What Is a Designated Hitter: Baseball’s Specialized Batsman Explained

If you’ve ever watched a baseball game and wondered about the role of the designated hitter (DH), you’re not alone.

The designated hitter is a player who bats in place of the pitcher and does not play a defensive position on the field. This rule, found in Rule 5.11 of the Official Baseball Rules, was first adopted by the American League in 1973 and became universal in Major League Baseball (MLB) in 2022.

A baseball player standing in the on-deck circle, holding a bat and waiting to go up to bat as the designated hitter

The idea behind the designated hitter is to boost offensive performance by allowing a stronger batter to take the spot of the typically weaker-hitting pitcher.

This change has brought a lot more excitement and strategic variety to the game. Fans across both the American and National Leagues now enjoy seeing more hitters with power and skill in the lineup.

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Understanding the role and history of the designated hitter can give you an edge in making smart baseball picks.

Origins and Evolution of the DH Rule

A baseball player stands at home plate with a bat, while another player waits in the on-deck circle, ready to take their turn as the designated hitter.</p><p>The pitcher winds up to throw the ball, as the crowd watches from the stands

The Designated Hitter (DH) Rule began in the American League (AL) in 1973.

It allowed teams to have a player bat in place of the pitcher, making the game more exciting.

This was not a new concept, as the idea of a player hitting for another player dates back to the late 19th century.

One of the early proposals for a hitting substitute came as far back as 1887.

Baseball figures like Connie Mack supported the idea, but it took many years for it to gain traction.

Finally, the change happened in the AL under Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.

Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees was the first official DH in MLB history, making an appearance on April 6, 1973.

This rule allowed pitchers to focus solely on pitching and had an immediate impact, leading to increased offensive play.

The National League (NL) resisted adopting the DH rule for many years, keeping pitchers in the batting lineup.

This distinction between the leagues remained until recent years.

Interestingly, during the COVID-19 pandemic, MLB adopted the universal DH rule in 2020 as part of temporary health measures.

This move meant that both the AL and NL used DHs in their lineups.

The universal DH was later made permanent in the 2022 season, as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.

In current MLB rules, the DH is only used to bat for the pitcher and cannot replace any other position player.

This rule change continues to provoke debate among fans and experts.

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The DH in Game Play

A baseball player swings a bat in the batter's box, ready to hit.</p><p>The pitcher winds up on the mound, preparing to throw the ball

The designated hitter (DH) plays a vital role in baseball, especially for enhancing a team’s offensive performance.

Below, key aspects of the DH are explored, focusing on strategy and the interaction with the pitcher.

Strategy and Role

The main job of the DH is to bat in place of the pitcher.

This means the pitcher does not have to hit and can focus only on pitching.

Teams use the DH to improve their batting lineup.

For example, they might choose a strong hitter who isn’t great at fielding.
This lets the team keep its best hitters in the lineup without losing defensive strength.

Some strategies include using a DH who can hit home runs or get on base often.

Others prefer a DH who can run fast and put pressure on the defense.
Pinch-hitters and pinch-runners might also be used in the DH’s place for specific situations such as late-game decisions.

The American League in Major League Baseball adopted this rule in 1973.

Now, it is regularly used in interleague games too.

Pitcher-DH Dynamic

In game play, the pitcher and DH do not overlap in roles.

The pitcher focuses on their pitching duties, while the DH only bats and does not take a defensive position on the field.

A starting pitcher may pitch many innings and benefit from having a DH as they do not have to worry about batting or base running.

This helps to save their energy for pitching.
This dynamic allows teams to tailor their strategies precisely.

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Famous Designated Hitters

A baseball bat rests on a clean, well-lit field, surrounded by the sound of cheering fans and the smell of freshly cut grass

The world of baseball has seen some incredible designated hitters (DHs) who have left an unforgettable mark on the game.

This section highlights some of these legendary players and their remarkable achievements.

From Yesterday to Today

Ron Bloomberg was the first DH in a Major League Baseball game, playing for the New York Yankees in 1973.

Since then, the role of the designated hitter has evolved, with several players excelling in this position.

David Ortiz, famously known as “Big Papi,” played a crucial role in the Boston Red Sox’s success, including three World Series titles.

His clutch hitting and larger-than-life personality made him a fan favorite.

Nelson Cruz continues to be a powerful presence in today’s game.

Cruz has hit over 400 home runs in his career and still performs at an elite level well into his 40s, showing the longevity that a DH can have in baseball.

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Hall of Famers and Record Holders

Edgar Martinez is often considered one of the best DHs in baseball history.

Playing his entire career with the Seattle Mariners, Martinez had a .312 batting average and is one of the few DHs to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Paul Molitor played as a DH for parts of his career and amassed over 3,000 hits.

His versatility and consistency earned him a place in the Hall of Fame.

Other notable Hall of Famers who spent significant time at DH include Harold Baines, who was known for his powerful swing and longevity.

He played in the majors for over two decades and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019.

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Modern Impact and Future of DH

A baseball bat and helmet sit on a sleek, futuristic bench, symbolizing the modern impact and future of the designated hitter position in baseball

The universal designated hitter (DH) rule has brought big changes to Major League Baseball (MLB).

Before 2022, the American League used the DH, but the National League didn’t.

Now, both leagues enjoy this rule.

This change aimed to make games more exciting and safer for pitchers.

Players like Shohei Ohtani, who excel both as pitchers and hitters, have risen in popularity.

Thanks to the so-called “Ohtani rule,” players can now contribute in multiple roles.

This flexibility gives teams a new edge.

Interleague play and the World Series are also different now.

With both leagues using the DH, pitchers rarely, if ever, bat.

This makes games faster and helps teams deploy better strategies.

Health and Safety Improvements:

  • Reduces injury risk for pitchers
  • Keeps players fresher for longer seasons


  • Finding effective DHs is hard.
  • Balancing salary for specialized roles

The MLB Players Association (MLBPA) has also voiced support for the rule.

They argue that the DH provides more career opportunities, especially for aging sluggers who can no longer field well but can still hit.

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The future of the DH looks promising, with more teams strategizing around this key role and fans adapting to the new norm.

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