If Joe Cronin, president of the American League, has recently written a letter to Charles S. Feeney, his National League counterpart, it must read something like this:
You probably haven't had time to peek through those stained glass windows in your office to see how the designated hitter (formerly designated pinch hitter) is doing in our little old experimental league. Well, I have to say it is doing much better than we had anticipated. So much so, in fact, that I am sending to you under separate cover the large black hat that I was forced to wear after our owners voted to adopt the new rule last January while yours decided against doing so. As you well know by now, Charles, our pitchers no longer come to bat, while yours still do. With the season nearly one-eighth completed no American League pitcher has stepped into a batter's box, but our probings have yet to turn up one case of a fan sitting on a curbstone crying because of this break with tradition.
Granted, not everyone over here is in total agreement with the rule. A few of our managers remain opposed to it. But that just might be because the fans are now catching on to how it can be used and misused, and are commencing to second-guess the managers. As we both realize, that might be great stuff for fans but it certainly isn't too good for job security.
I noticed last weekend that there were nine games in your league in which a team scored one run or less. I hadn't realized there were that many Cy Youngs still around. Truthfully, Charles, the shutout factor in both our leagues has been getting out of hand. At the rate the Nationals are going, your fellows may throw a record number.
Although it is still early to be absolutely certain about the DH, I do note that for the first time in my memory the American League is outhitting the National—by .246 to .242. And our games seem more exciting. Tell your pitchers to keep swinging away. We'll play over here with what we've got. Thanks so much for letting us go out on our own on this, and best of luck with the hat.
Sincerely yours, Joseph E. Cronin
Naturally, Joe Cronin has written no such letter to Chub Feeney, but he could, he could. In three short weeks the DH has put more punch and excitement and scoring into the game—a hallowed game, agreed, but one that was being smothered by the excellence of the pitching. Heavily criticized by some before it was given a chance to see the sunlight—a phony rule it was called, desperate, Mickey Mouse, a rewriting of Beethoven—the designated hitter is doing only what it was intended to do. A comparison of the DH and the NL pitcher as batter through last Friday is most revealing:
The designated hitters have been at bat 730 times and have scored 91 runs, made 175 hits, gotten 93 RBIs, hit 20 home runs and averaged .240. In the National League, pitchers—and pinch hitters for the pitchers—have been at bat 698 times and have scored 47 runs, made 107 hits, gotten 44 RBIs, hit three home runs and averaged .153.
By scoring runs and driving teammates in, the Desis—as they are called here and there—had a run-production total of 164, while their counterparts in the National were generating only 88. Overall, the American League, for the first time since 1969, was scoring more runs than the National. It was averaging better than eight runs a game, the NL fewer than eight.
Most of the early outrage over the DH was caused by the deep thinkers of baseball. "Scratch an intellectual and you will find a baseball fan," it has been said. It is seldom suggested, however, that if you scratch him twice you may find a woefully naive one. Let's face it, the rule is working—and producing a new set of heroes who are functioning under unusual pressures.
When the season began, the most publicized of the Desis was Orlando Cepeda, a tremendous hitter bothered throughout his career by bad legs. Boston plucked Cepeda from the beaches of Puerto Rico and put him to work. Orlando went to bat 11 times without getting a hit. Then he came up in the bottom of the ninth in a game at Fenway against the Yankees with the score tied. He hit a homer to win it. Manager Eddie Kasko, certainly no advocate of the rule, played Cepeda one more game as a DH and then replaced him. "Don't give up on me," Cepeda pleaded. "I will hit." For awhile after Kasko put Cepeda back in the lineup, he didn't, and his average hovered at .120. But then hits began flying off Cepeda's bat the way they had during 15 seasons in the National League, where he had a lifetime average of .298. Suddenly he was among the leaders with a .355 average, 12 RBIs and five home runs.