Today marked the 50th anniversary of one of sports’ darkest days.
Two words: DESIGNATED HTITER. 😡😡😡😡😡😡
Four days after Mark James Robert Essex killed three policeman and four civilians at the Downtown Howard Johnson’s hotel in New Orleans and three days before Super Bowl VII, the 12 owners of the American League adopted what was known then as the “designated pinch hitter”. The word pinch was soon eliminated, and the letters DH became baseball’s shame.
The drive to adopt the DH was spearheaded by that lovable owner of the Oakland A’s, Charles Oscar Finley. He prevailed upon his Junior Circuit brethren to give it a try, as the American League had fallen behind the National in terms of offense and attendance.
In 1972, National League teams scored 824 more runs than their American League counterparts. Nine of 12 NL teams drew more than one million fans, while only three did so in the AL.
Finley tried to get the AL to adopt a designated pinch runner rule, but thankfully it was rejected. Despite this, the A’s signed the infamous Herb Washington in 1974, who is most remembered for getting picked off in the ninth inning of Game 2 of the 1974 World Series by the Dodgers’ ace reliever, Mike Marshall.
The NL did not adopt the DH, although Cardinals general manager Bing Devine begged and pleaded with his colleagues to do so. Fortunately, old-liners like the Dodgers’ Peter O’Malley, the Giants’ Horace Stoneham and the Reds’ Bob Howsam pushed back. Pitchers would continue to bat in the Senior Circuit.
At first, the DH was to be a three-year experiment. Following the 1975 season, the AL could revert to the rules it had played under from its formation in 1901 through 1972, or it could keep the DH permanently. The NL could adopt the DH at any time if it so desired.
By the end of 1975, baseball had too many other problems to worry about the DH. Arbitrator Peter Seitz issued his famous ruling in the case involving pitchers Andy Messersmith of the Dodgers and Dave McNally, the former Oriole ace who was exiled to the Expos after playing out his option in Baltimore. He ruled the reserve clause to be an illegal restraint of trade, and free agency had arrived in Major League Baseball.
The DH stayed in the AL. The NL did not adopt, until it almost did in August 1980.
John Claiborne, who succeeded Devine as Cardinals GM, tried again to get his fellow NL owners to adopt the DH. It was first believed the DH would take effect for 1982, but Claiborne insisted he could convince commissioner Bowie Kuhn to force its implementation in 1981.
He had support from the Braves’ Ted Turner, the Padres’ Ray Kroc and the Mets’ Nelson Doubleday, who took over ownership of the franchise earlier in the year from the estate of Joan Payson.
O’Malley and Bob Lurie, who bought the Giants from Stoneham in 1975 and kept the team from moving to Toronto (one year before the Blue Jays began play in the AL), led the opposition. The Reds, the oldest professional sports team in North America, remained opposed, as did the Cubs and Expos.
It would come down to the Astros, Phillies and Pirates.
John McMullen, who bought the Houston team in 1979, declined to vote, leaving it up to the Pennsylvania teams, which had possibly the most bitter rivalry in the sport in the late 1970s.
Pirates GM Harding “Pete” Peterson was told by ownership to follow the lead of the team to the east on the Turnpike.
Problem was, Phillies GM Bill Giles, son of former NL president Warren Giles, could not reach owner Ruly Carpenter on 13 August, the day the issue came to a vote.
The final tally: five nays, four yeas, three abstentions. No DH in the NL.
When he found out Claiborne led the push for the DH, Cardinal owner Gussie Busch was furious. Claiborne was fired, and new manager Whitey Herzog was given double duty.
The DH was not used in the World Series until 1976, and even then, it was only used in even-numbered years.
After the All-Missouri World Series of 1985, Kuhn’s successor, Peter Ueberroth, made a change.
The DH would be used every year in the World Series, but only the AL team’s park.
This format was also used when regular season interleague play began in 1997.
The fact that AL pitchers now had to bat sometimes when they weren’t used to it was a sore point for owners in the Junior Circuit. They demanded commissioners Bud Selig and Rob Manfred force the DH upon the NL.
The drumbeat got loudest in 2008, when Yankees pitcher Chien-Ming Wang suffered a season-ending foot injury while running the bases in Houston. Hank Steinbrenner, son of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, was furious, fuming the NL needed to join the modern age.
The commissioner’s office did not have the power to force the DH upon the NL, nor did it have the power to eliminate it in the AL. That would have to be collectively bargained in the basic agreement between the owners and the MLB Players Association.
The DH came to the NL full-time during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020. It did not remain in 2021, but when the owners and players hammered out a new basic agreement to end the 2022 lockout, the DH was in the NL to stay.
