ROYAL SWING: Kansas City's Billy Butler had the highest batting average (.313) among designated hitters in 2012.
“Then,” McRae adds, “they could also extend the careers of American League stars, too — guys like Willie Horton, Al Kaline, Tony Oliva.”
Since then, a cavalcade of specialized batsmen have distinguished themselves at the job, including Edgar Martinez, Frank Thomas, Paul Molitor, Cecil Fielder, Andre Thornton, Chili Davis, Greg Luzinski and Jim Thome. The designated hitter, much derided by purists and the National League faithful, has made it to 40 and shows no signs of exiting the baseball landscape.
“Will they ever take the DH out of the game? No,” says ESPN baseball writer and analyst Buster Olney. “The union won’t let it happen. They want to preserve jobs. If you look at things in terms of what they’re getting paid, they’re doing pretty well. David Ortiz would have no chance at getting paid the type of money he’s getting [without the DH]. He’s been a phenomenal player, but he’d be viewed as much less of a player if he were shoehorned into playing first base every day.”
With that in mind, surely the National League, after 40 years, might finally pounce on the chance to create 15 new jobs from Arizona to Washington while bringing some additional offensive fireworks to its games?
Uh, not so fast. Says McRae: “The National League hated the DH. They still hate it.”
Michael Ventre is a Los Angeles–based freelance writer who regularly contributes to American Way as well as to Variety, NBCSports.com, Los Angeles Confidential magazine and other publications. He has been known to knock a few out of the park.