40th anniversary: birth of the DH and the save as an official stat

Forty years ago today, the lords of baseball decided to make not one but two notable changes that have made a substantial impact upon the game. Rather impressive, wouldn’t you say? In both cases, they implemented an idea that had already been around, but in both cases the powers that be made it an official part of the game.

Maybe the least important change was the decision to adopt a new stat, the save. When I say “least important,” I don’t mean to dismiss the impact the save has had on the game. It’s actually had a substantial impact, as over time it’s shaped how relief aces get used. Now they are reserved almost exclusively for save opportunities whereas previously they entered a game when the team felt it was the most important, regardless of if it was a save or not.

The save has had an impact, but ultimately all that happened was that a stat that was already around became official. Former Chicago sportswriter Jerome Holtzman created it years earlier because he thought wins and losses didn’t adequately reflect how a relief ace helps his team win games. The save was already gaining in popularity and would’ve anyway without baseball owners making it official. Heck, a lot of the stats we use nowadays aren’t officially sanctioned ones.

Still, making the save official did matter. It gave extra credibility to the stat and how people viewed relievers in general. Also, nowadays the internet makes it far easier for people to use unofficial stats. Back then, if a stat wasn’t official, it probably wouldn’t be on back of the baseball card, and then who would know about it? So making saves official mattered, though one can overstate its importance.

The other rule change from 40 years ago today had a much more obvious impact, an impact as undeniable as it was/is controversial: the creation of the designated hitter.

The idea was around, but it hadn’t been acted on until Dec. 10, 1972. On that day, American League owners voted to create it. There are reasons why the AL opted for it while the NL opposed it. First, they really were different leagues back then. Now, they’re just conferences, but there were much stronger differences in identity back then.

The AL had an inferiority complex. People generally regarded it as the inferior league, as the junior circuit always lost the All-Star Game. More problematically, AL teams drew fewer fans per game. That’s why they went to the DH, in hopes of increased offense leading to more butts in seats. The NL owners were comfortable with their position and income, and thus saw no reason to adopt the DH. Tradition worked for them, so they went the traditional route.

The AL did see a rise in attendance, eventually reaching parity with the NL. So they kept it, while the NL never has seen the need.

By now, the DH is the only real difference between the leagues. We have interleague play, and free agents float back and forth from team to team in either league. AL and NL owners used to vote on many matters separately (such as whether/not to create a DH). When was the last time that happened? Even the office of league president has been abolished.

It would be very difficult for baseball to get rid of the DH. Doing so would anger the players’ union, which is still easily the strongest one in sports. And owners voted to create the DH the same day they voted to make the save official, 40 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other events today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that occurred X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.

Day-versaries

1,000 days since Jason Heyward hits a three-run homer in his first major league at-bat. He helps the Braves destroy the Cubs, 16-5.

1,000 days since Matt Stairs plays for his 12th team, San Diego, setting a new record for a position player.

2,000 days since Sammy Sosa bangs out his 600th career home run.

2,000 days since the Cubs trade starting catcher Michael Barrett to the Padres.

3,000 days since Barry Bonds, 40 years and two months old, triples for the second straight game.

4,000 days since Mayor Guiliani announces the Yankees and Mets have reached a tentative agreement with New York City to build a pair of retractable-dome stadiums.

4,000 days since the Mets purchase Gary Matthews Jr. from the Pirates.

5,000 days since the Reds release pitcher Brendan Donnelly.

6,000 days since the Marlins fire manager Rene Lachemann. Team VP John Boles replaces him.

7,000 days since the Phillies beat the Braves, 4-3 in 10 innings, in Game Five of the NLCS. It’s 3-0 entering the bottom of the ninth when the Braves manage to tie it. Damn shame they lost it anyway.

9,000 days since the Orioles set a record for the worst start ever. They fall to 0-14 and still have another half-dozen losses staring them in the face.

9,000 days since Claudell Washington hits the 10,000th home run in Yankees history. (This covers from 1903-onward, when they moved to New York, and not the franchise’s 1901-02 seasons in Baltimore).

9,000 days since Tiger fans ring Tiger Stadium and give it a “hug” to protest mayor Coleman Young’s call to replace it.

