Baseball History: the Designated Hitter Saga

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Edgar_Martinez_1997Major League Baseball (MLB), as America’s oldest major pro sports league, has held onto some eccentricities which are alien to the more modernized NBA and NFL. One of baseball’s proudest traditions is its division into two separate leagues—leagues whose differences run far deeper than geographic locations or playoff seedings!

Rules vary between MLB’s American League (AL) and National League (NL). Perhaps the most dramatic rules difference concerns the controversial designated hitter, a position unique to the AL. Here is some history and information on this unique baseball position:

-The designated hitter rule was first implemented on January 11, 1973, when the owners of all American major league baseball teams decided to allow the AL to go forward with it. The concept is similar to that of a pinch-hitter, except that the designated hitter specifically bats in place of the team’s pitcher.

-The idea is to keep pitchers, who have a busy and tiring job on the mound, out of the batting game. But the NL was resistant to the new rule, and the designated hitter rule became the first rule in Major League history upon which the two leagues differed.

-Some illustrious names have been connected with the designated hitter position over the years. Here are a few of the star designated hitters in AL history:

*Jim Thome, who hit 205 home runs from the designated hitter position with a .264 batting average. However, Thome’s greatness cannot be claimed by one position alone; Thome spent the majority of his career playing first base, and, at the start of his career, he even played several seasons at third base!

*Frank Thomas, a White Sox, Athletics, and Blue Jays legend, who won back-to-back AL MVP awards as a designated hitter in 1993 and 1994. Thomas ranks 18th all-time on the career home runs list with an impressive 521.

*David Ortiz, still active and perhaps the greatest active designated hitter. The “Big Papi” has a record 236 home runs at the designated hitter position, has helped lead the Boston Red Sox to two World Series titles, and shows few signs of slowing down.

*Edgar Martinez, who is universally considered to be MLB’s greatest-ever designated hitter. Martinez, over the course of his 17-year MLB career, was a 7-time All-Star, 5-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and 309 home runs. His outstanding career batting average of .312 stands among the best for designated hitters, and the great Mariano Rivera once admitted he was scared to face Martinez. A true legend!

-There is ongoing controversy regarding the need for a designated hitter in Major League Baseball. Some contend that the quality of hitting at the position has decreased, and that Ortiz will perhaps prove to be the last great designated hitter. Only time will tell!

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