The 40-year history of baseball's designated hitter is examined tonight in Behind the Seams: Decoding the DH, a one-hour show narrated by Bob Costas and produced for MLB Network by MLB Productions, premiering at 9:00 p.m. ET.
The ratification of the DH in 1973, more than eight decades after it was first proposed within baseball in 1891, became one of the most pivotal changes to shape the game, and to this day it fuels debates between those who oppose it and those who embrace it. In looking at the position's origins and those who rose to prominence or extended their playing careers because of the position, Behind the Seams: Decoding the DH features 25 new interviews with Hall of Famers, writers and historians as well as current and former DHs, including Harold Baines, Billy Butler, Edgar Martinez, David Ortiz, Frank Thomas and Jim Thome, among others.
Baseball-Reference.com's Sean Forman, SB Nation's Rob Neyer, Fangraphs.com contributor Bill Petti and MLB's official historian John Thorn also analyze the statistical impact the DH has had on run scoring in the American League and National League. Noted quotes from the episode are featured below.
John Thorn, Official Historian, MLB: As a historian, I should be expected to embrace pitchers as batters, but this tradition has outlived its usefulness.
Billy Butler: You're not really coming to the park to watch the pitchers hit. You're watching the guys that are paid to hit, hit, and the guys that are paid to pitch, pitch.
Joe Mauer: Would we rather want to see one of our starting pitchers hit or Jim Thome hit? I think everybody has the answer to that.
Cliff Lee: I enjoy the National League style of play a lot more as far as playing it. A pitcher is not just a pitcher, he has to play the game.
Mark Melancon: Strategy wise, there is so much more that goes into a National League game than an American League game.
Alvin Davis: The biggest thing that I missed was the feel of the game. Playing defense regardless of how good of a defensive player you are, the focus that comes from that actually helps you offensively.
On being a DH
David Ortiz: It's not easy because as you get older, you start losing skills, but I feel like I'm a better hitter now than what I used to be seven years ago. Seven years ago, I was more powerful, the kind of guy that if you throw me anything in the strike zone, I would hit it out. Right now, I feel like I …. stick … with the plan that I have. I walked away from my plan before. Right now I just stay with [it] more. Every year that I get older, I just try to attach ideas the way that I can continue doing what I do and it's worked.
Frank Thomas: You got to stay involved with the game. You got to get yourself on that top step so that you still get that feel that you're watching every pitch from the opposing pitcher.
Fred McGriff: I always laugh sometimes at home when you're reading the paper and they're like, "Oh yeah, we'll just make this guy a DH and that guy a DH and it isn't a big deal." But it's tougher than people think.
Edgar Martinez: We had this machine that threw tennis balls at a very high speed. The guy that operated the machine, he used to put numbers on the ball. I didn't like to swing, but I would track the ball and would try to bunt. In the beginning, I couldn't see anything, but I did it every day … and was able to see the numbers. Your eyes see the ball at 150 [mph] and then you go see it at 90 [mph], it helps you wait on the pitch a little more.
Ortiz on Martinez: I remember when I was coming up, I used to watch a guy like Edgar hit and I was like, "This is ridiculous." I don't think anybody could get to that level as a hitter. He was, I would say "perfect." He's a .312 career hitter. When you're a .312 career hitter at this level, that means you pretty much got everything done.
Cal Ripken Jr. on Martinez making the Hall of Fame: If you acknowledge that the DH is a position then they should be considered for the Hall of Fame. You shouldn't take away judgment on him because he hasn't played in the field.
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