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Jim Thome. Frank Thomas. Edgar Martinez. Paul Molitor. Chili Davis. David Ortiz. What do these guys have in common? They are all classified as Designated Hitters. When Ron “Boomer” Blomberg stepped up to the plate for the New York Yankees on April 6th, 1973, he changed the course of baseball history, and the trajectory of many baseball stars.
For the past 45 years, the American League has had an interesting rule. Instead of letting the pitcher bat, like in the National League, the AL allows for a player to be the designated hitter (DH). This has spurred many iconic moments, and none bigger in recent memory than David “Big Papi” Ortiz having not one, but two of them.
We all remember Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees, when he hit a walk off bomb in the bottom of the 12th inning to spark one of the greatest comebacks in all of baseball history – one that may not have happened without the DH.
Big Papi struck again in 2013 when the Red Sox were playing the Detroit Tigers in Game 2 of the ALCS.
They had lost game one, and in a year where tragedy struck the hearts of everyone in Boston, there was one man who stood in front of the city, and colorfully claimed it as ours. David Ortiz that year went on to hit a grand slam heard around the world in the 2013 ALCS.
With one swing of the bat off of Joaquin Benoit, he sent the Red Sox to a win to tie up the series and gave us the iconic bullpen cop and a memory we can all cherish with the tragedies that happened that year in Boston.
— Cut4 (@Cut4) December 16, 2017
Would that moment have happened without the Designated Hitter rule?
Admittedly, David Ortiz spent most of his career as a DH, unlike most players. As baseball players age, they tend to flock to the AL so that they can DH and prolong their careers, which it does help. It’s almost a day off, especially since you do not have to play the field. Ortiz, however, spent 2,029 of his 2,408 games played at the DH slot. Once 2007 came around (his age 31 season) he never spent more than 9 games playing the field. Ortiz injured his Achilles in 2012 and it was clear that the DH role was helping him to continue playing because of the rest he could give his feet.
There are stories of 2016, and how hard it was for him to just go to bat for the team every day, let alone play in the field. It’s possible his legendary career may have ended before 2016, as without the DH, he might not have been able to play on that heel.
Eventually we might see the National League adopt this style as well. As sluggers age, they might be able to hit, but are a defensive liability or an injury risk. They can transition to being a full time DH in the AL, but not so much in the NL and that is causing teams to lose out on their aging stars. Due to the necessity of playing the field, former perennial All Stars are forced to seek different roles.
The Designated Hitter has provided a different element to the game of baseball. Careers are extended, injuries are minimized, and moments of greatness are born. Without the DH, David Ortiz’ career would have ended years prior, Albert Pujols would be gone, among others.
The Hall of Fame voters must recognize this as a legitimate position.
Yes, Edgar Martinez should be in the Hall of Fame.
David Ortiz should follow suit.
These two sluggers, among others have paved the way for future moments and legends of baseball. 45 years ago this wasn’t a possibility and baseball fans should be thrilled that this was adopted by the American League.