I have always hated the DH. I will never like it.
Baseball is a game of specialization, but hitting is one thing which was universal to all positions prior to the scourge of the DH.
Today, specialization has spread across baseball like horse manure. It stinks.
And now players who spent nearly all of their careers as a DH are in the Hall of Fame: Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas and Harold Baines, who shouldn’t be in the Hall, period. Thomas played first base before the White Sox made him a part-time player, but Martinez and Ortiz barely played the field. Big Papi was a larger-than-life figure in Beantown, but does it mean he deserves his plaque in Cooperstown? I think not.
Sure, the DH allowed my Brewers (before I was born, thankfully) to bring in Hank Aaron as a museum piece for two seasons, and extended Carl Yastrzemski’s career in Boston a few years, but both would have made the Hall of Fame had they never taken a single at-bat as a DH.Reggie Jackson considered the DH an affront. He wanted to be a complete baseball player, and to Mr. October, it meant playing in the field as well as hitting. Sure, he would DH occasionally to give his arm and legs a rest, but he was an outfielder first and foremost.
Same with George Brett and Robin Yount. Both switched positions later in their careers to stay in the field.
I won’t stop watching MLB. Doesn’t mean I have to like players who can only do one thing earning $40 million a year.
I wish I could put myself in a time machine and go back to the summer of 1971.
Sure, I would not be blogging if it were August 1971. Sure, I would not be playing Buzztime trivia if it were August 1971. The American economy wasn’t in great shape in August 1971, and Nixon made a foolish mistake by taking the United States off the gold standard.
There were good things about 1971, though. The Brady Bunch was on the air. Gas was 30 cents per gallon; even with inflation, that’s $1.90, 45 cents less than what I paid last night when I filled up in Salina.
Major League Baseball was certainly better in 1971.
Hank Aaron hit a career high 47 home runs as he drew closer and closer to Babe Ruth’s record of 714, once thought to be unbreakable. In his final season with the Giants, Willie Mays led San Francisco to the National League West championship in yet another epic battle with the Dodgers. San Francisco lost the National League Championship Series to the Pirates in four games in their last postseason appearance until 1987. The Orioles won their third consecutive American League pennant by sweeping the Athletics in the American League Championship Series. It was the Athletics’ first trip to the postseason since 1931, when they were in Philadelphia and led by legendary Connie Mack.
The 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit was one of the most memorable. Aaron and Johnny Bench staked the National League to an early 3-0 lead with home runs, but Reggie Jackson began the American League comeback by launching a monstrous home run off of a transformer on roof above right center. The pitcher who served it up was Dock Ellis, the same Dock Ellis who threw a no-hitter while allegedly under the influence of LSD (his claim) the previous season.
Ellis, the volatile right-hander from Pittsburgh, was the Naitonal League’s starter. The American League countered with Oakland lefty Vida Blue, who went on to win the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. More importantly, it was the first time there were two black starting pitchers in an All-Star Game.
One of the umpires in the 1971 All-Star Game was Jake O’Donnell, who from 1968-71 officiated both in the American League and NBA. O’Donnell resigned from the AL at the end of 1971 to concentrate on basketball. It was a wise move, for Jake worked the NBA Finals every year from 1972 through 1994. O’Donnell is the only man to officiate All-Star games in two major sports.
Also on the umpiring crew that evening in Detroit were future Hall of Famer Doug Harvey, and Don Denkinger, whose moment of infamy in Kansas City was still a long way off.
Nearly every team still wore flannel uniforms in 1971. Sure, they were hot, but they were beautiful for the most part.
The Athletics had a lovely sleeveless vest which came in white, gray and gold, and those could be worn with gold or green undershirts. The Dodgers debuted a new road top with thin blue and white piping along the shoulders. The Padres had a tan road uniform. The White Sox and Phillies both debuted new uniforms, and both would keep them when they switched to polyester the next season. I thought both sets were downgrades; the White Sox’ royal blue and white set of 1969-70 was downright gorgeous, and the Phillies ditched the classic set they debuted in 1950, when the “Whiz Kids” won the franchise’s only pennant between 1915 and 1980.
Three teams wore polyester that season. The Pirates debuted them in July 1970 when they moved from Forbes Field to Three Rivers Stadium; the Cardinals began 1971 wearing them; and the Orioles gradually switched from flannel to polyester throughout that season, finally ditching flannel for good in the ALCS. Ironically, the 1971 World Series was all polyester, as the Pirates took down the heavily favored Orioles in seven games.
