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The Designated Hitter

The designated hitter (DH) has been a source of disagreement ever since the idea was first put forth in 1928. Only at that time it was the NL owners pushing for it and the AL bosses vetoing the decision, according to The Official Rules of Baseball Illustrated. When the rule was finally passed in 1972 for the 1973 season, it was the AL that adopted the measure, hoping to add offense. In 1972, NL teams outhit their AL counterparts by nine points and scored 824 more runs.

Since it came into existence, the rule has caused controversy and problems for umpires at all levels. While the pro and NFHS rules are fairly similar, the NCAA rule has some radical differences.

At the pro level, one of the main criticisms of the DH rule is that it inadvertently acts to increase the number of hit batsmen. Pitchers can throw at batters without fear of direct retaliation since they don't bat. Other perceived faults include diminishing the need for strategy such as having the pitcher sacrifice and pinch-hitting for the pitcher late in the game. In a game played under pro rules, a DH may only bat for the pitcher. He must be designated in the starting lineup as a 10th player. Although it is optional, the DH is almost always used in games when allowed - AL and inter-league games at an AL park. If the DH is not on the lineup card, a DH cannot be used for that game (6.10). The starting DH is required to bat at least one time unless the opposing club changes pitchers.

That provision of the rule came about because Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver would list the previous day's starting pitcher as the DH in the event the opposing team switched pitchers before his team's DH came to bat. Weaver would then decide on a right-or left-handed DH.

The DH is "locked" into the batting order and no multiple substitutions may be made which alter the batting rotation of the DH. The DH cannot be used as a pinch-runner. He may be used defensively, continuing to bat in the same position in the batting order, but the pitcher must then bat in the place of the substituted defensive player, unless more than one substitution is made.

While games played under pro rules might see a DH entering to play the field and the pitcher forced to bat, that is not very common in MLB.

A rare elimination of the DH in MLB occurred in Game 3 of the 2009 ALCS between the N.Y. Yankees and the L.A. Angels. Hideki Matsui started as the DH batting fifth. Matsui walked to lead off the top of the eighth and Brett Gardner ran for him, thus becoming the DH. The fifth spot came up again in the next inning with two out. Jerry Hairston became the third DH by batting for Gardner and striking out.

For the bottom of the ninth, Hairston was then sent to play left field for Johnny Damon and that eliminated the DH. Since Damon was batting second, that became the pitcher's spot in the order. That spot did not come up until the 11th inning. Francisco Cervelli hit for Mariano Rivera and struck out.

The NFHS rule is virtually the same as the pro rule with one major exception: The DH may bat for any player in the lineup, not just the pitcher. The DH is not associated with any defensive position, but is associated with a spot in the batting order (3-1-4).

Let's look at an example for a high school game. In the starting lineup, Peter is the DH for second baseman Paul and is batting fourth. In the fifth inning, Harry comes in to play second and Paul goes in to pitch. The DH is not affected by those changes. Paul is still associated with the fourth spot and Peter is still the DH for Paul. Instead of a DH for the second baseman, we have a DH for the pitcher. As the new second baseman, Harry must bat in the original pitcher's spot in the order.

To continue with our example, there are only two ways the DH can be lost. The first is if the DH plays defense. In our example, Peter is the DH and remained so; he did not take the field. The second is if the player for whom the DH is batting, bats for himself. That was Paul. Paul only changed defensive positions, F4 to Fl, so the DH was unaffected by the changes. Here is a continuing example in which the DH goes on defense.

Play 1: Jake is the starting pitcher and is batting third. In the fourth inning, the coach announces he wants Peter (the current DH) to pitch and Jake to leave the game. Ruling 1: Legal, but Paul (the player being DH'd for) must also leave the game. The change of Peter from DH to pitcher terminates the DH. Peter and Paul were in the same spot in the batting order, so only one can remain. The entering substitute for Paul will bat in the third spot. Jake could remain in the game and play any other defensive position. The NFHS re-entry rule (3-1-3) applies to the DH. The DH is the 10th starter and is treated the same as any other starter.

Play 2: In the third inning, Victor bats for DH Paul. In the fifth inning, Paul bats for Victor. Ruling 2: Legal in NFHS; Paul may re-enter once. As a substitute, Victor is no longer eligible.

Under pro rules, the restriction that the DH may only bat for the pitcher results in additional acts that terminate the DH and requires the pitcher and any substitutes for the pitcher to bat for himself. They are: a defensive player becomes the pitcher; a pinch hitter for any other player in the batting order subsequently becomes the pitcher; the pitcher switches to another defensive position; or the pitcher bats or runs for the DH.

In the following plays, Jake is the starting pitcher and Peter the DH batting fourth for Jake. Play 3: In the third inning, Jake and Peter switch roles. Ruling 3: Not allowed in NFHS and pro. If the DH, Peter, goes to the mound, he is on defense and the DH is terminated. Play 4: In the fourth inning, Peter singles and Jake runs for him. Ruling 4: Legal for both NFHS and pro, but the DH is terminated. Jake may remain as the pitcher. Play 5: In the fifth inning, Peter becomes the second baseman. Ruling 5: Legal at all levels, but the DH is terminated. In pro, Jake now bats in the second baseman's slot. In NFHS, Jake must leave the game. Play 6: In the seventh inning, Peter leads off with a double and the coach wants Jake to pinch hit for the catcher who follows. Ruling 6: Illegal. Play 7: The game has begun without a DH listed in the lineup. At some point in the game, the coach would like to designate a DH. Ruling 7: Illegal in NFHS and pro.