A momentous change has occurred in Major League Baseball: for the first time in the game's history, pitchers are not allowed to bat. For this season, both the American and National League employ the designated hitter rule in which another player bats for the pitcher while allowing the pitcher to stay in the game.
A mere rule change
hardly sounds important, but the designated hitter is an
ugly vestige of the American League's recalcitrant racism
throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.
When Jackie Robinson
integrated the game by taking the field for the Brooklyn
Dodgers in 1947, Major League Baseball could finally tap a
vast reservoir of professional talent previously proscribed
by its own bigotry: the Negro Leagues. Some American League
teams quickly availed (the Cleveland Indians signed Larry
Doby, the AL's first black player, in 1948), but the league
as a whole lagged shamefully behind the National
George Weiss, the
Yankees General Manager from 1947 to 1960, once said: "The
Yankees will bring up a Negro as soon as one that fits the
high Yankee standards is found." Try as he may, Weiss
couldn't find a worthy black player until 1955, when he
hired a taciturn catcher named Elston Howard. (Weiss was
elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971.)
Always second to the
Yankees on the field, the Red Sox outdid them in
discrimination, refusing to allow a black player to don a
Boston uniform until 1959 when they signed infielder Pumpsie
Calvin Griffith, who
moved his Washington Senators to Minneapolis in 1961, made
no attempt to hide his racism:
I'll tell you why we
came to Minnesota. It was when I found out you only had
15,000 blacks here . . . We came here because you've got
good, hardworking, white people here.
Griffith said that in 1961, not 1861.
Meanwhile, the National
League boasted Henry Aaron, Ernie Banks, Roberto Clemente,
Curt Flood, Bob Gibson, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, Monte
Irvin, Frank Robinson, and, of course, the great Jackie
Robinson, among others.
By the early 1960s, the
National League played a vastly superior brand of baseball
and the American League's racist hiring practices showed up
in box scores and attendance tallies.
The National League won
the All-Star Game every year from 1960-1970 and from
1972-1982. A National League team won the World Series in
1959, 1960, 1963-1965, 1967, 1969, and 1971. But most
importantly to American League owners, by 1973 the NL had
outdrawn the AL for eleven straight seasons.
So the AL owners, led
by Oakland's Charles O. Finley, acted in desperation,
campaigning for the designated hitter rule in order to
generate more offense and thus make their games livelier and
On April 6, 1973, Ron
Blomberg of the New York Yankees took his place in the
batter's box, becoming the first DH in baseball history. Red
Sox pitcher Luis Tiant walked him.
For 49 years, baseball
in the Major Leagues was played under two sets of rules; the
National League—the older league and the one which
first allowed African-Americans to play—refused to
adopt the DH. The reason they did so in 2022 has nothing to
do with racism. It's about money.
dislike the DH for many reasons. As the manager of the
Durham Bulls sarcastically explains to his woeful players in
the film Bull Durham, "this is a simple game: you throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball." I'll add that you also run,
which means a designated hitter performs one quarter of the
game's required tasks but still collects a fat paycheck like
the other guys who are complete players. And that's exactly why the Major League Baseball Players Association embraces the DH: it allows more of its members to stick around the game, pad their statistics, and add digits to their bank accounts.
What started as a
legacy of racism in the American League has metastasized
into both leagues as a stratagem of greed.
observation of American cultural historian Jacques Barzun
bears repeating here: "Whoever wants to know the heart and
mind of America had better learn baseball." Next time you're
watching a ballgame, hear the DH announced, and see an
overweight bruiser step to the plate, a player who should've
been designated for assignment to a cow pasture, you'll know