In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Opening Day for baseball sees earthshaking changes, as the rules of the American League and National League 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 the idea was thoroughly rejected by American League owners. 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 largely 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 Titant earning a 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 went 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, who was 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 1976-1985, the DH was used in even number years only. Beginning 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. In recent years, there has been some momentum to adopt the Designated Hitter throughout all of MLB with a desire to have the same rules in both leagues. The Designated Hitter is now used in most minor leagues, most of spring training and the All-Star Game. While no official vote has been taken, there is a good chance that the National League could adopt the DH rule in the next decade as the worry of pitchers getting hurt while batting or running the bases has begun to thaw some owner’s resistance to the change.