December 11th, 2016
How times have changed. Today the National League remains one of few leagues above the high school level not to employ the designated hitter rule. The Senior Circuit continues to resist the rule that the AL has embraced for more than four decades.
That wasn’t always the case.
National League president John Heydler proposed the DH at the Winter Meetings on December 11, 1928, referring to it as the “Ten-Man Team Rule”. Heydler’s motivations seem clear; he was looking to capture some of the excitement the homer-happy AL harnessed with the emergence of Babe Ruth. From 1920-1928 the Bambino had seven seasons with 40 or more homers, including four of 50 or more, and one with 60. During the same span Heydler’s league had only two 40-homer seasons with totals of 15, 21, 23, and 27 leading the league.
While the NL couldn’t match the AL in star power, Heydler felt keeping hurlers on the hill and out of the batters box might generate more offense.
“Pitchers are absolutely useless as batters nowadays,” Heydler was quoted as saying in the Chicago papers. “The average pitcher not only is helpless at bat, but when they happen to get to base they are not inclined to run. They want to conserve their energy for pitching purposes. The change will liven up the game and put more initiative in it.”
NL owners approved Heydler’s recommendation of the “Ten-Man Team Rule”. The era’s fierce rivalry between the leagues dictated that anything proposed by the one most be rejected by the other. When the two leagues were deadlocked on an issue, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis would step in and cast the deciding vote. Many expected Landis to vote in favor of the rule and enact in across the Major Leagues. Before it got to that Heydler and the NL withdrew the recommendation, alleviating Landis of the decision.
Forty-five years later on January 11, 1973 American League owners approved the DH for a three-year trial that has turned permanent. Since then AL fans have fallen in love with their big boppers who hit for the feeble-hitting hurlers. Though the NL continues its opposition of the DH today, most baseball fans don’t realize that long ago the tables were turned.
To read more about John Heydler, click here. You can contact the author of this story at JSmiley@CooperstownExpert.com