The Oakland Athletics Connection to the Start of the DH, and the Role Throughout the A’s History

The designated hitter role in major league baseball has often been controversial. The fact that the A's are seriously considering adding DH Manny Ramirez to the payroll is highly questionable, but it made me think back to the time when the DH rule was first adopted and some of the players that have been the designated hitter for the Athletics.

Frank Thomas, A's designated hitter
Wikimedia Commons

It was Oakland's owner, Charlie Finley, who was the most outspoken advocate of the DH rule. It wasn't a new concept, in fact, back in 1906 it was considered by Connie Mack who managed the Philadelphia Athletics for 50 years, from 1901 to 1950. It was brought up again in 1928 by the National League President, John Heydler, but it was shot down again, this time by the American League.

Nearly a half century later, Finley was the loudest voice when it came to the potential DH position, stating it would add more offense to the game and would draw more fans in as well.

Finley remarked, "The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn't come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game. I can't think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can't hit my grandmother. Let's have a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher."

Little did he know how true that would be in the not-so-far future, with the coming of The Bash Brothers and the remarkable home run records that turned out to be, maybe, not so remarkable.

On January 11, 1973, an 8-4 vote made the DH a part of baseball in the American League.

Deron Johnson was the first to become a designated hitter with Oakland, and one of the first in the league to be brought in to be a DH specialist. He arrived in May of 1973, coming from the Phillies and became the DH for the remainder of the season. Johnson hit 19 home runs during the regular season, but he hit .300 during the 1973 World Series helping them to win the ultimate prize. That year many teams saw an advantage to using a slugger who was beyond his prime and weak on defense but still powerful as a hitter.

The famed 1989 World Champion Athletics used Dave Parker in the DH role. In game one of the series against the San Francisco Giants he helped start the momentum that would take the team to victory with a solo home run. During the regular season he hit 22 out of the park. The following year, it was Harold Baines in the role, and he knocked out 25.

It is the designated hitter position, that former controversial home slugger, Jose Canseco, thought he'd be perfect for as a 47-year-old who could still hit with the best of them. He dreamed of making a comeback with the A's and playing for Billy Beane, but instead, he ended up down south playing for a Mexican team, the Quintana Roo Tigers.

The DH role does give aging players a great opportunity to use some of their great skills that haven't yet faded. It's a wonderful second chance for some, but it can't always be given to those who may have squandered those talents in favor of something that ultimately damaged America's favorite pastime.

K.C. Dermody grew up in the Bay Area of California, following the Oakland Athletics since the days of Billy Ball, and attending hundreds of games over the past three decades. Follow her at www.facebook.com/KCDermodyWriter, Twitter @kcdermody, or www.kcdermodywriter.com.

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Updated Saturday, Feb 18, 2012