In 1971, the Senators were still in Washington. The Brewers were in the American League West, building healthy rivalries with the Twins and White Sox.
That changed in 1972.
Cheapskate Senators owner Bob Short lied to the American League, claiming he was going broke in the nation’s capital, giving owners a supposed reason to allow the second incarnation of the Senators (the first became the Twins in 1961) to move to Dallas/Fort Worth and become the Texas Rangers. RFK Stadium was not a great facility by any means, but Short traded it for Arlington Stadium, a minor league facility which had no business hosting Major League Baseball. Yet it was the home of the Rangers through 1993.
Dallas/Fort Worth is too big an area for any major sports league to ignore. However, Short was, well, (extremely) short-sighted for deserting the nation’s capital for a dump like Arlington Stadium. Had DFW waited until the American League expanded for 1977, it would have had a stadium which might still be standing, or would have served a team much better than Arlington.
I visited Arlington Stadium a handful of times in my teenage years. I hated the park. Hated it. Those metal bleachers in the outfield were hot enough to fry eggs. Of course, the idiots who expanded the park built bleachers instead of building more decks from foul line to foul line, which would have been better for fans watching the game and the team, since those tickets would have commanded a higher price than bleachers.
The Senators’ shift to DFW prompted AL owners to move the Brewers to the American League East, pissing off the White Sox and Twins, each of whom who lost six games per year against Milwaukee. The Great Lakes trio would not be reunited until 1994 when the American League Central, but that lasted only four seasons, because the Brewers gleefully moved to the National League for 1998.
Speaking of the leagues, another great thing about baseball in 1971: NO DESIGNATED HITTER.
The designated hitter is a pox on baseball. Charlie Finley, you can rot in hell. It is the single worst rule in all of sports. There are many other terrible ones, like the shootout in the NHL and high school football overtime, but the I despise the designated hitter more than any other rule in sports.
Basketball players are not allowed to play only one end of the floor–at least if they want to stay on the court. Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored loads of points during their playing days, but if they didn’t rebound and block shots, they would never have sniffed the Hall of Fame.
Other than the goaltender, hockey players must be good offensively and defensively if they hope to stick in the NHL. Gordie Howe, the NHL’s greatest goal scorer until Wayne Gretzky came along, prided himself as much for his defense as his offense. No opposing winger dared cross Mr. Hockey, or else he would find himself in a world of hurt.
Association football? Same as hockey. Defenders don’t score many goals and forwards don’t play beyond the center line, but a player who is a defensive liability will be on the bench unless he scores goals as frequently as Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi.
Players went both ways in the early days of the NFL, and in college until 1964. Many players at small high schools go both ways, and even at some large ones, because coaches would rather have an excellent athlete who may be fatigued rather than a mediocre one who is fresh.
When Mr. Doubleday invented baseball in the 19th century, he intended for the nine players on the field to specialize in a defensive skill AND be able to swing the bat. Some swing the bat better than others. That’s professional sports.
Major League Baseball is the best of the best of the best. The 750 men who populate the 30 MLB rosters are supposed to be the best in the world. Not all of them have to hit .350 with 50 home runs. Heck, Bill Mazeroski and Ozzie Smith, among many others, were mediocre hitters, but so great with their glove they have plaques in Cooperstown.
I can tolerate–not accept–the DH in Little League and high school. However, at those levels, pitchers are often the best hitters, too, so it’s not necessary in those cases. Little League has a much larger problem than the DH. You’ve probably read my rants about this in earlier posts.
In college baseball, the DH should be abolished, especially in Division I. If a young man is good enough to be pitching at the highest level of college baseball, he should be able to stand in the batter’s box up to four times every week if he’s a starting pitcher.
The National League is going to adopt the designated hitter soon. I am deathly afraid of it. When it happens, I will be back on this blog using language not safe for work. You’ve been warned.
When you went to the ballpark in 1971, there were no silly promotional handouts, no dizzy bat races, no scantily clad 20-something women shooting t-shirts out of air-propelled mini-cannons, and no mascots. Umpires still wore their blazers many days. American League umpires wore the balloon chest protector, leading to the Junior Circuit becoming known as a high-strike lead, contrasting to the National League, where the low strike ruled. Games usually lasted two hours, give or take a few minutes. There a few real doubleheaders, where one ticket got you two games, although there were fewer by 1971 than there had been in 1961, and fewer in 1961 than in 1951.
In my opinion, the best thing about baseball in 1971–and the 34 years prior to that–NO FACIAL HAIR!!!!
