What I didn’t know about the DH

I know a lot about baseball. I’m not saying that to brag, just as a piece of background information. I’m not claiming to be all-knowing or a trivia savant (off the top of my head, I can’t tell you who won the 1962 AL Cy Young Award or ’63 World Series), but I do have a firm grasp of a lot of history, especially that which took place since I was born in 1976.

But this one stunned me: The designated hitter, introduced in ’73, wasn’t used in the World Series until 1976, and then only in alternating years — regardless of ballpark — through ’85. I learned this from a Joe Posnanski post written nine days ago that I only read today. (Some of the numbers he has in there are interesting.) So yeah, even in ’73, the first year of the DH, when the Mets opened the Series in Oakland, starter Jon Matlack took a turn at bat (and walked). And in ’76, when Cincinnati hosted Games 1 and 2, Lou Piniella and Elliot Maddox of the Yankees and Dan Driessen of the Reds stood in at bat for the pitchers.

So the first National League park to experience the DH — something that has been offered up as a way to spice up Interleague Play, by swapping the DH rule — was Riverfront Stadium in ’76, and Dodger Stadium (’78), Veterans Stadium (’80), Busch Stadium (’82) and Jack Murphy Stadium (’84) followed suit. The 1985 World Series was the last no-DH Fall Classic, and the Mets’ win over the Red Sox was the first to use the current format, which uses the rules of the league of the home team.

This is fascinating to me. In 1973, when the American League — back when the leagues were truly separate entities — altered its rules to have a designated hitter for the pitcher, Major League Baseball decided (or refused?) that this affront to the game could not be used to decide that year’s champion. It took four seasons before it was allowed. And then, when MLB decided to allow it in the Series, it chose to do so arbitrarily, alternating its use by year, just as it did with home-field advantage back then. However, it implemented the DH rule opposite the American League’s home-field schedule. That is, it began use of the DH in the World Series in ’76, a year in which the National League team would host Games 1, 2, 6 and 7. Why it was decided to use the DH throughout the Series or not at all for the first 10 years, instead of based on the home team in each game, is a curious choice, for sure — and, as Posnanski touches on, perhaps had as much as an impact on the games as where it was played. For those who thought alternating home-field advantage each year was stupid and arbitrary, how about alternating DH use? Crazy.

There’s always something to learn about this game. And there’s always something to see. This has been an amazing World Series, a thrilling and exciting postseason, starting with the last day of the regular season. I’ve been watching it all and hope to take some time to write out some thoughts after it’s over and I’ve had time to recover and digest it all.

One more game. Let’s see what this season gives us for a finale.

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