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On This Date in Sports April 6, 1973: Designated

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Opening Day for baseball sees earthshaking changes as the American League and National League rules become separate and distinct as the junior circuit adopts the Designated Hitter rule. The first game of the American League season takes place at Fenway Park between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. The first DH to come to the plate is Ron Blomberg, who walks and scores in the top of the first for the Yankees.

The Designated Hitter was not a new idea for baseball, as Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack suggested using it as early as 1906. In 1928, National League President John Heydler suggested adopting the Designated Hitter rule through Major League Baseball, but American League owners thoroughly rejected the idea. Oakland Athletics owner Charles O. Finley revived the idea of the DH in 1968 as one of his many new ideas to bring excitement to a game that some fans believed was becoming stagnate, especially after a season that became known as the “Year of the Pitcher.”

Designated Hitters were used in select exhibition games beginning in 1969 and adopted by several minor leagues, including the International League, on a four-year trial basis. At a meeting of American League Owners on January 11, 1973, with the lobbying of Finley, the Designated Hitter rule was adopted on a three-year trial basis by the AL by a vote of 8-4. The decision to adopt the Designated Hitter rule was primarily motivated by lagging attendance figures in the American League.

There would be four American League games on Opening Day in 1973; the first of the games was 1:37 start in Fenway Park, with the Boston Red Sox hosting the New York Yankees. Ron Bloomberg, the Yankees DH, was batting sixth when he came up with two outs, and the bases loaded in the top of the first inning. Blomberg would walk be walked by Luis Tiant, earning an RBI. Blomberg would go 1-for-3 as the Red Sox pounded the Yankees 15-5. Despite his team scoring 15 runs on 20 hits, future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda was hitless in six at-bats with two strikeouts; batting in the fifth spot was the Red Sox Designated Hitter.

In the three other American League games, Ollie Brown went 0-for-3 batting sixth for the Milwaukee Brewers, while Terry Crowley went 2-for-4 batting eight as the Baltimore Orioles blanked the Brewers 10-0 at Memorial Stadium. In Anaheim, Ed Kirkpatrick went hitless in three at-bats, batting sixth for the Kansas City Royals, while Tom McCraw got one hit in four at-bats as the California Angels, with a complete game by Nolan Ryan, beat the Royals 3-2. In Oakland, the Minnesota Twins spoiled the banner raising for the World Champion Athletics with an 8-3 win. The Twins' offense was sparked by Tony Oliva, batting cleanup, the first Designated Hitter to hit a home run, as he went 2-for-4 with three RBI. Meanwhile, Billy North was the A’s leadoff hitter and DH, collecting two hits in five at-bats.

The Designated Hitter was first used in the World Series in 1976. From 1976 to 1985, the DH was used during even-numbered years only. In 1986, the DH would be used when games were played in the American League ballpark, a rule that would carry over once Interleague play was adopted in 1997.

The DH was a success for the American League was; attendance did increase. In 1976 after the three-year trial period, the Designated Hitter became a permanent rule. The National League considered adopting the DH in 1980 but was rejected in an up or down vote 5-4, with three teams abstaining. After the Millennium as the American and National became more homogenized with interleague play became a daily event as the Houston Astros shifted to the American League in 2013. Slowly, most minor leagues adopted the DH, leaving the National League the only league where the pitchers batted. The momentum became overwhelming. In 2020 the NL used the DH in the 60-game COVID season. The Designated Hitter was not used in 2021 but will become permanent in the National League this season with the new CBA.