In 1971, only the Reds had a rule banning facial hair, but the other franchises unofficially followed suit. Many players had mutton chops and other forms of long sideburns which were in vogue in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but not one player in professional baseball sported a mustache and/or beard.
Unfortunately, this came to an end in 1972. The culprit? Charles O. Finley. I hope you are seriously rotting in hell, Mr. Finley. You were a bastard in so many ways.
Cheapskate Charlie, who refused to pay his A’s (from 1972-86, the Oakland franchise was officially known as the A’s) a living wage, somehow came up with an idea to give each player a $300 bonus if he grew a mustache by Father’s Day. Sure enough, every goddamn A’s player grew one.
The A’s, wearing their new polyester uniforms of “kelly green”, “Fort Knox gold” and “wedding gown white”, ended up in the World Series against the clean-shaven Reds in a series termed by the medias as the “hairs” vs. the “squares”. Oakland won in seven games.
I’m glad I wasn’t alive in 1972. I would not have known who to root for. I despise the Reds for Pete Rose, a gambling pedophile who played dirty. I disliked the A’s for the facial hair, not to mention the strong hate I have for Finley, who pulled the Athletics out of Kansas City after the 1967 season because of his avarice.
The plague known as the DH came into being in 1973. That’s one of two reasons why 1973 was a horrid year for the grand old game. The second was the introduction of one George Michael Steinbrenner, who bought the Yankees from CBS for a paltry $10 million. That season was also the last for the original Yankee Stadium and the first for the facility now known as Kauffman Stadium.
In 2019, finding a clean-shaven MLB player is as hard as finding a four-leaf clover. I don’t get it.
Beards in hockey are ubiquitous in the playoffs. I don’t like them. Wayne Gretzky never grew a playoff beard. He was okay, wasn’t he? At least most hockey players shave them. Baseball players aren’t shaving them, and it’s gross.
I’m surprised there isn’t a huge Detroit Lions fan club in western Kansas because of coach Matt Patricia’s disgusting facial hair. People out here could root for the Lions without feeling guilty, since Detroit plays the Broncos and Chiefs only once every four years. The Lions happen to play both this season, and for some reason, Kansas City has to go back to Ford Field. Under the current schedule rotation, Detroit will go 20 years without visiting Arrowhead. Good work, NFL.
1971 also happened to be a wonderful year in other sports.
- The Milwaukee Bucks won the NBA championship in their third season, sweeping the Baltimore Bullets in four games. Of course, having Lew Alcindor, who had already changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar but not yet adopted it on the court, and Oscar Robertson didn’t hurt.
- The NFL in 1971 was fabulous. Vikings defensive tackle Alan Page was the league’s Most Valuable Player. Dallas legend Bob Lilly and the Doomsday Defense powered the Cowboys to their first Super Bowl championship. The Dolphins, who lost Super Bowl VI, won the NFL’s longest game, defeating the Chiefs after seven minutes, 40 seconds of a second overtime period in what was the final NFL game in Kansas City Municipal Stadium.
- College football came down to Big Eight superpowers Nebraska and Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Day in Norman. The Cornhuskers survived 35-31, then steamrolled undefeated Alabama 38-6 in the Orange Bowl to finish the first 13-0 season. That Crimson Tide team switched to the Wishbone offense and also fielded its first black players, John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson.
- After the previous three Stanley Cup finals series ended in four-game sweeps (sorry Blues), the Canadiens and Black Hawks played a series for the ages. The home team won each of the first six games, with the series returning to Chicago for game seven. In what turned out to be the final game for Montreal legend Jean Beliveau, Montreal silenced Chicago Stadium by winning 3-2 for the first of its six Stanley Cups in the 1970s.
- UCLA won its fifth consecutive college basketball championship, overcoming determined Villanova 68-62 in the final at the Astrodome. Kansas reached the Final Four for the first time since 1957.
- There were 48 NASCAR Grand National races in 1971, many on short tracks. The next year, the schedule was shortened to 31 races, and Winston cigarettes (🤬🤬🤬🤬🤬🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤢🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮🤮) became the sponsor of the top series.
Also in 1971, cigarette advertising on TV and radio was banned following the completion of the Orange Bowl (Nebraska 17, LSU 12) on New Year’s Night.
Too bad H.G. Wells’ vision will never come to light. I’m stuck in this era of beards, tattoos and other things I can’t stand.
I’m not going to apologize for this novella of a post. I needed to say these things.
Maybe Buzztime knew I was blogging about 1971 in baseball. The first question of sports trivia tonight: What award did Ferguson Jenkins win that year? Of course any baseball fan worth his salt knows it was the National League Cy Young.