SI Vault
William Leggett
May 07, 1973
Baseball's designated hitters are not all sound of limb, but they are giving the game more punch than it has had
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May 07, 1973

Off The Bike And Into The Box

Baseball's designated hitters are not all sound of limb, but they are giving the game more punch than it has had

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Cepeda's knees are in such bad shape he goes to the trainer's room at Fenway Park between innings, works out on an Exercycle and lifts weights with his feet. The Desi rule has saved him.

"I have had the problem of gaining confidence in my knees after my last operation," Cepeda says, "but I know I can do this job." Cepeda is 35 and hopes to play two more years as a Desi. At least he has the breeding to do so. His father, Perucho Cepeda, known as the Ty Cobb of Puerto Rico, played until he was 45.

There were additional heroes. No fewer than five of the league's top 10 hitters have functioned full or part time as Desis: Ed (Spanky) Kirkpatrick of Kansas City (.386), Jim Ray Hart of the Yankees (.385), Alex Johnson of Texas (.368), Mike Andrews of Chicago (.366) and Cepeda. Hart was picked up recently by the Yankees not only because he is a good hitter but because New York was seeing far too many left-handed pitchers. When the season started, the Yankees used Johnny Callison, Ron Blomberg and Ron Swoboda as Desis and they hit only .077. Last week Swoboda sat in as host of a radio phone-in show in New York and one of the callers asked, "Ron, do you have a better chance to win the pennant now that you have Jim Ray Hart as a DH?"

"Boy," answered Swoboda, "do I love you guys who jump on the bandwagon!"

Hart, once a third baseman, says, "I like this job very much. I have three gloves in my locker and I hope they fall apart from age before I get a chance to use them. I don't miss playing in the field. I might just get a rocking chair for the dugout like old Satch Paige had."

If you could look deep into the mind of Chicago Manager Chuck Tanner when you ask the question, "How do you like the rule?" you would probably see "I don't" flashing in neon. Publicly, Tanner says, "Let's wait a whole season before we judge it. There is no doubt that it has helped our team score."

The hottest Desi for Chicago has been Andrews, a second baseman somewhat deficient in range. "It's a lot of fun being the DH when you are hitting," says Andrews, "and I guess I feel the pressure a little less than some because we have a fine hitting lineup. But you have so much time to waste you have to make yourself bear down. I feel the brunt of baseball is still hitting. I study more now and move around a lot to find out things, to keep myself active."

Minnesota's Danny Walton has produced two homers as a DH, one a game-winning grand-slam while pinch-hitting for DH Tony Oliva. "I just sit on the bench and try to follow the game," says Walton. "You can accept not playing every day. I know some days I will be a designated hitter and some days I'll play third. It's giving me a chance to play up here."

The other grand slam produced by a DH came from Ron Lolich of Cleveland, who hit one against Boston with two outs and the Indians three runs down in the bottom of the ninth. "I had a terrible headache," said Lolich. "Had it all day. I took a couple of aspirin. But, you know, I think the headache helped relax me when I went to the plate. Maybe it blotted out the pressure. I just saw a ball and swung at it."

Naturally, some questions remain. Will Cepeda & Co. get better as the weather" warms? Can the National League pitchers hit any worse? If you see Chub Feeney wearing that black hat, you will know that both answers are yes.

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