So for the rest of the month Earl Weaver routinely filled out lineup cards with pitchers as DHs, then batted for them the first time they came up. He was not only protecting himself in the unlikely event of an early knockout of the other pitcher, but he was also creating a mystery spot in his lineup that the other team would have to work around.
One night in Detroit, Weaver penciled in Stone even though the pitcher had already flown ahead to Toronto because of Rosh Hashanah, and the next night in Toronto the skipper "started" pitcher Tippy Martinez, who was in Pueblo, Colo., attending his grandmother's funeral. After the season the Playing Rules Committee tacked on a Weaver clause to the designated-hitter rule so that the DH had to make a plate appearance.
Despite that one blip, the designated-hitter rule has remained remarkably unchallenged in its 20 years of existence. What hath the DH wrought? Well, it certainly wrought offense: The American League has had a higher overall batting average than the National League in every year since 1973, and over the last 20 seasons the junior circuit has outscored the senior circuit by more than half a run a game. The American League has also closed the attendance gap, thanks to improved offense and the prolonged careers of such superstars as Hank Aaron, Reggie Jackson, Dave Parker, Dave Winfield and George Brett.
Besides offense and attendance, the DH also offers a hidden blessing, and that is the wealth of baseball lore (box, page 47) that has piled up around it. In particular, designated hitters have found unique ways of whiling away the time back in the clubhouse between at bats—preparation-DH, if you will. Blomberg ate sandwiches. Kurt Bevacqua, who played 5½ seasons in the American League, would hang upside down from a gyro machine. As a Yankee DH, Mike Easier kept loose by swinging his bat against a boxing heavy bag. When he was with the White Sox, Greg Luzinski would untie and tic his shoelaces to burn off energy. Brett works on his golf game, chipping plastic golf balls into the open boxes of candy and gum on the shelves of the Royal clubhouse. "My short game," says Brett, "was a lot better this winter."
If a DH doesn't find something to do, he's liable to go crazy. Which may explain what happened to Larry Parrish, the Texas Ranger DH in 1986. Mired in a deep slump, Parrish was spotted standing at the plate in the darkened Metrodome stadium in Minneapolis one hour after a game. He was practicing his swing. Without a bat. In his shower gear.
DH Trivia Question No. 4
: Which of the following baseball people actually liked the designated hitter?
(a) Bart Giamatti
(b) Bill White
(c) Joe McCarthy
(d) Fay Vincent
(e) Sparky Anderson
The answer is (e). McCarthy, who managed 3,489 regular-season games and 43 World Series games without the DH, said in 1970, eight years before his death, "I am intrigued by the possibilities of a designated hitter." On the other hand, Anderson, who has managed 2,158 games with the DH, says, "It stinks. The fans can't even tell if I can manage because of the DH."
Giamatti thought the DH to be an abomination, and his successor as commissioner, Vincent, lobbied hard to have the rule abolished. White, the outgoing National League president, finds the DH so distasteful that he prevented the Mariners from using it in an exhibition game against the Padres in 1990, even though San Diego had already agreed to let Seattle use it.
Far more interesting are the opinions of the ballplayers themselves. Many, perhaps even the majority, think that a designated hitter is somehow incomplete. Brian Downing, who DH'd in more than 800 games for the White Sox, the California Angels and the Rangers, had one request before the final game of his career, last year—to start at second base. "I want to go out a player," he said. (Downing was listed in the starting lineup as the second baseman, but he never actually went onto the field. After singling to lead off the game, he was replaced by Jeff Frye in the bottom of the inning.)