10,000 days since Wade Boggs’ career-long hitting streak peaks at 28 games. He’s been 45-for-112 with 17 walks in that span.

Anniversaries

1900 NL owners refuse player demands on contract revisions and opt to ignore talk of Ban Johnson and the emerging American League. As a result, many players will bolt to the AL this offseason, making the AL an actual major league.

1918 NL owners tab John Heydler as their league president, with a salary of $12,000 per year.

1919 The Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees owners, from their perch on the league directors board, pass a resolution accusing league founder/president Ban Johnson of overstepping his duties.

1919 The NL will votes to ban new pitchers from using the spitball.

1923 The A’s purchase Max Bishop from the International League’s Baltimore squad for $20,000.

1924 The AL and NL agree to a permanent rotation format for the World Series: two games in one stadium, three games in the other, and then the final two in the first stadium.

1925 The A’s purchase second baseman Bill Wambsganss from the Red Sox for $4,000.

1925 A joint rules committee votes to allow rosin use by pitchers despite opposition from AL owners.

1927 Roger Peckinpaugh is named the new manager of the Indians.

1935 The A’s trade superstar Jimmie Foxx to the Red Sox for two warm bodies and $150,000.

1935 The Tigers purchase dimming star Al Simmons from the White Sox for $75,000.

1936 In a three-team trade, the Indians get declining ace Earl Whitehill, the White Sox get rising ace pitcher Thornton Lee, and Washington gets Jack Salveson, whoever the hell he is.

1936 Baseball commissioner Judge Landis rules the Indians can keep Bob Feller even though he was in high school when they signed him.

1938 The Cubs release second baseman Tony Lazzeri, whom the Dodgers sign that very same day.

1938 In Pittsburgh, Negro League ballpark Gus Greenlee Field is torn down.

1939 The Red Sox buy the contract of Dom DiMaggio, meaning that all three brothers are now in the big leagues.

1940 The Giants sign free agent catcher and Hall of Famer Gabby Hartnett.

1944 Steve Renko, pitcher, is born.

1945 A new minor league designation of Triple-A is created and given to the International League and Pacific Coast League. The lords of baseball do this to ward off a challenge by the PCL to become a new major league.

1945 Philadelphia purchases first baseman Frank McCormick from the Reds for $30,000.

1946 400-game winner Walter Johnson dies at the rather young age of 59.

1953 Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley unveils plans for a new stadium in Brooklyn. Obviously, it never will be built.

1956 Grace Comiskey, widow of franchise founder Charles, dies. Controlling interest in the team goes to her daughter, Dorothy Comiskey Rigney.

1956 Tim Kurkjian, ESPN talking head, is born.

1960 Paul Assenmacher is born.

1962 Houston trades Dick Williams to Boston. He’ll end his playing days there and, more importantly, begin his Hall of Fame managerial career with that organization.

1963 The White Sox trade longtime second baseman Nellie Fox to Houston.

1965 The Pirates trade Bob Friend to the Yankees.

1966 Mel Rojas is born.

1969 The Indians trade Luis Tiant and Stan Williams to Minnesota for Dean Chance, Graig Nettles, Bob Miller, and Ted Uhlaender. Tiant’s career appears done as he blew his arm out in 1969. Obviously, he’ll recover, but that won’t happen until long after he’s left Minnesota. Similarly, Nettles has a nice career in front of him, but it won’t really get going until after he leaves Cleveland.

1969 Jack Tobin, who had four straight 200-hit seasons in the 1920s, dies at age 77.

1971 The Angels make one of the best trades in franchise history, getting Nolan Ryan and three others from the Mets for Jim Fregosi.

1973 Baltimore signs amateur free agent Dennis Martinez.

1975 The AL approves the purchase of the White Sox by Bill Veeck from Sox owner John Allyn. The AL rejected this a week ago, but Veeck has since improved his team’s financing.

1975 The White Sox trade starting pitcher Jim Kaat to the Phillies.

1975 Joe Mays, one-time All-Star and for a while a real White Sox killer, is born.

1976 The White Sox trade Rich Gossage and Terry Forster to the Pirates for Richie Zisk and Silvio Martinez. In the short run, it’s a nice trade because Zisk has a great season and helps make 1977 a very fun year on the South Side. In the long run, it’s a disaster, as Gossage will become a Hall of Famer.

