A Fishing Trip Cost the National League the Designated Hitter Rule

Nearly 50 years after the designated hitter first appeared in a Major League Baseball game, pitchers still hit in the National League. There have been plenty of discussions in recent years, from players to Commissioner Rob Manfred, about the possibility of a universal DH.

What most baseball fans may not know, however, is that the National League voted on the designated hitter many years ago. And if not for a fishing trip, the National League may have adopted the DH in the 1980s.

What did fishing have to do with why the National League doesn’t have a designated hitter in 2020? Here’s what happened.

The National League held a designated hitter vote in 1980

The American League debuted the designated hitter in April 1973. New York Yankees DH Ron Blomberg drew a walk in his first at-bat and singled later.

The American League stuck with the DH and it has been a staple of the sport for nearly half a century. The National League, however, was skeptical about joining the Junior Circut in forgoing a pitcher hitting.

It wasn’t until years of increased attendance and offense in the American League that the National League decided it’d strongly consider adopting the DH.

The Philadelphia Phillies are why the National League doesn’t have a designated hitter

Former Philadelphia Phillies executive Bill Giles is why the National League doesn't have a designated hitter.
Former Philadelphia Phillies executive Bill Giles is why the National League doesn’t have a designated hitter. | Gilbert Carrasquillo/FilmMagic/Getty Images

On Aug. 13, 1980, the National League held a simple yes/no vote about the implementation of a designated hitter. Philadelphia Phillies Owner Ruly Carpenter told his vice president, Bill Giles, to vote for the designated hitter. Because the Pittsburgh Pirates planned to vote exactly how the Phillies voted, that would almost certainly mean the National League would add the designated hitter.

Teams learned the universal DH wouldn’t come into effect until the 1982 season. Giles wasn’t sure whether the new information and the idea of going through 1981 with a pitcher hitting would have changed Carpenter’s wishes.

Because Carpenter was on a fishing trip, Giles couldn’t reach his boss and decided to abstain. The Pirates also abstained.

The final results: Five teams were against the designated hitter, four were in favor, and there were three absentations. If the Phillies and Pirates each voted yes, the DH would have been approved.

There has been no DH vote since and, if or when the 2020 baseball season returns, the likes of Clayton Kershaw and Jacob deGrom will continue hitting in National League parks.

Will Major League Baseball ever add a universal DH?

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has mentioned the National League possibility adding a universal designated hitter several times since he took over in January 2015. The Athletic reported earlier this year the DH rules may change when the collective-bargaining agreement expires in December 2021.

ESPN reported Tuesday that Major League Baseball is considering having all 30 teams play in Arizona as soon as next month. The 2020 season is indefinitely delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

That concept could feature several rule changes, including an electronic strike zone and seven-inning doubleheaders. ESPN didn’t list a universial designated hitter among those ideas. Teams may carry “significantly expanded rosters,” though.