At least the two leagues have settled on a reasonable compromise: using the DH in American League parks for interleague games, All-Star Games, and the World Series.)
And if the DH were eliminated, who would protest? Would the American League suddenly lose its allure? Now that a whole generation has become fans without knowing any other way, there's a good chance we'll never find out. The DH has practically been around long enough to be considered an institution. But some fans might not remember that the DH rule did come up for a vote in the NL in 1977, and that baseball came a lot closer to having the DH in both leagues than people may know.
Bill Giles: If Ruly Carpenter, the president of the Phillies, had not been fishing in the Atlantic Ocean in 1977, both leagues would have the DH. Ruly had asked me to represent him at the National League meeting in 1977 and to vote for the DH because he and Phillies general manager Paul Owens felt that the Phillies would be a better team with the DH. The Phillies had two very good hitters, Greg Luzinski and minor leaguer Keith Moreland, who were not very good defensively. But when I got to the meeting I was informed that even if it passed, the DH would not become effective until the next season because the players' union had to approve it, and they never approved an owners' unilateral decision. The owners could implement this kind of decision in the next year. The National League needed seven votes [out of 12 teams at the time] to pass the DH. There were six teams in favor and four against when the vote came around to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Harding Peterson, general manager of Pittsburgh, was told by owner John Galbraith to vote the same way as the Phillies because the teams were big rivals at the time. I tried to reach Ruly by phone but was told that he was out on the ocean fishing. I did not know how to vote because of the year delay in adopting the rule, so I abstained and the Pirates abstained. An abstention is the same as a "no" vote, and as a result of my inability to reach Mr. Carpenter that fateful day, there is no DH in the National League. The issue has never come up for official vote again and, if it did today, the result would more likely be the elimination of the DH in the American League.
Bud Selig: Look, the American League clubs like it, the National League doesn't. The National League at one point almost did it, but they'll never do it now. And, the American League clubs -- I really believe it would take a cataclysmic event for there to be a change. What does that mean? Maybe overall, geographical realignment. Otherwise, I think it was Bill Giles of the Phillies, who's very much like I am, very sensitive to baseball, who said, "You know, a little controversy between the leagues isn't bad and maybe this is all right." And so that's why everybody has left it the way it is, including me.
Thomas Boswell: From the very beginning I preferred that the two leagues be different and that the two forms of baseball exist. I never had any idea why that was, except it just seemed fun to see the game played two different ways. Both seem viable and interesting and it was not clear to me which was intrinsically better. In periods where pitching might have a little bit of an advantage, the existence of the designated hitter helped the sport as a whole from becoming too pitching-dominated. In periods where there was too much hitting, I'm not sure it was as easy to justify. Baseball survived too much hitting much, much better than it survived too much pitching. The only time you had attendance problems was when pitching was too dominant, and the existence of the designated hitter keeps some of your older and better hitters in the game as long as they can still walk to the plate. It doesn't bother me to have a sport where there are 14 jobs that can be occupied by Cecil Fielder as long as he can waddle to the plate. The existence of a 270-pound slugger who can't play a defensive position doesn't insult me as much as it does some people. I wouldn't want the whole sport to have that. I wouldn't want every team to have a beer-league guy at that position. But I don't consider my position on the DH logical, and I really can't explain it.
Luis Tiant: When the National League plays their way and we play our way, it's strange. I don't know why they don't change it one way or the other. Both put in the DH, or the American League comes back to the way it used to be.
Whitey Herzog: It's a fundamental rule and I think it should be the same in both leagues: no DH, the pitcher should hit. It's a great handicap for AL clubs to lose the DH. If the rules are going to be different, then no interleague play. Let all the managers who have managed at least one year in each league, since 1973, get a vote. Let them decide. I don't know how the vote would go. You can't get rid of it right away. If you vote it out in 2007, then phase it out by 2010. The best place for the DH is the All-Star Game, and they don't use it there all the time.
4 of 4