1976 The Giants trade infielder Ken Reitz to the Cardinals.

1976 Montreal trades slugger Andre Thornton to the Indians.

1979 The Mets trade minor league catcher Jody Davis to the Cardinals. He’ll later become an All-Star with the Cubs.

1980 The Angels trade third baseman Carney Lansford, relief pitcher Mark Clear, and Rick Miller to the Red Sox for third baseman Rick Burleson and Butch Hobson. The Red Sox get the better of this one.

1981 The Padres and Cardinals make a challenge trade, exchanging exciting young shortstops. San Diego sends Ozzie Smith to St. Louis for Garry Templeton. Four more players are involved, most notably Sixto Lezcano, who goes to St. Louis. At the time, Smith couldn’t hit, and Templeton had a fantastic start to his career, but obviously Smith (and St. Louis) do better after this trade.

1984 The Expos trade Gary Carter to the Mets for four players, most notably Hubie Brooks. As one-sided as it sounds, the Expos actually get more from this trade because Carter only has a few productive years left, while Brooks has several, and some of the other guys going to Montreal provide some value, as well.

1985 Atlanta trades reliever Steve Bedrosian to the Phillies, where he’ll win an unlikely Cy Young Award in 1987.

1985 In the Rule 5 draft, the White Sox claim Bobby Bonilla from the Pirates.

1985 The Rangers sign free agent Tom Paciorek.

1987 In a six-player trade, the White Sox send aging pitcher Floyd Bannister to the Royals for younger arms Greg Hibbard and Melido Perez.

1988 The Dodgers sign free agent second baseman Willie Randolph, ending his long run with the Yankees.

1990 The A’s sign free agent Eric Show, causing the all-time Padres leader in wins to leave San Diego.

1991 Howard Spira is sentenced to 2.5 years in jail for trying to extort George Steinbrenner.

1992 The Mets sign free agent pitcher Frank Tanana.

1992 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher Jimmy Key.

1993 Seattle trades Mike Hampton to Houston.

1996 Baltimore signs free agent Jimmy Key.

1996 The Reds sign free agent pitcher Kent Mercker.

1996 The Cubs sign Expos closer Mel Rojas. On a personal note, I still have a memory of a friend and fellow Cubs fan breaking the news to me by excitedly yelling, “Hey, we’re going to the World Series. We signed Rojas!” Yeah, that didn’t quite happen.

1996 The Tigers trade catcher Brad Ausmus, pitcher Jose Lima, slugger Daryle Ward, and two more to Houston for closer Todd Jones, pitcher Doug Brocail, non-hitter Brian Hunter, and one other player. Houston gets the better of this trade.

1997 The Yankees sign free agent Chili Davis.

1998 Arizona signs free agent Randy Johnson.

1998 Dennis Eckersley announces his retirement.

1999 Baltimore trades Jesse Orosco to the Mets for Chuck McElroy.

2000 Colorado signs outfielder Ron Gant.

2000 Texas signs former NL MVP Ken Caminiti.

2001 The Cubs trade reliever Felix Heredia to Toronto for shortstop Alex Gonzalez.

2003 Anaheim signs former Indians ace Bartolo Colon.

2007 The Nationals signs free agent catcher Paul Lo Duca.

2007 Montreal signs former Dodgers relief ace Eric Gagne.

2007 Texas signs troubled outfielder Milton Bradley. He’ll thrive there.

2008 Cleveland signs free agent pitcher Kerry Wood.

2009 Texas signs free agent Rich Harden.

2010 The Royals sign outfielder Melky Cabrera. He’ll hit .305 there with 44 doubles and 18 homers.

2011 St. Louis signs free agent Rafael Furcal.

2011 News breaks that Brewers star and newly named MVP Ryan Braun tested positive for PEDs.

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Comments

  1. Cliff Blau said...

    I believe the save became an official stat in 1969, based on my recollection and the chronology in Total Baseball.  The rule was redefined for 1973.

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