Baseball Designated Hitter Rules

DH Rules

What exactly is a designated hitter? Does each team have a designated hitter? What are the rules for such a position? How does this relate to a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner? Get ready to learn about the designated hitter rules.

baseball batter

The Basics of the Designated Hitter Position

A designated hitter (or "DH") is someone who is substituted in when the pitcher is up to bat. Once a designated hitter is substituted in, this player bats for the pitcher for the rest of the game. Additionally, the designated hitter does not take the field during the team's defense. This player simply waits in the dugout. This is because the pitcher is still active in the team's defense.

A player who enters the lineup in place of the designated hitter then becomes the designated hitter in their lineup for the rest of the game.

If the designated hitter is later called to serve a defensive position, the player bats in their lineup spot. However, the team cannot then use another designated hitter for the pitcher.

A team must select their designated hitter before the game begins, and if the team does not select a designated hitter, they are not permitted to use a designated hitter for the entire game. If the pitcher plays another defensive position, the team is no longer allowed to use a designated hitter. The lineup cards are given to the umpire in chief at the start of the game.

baseball designated hitter

Who Uses It?

The designated hitter position is only used in the American League (or "AL") of the MLB and is not active within the National League (or "NL").

Many teams in the American League elect to have a designated hitter because the pitcher typically has poor batting averages compared to the rest of the team. This is mostly due to lack of practice as pitchers usually practice throwing rather than batting.

A designated hitter is usually a power-hitter with poor defensive skills, and the position often goes to older players who still get a chance to shine behind home plate.

Pinch-Hitter and Pinch-Runner

There is often some confusion about designated hitters, pinch-hitters, and pinch-runners. While the designated hitter is there solely as a substitute hitter for the pitcher, a pinch-hitter can substitute for any player at bat. This player is usually substituted in for weaker hitters in the lineup.

A pinch-runner is somewhat related in that this player is there solely to run the bases of someone who has already batted. This player is typically used just for speed.

If a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner enters the batting lineup in place of a designated hitter, the new player is considered to be the designated hitter for the rest of the game. Furthermore, if a pinch-hitter bats for any other player and then becomes the active pitcher, the team is not permitted to use a designated hitter.

History Behind the Designated Hitter Rules

The first talk of creating a designated hitter position was back in 1906, but in 1928, the president of the National League immediately rejected the idea.

On January 11, 1973, there was a meeting amongst the American League's 24 owners on the subject of adding a tenth man to the lineup by means of a designated hitter. The vote passed as owners thought utilizing more power-hitters by means of a designated hitter would bring in more fans who wanted more action.

In a joint meeting on the same day between National League and American League owners, they argued whether to allow the American League a designated hitter position or not. The National League was very opposed to the idea as they were the dominating league of the MLB. However, the American League ultimately won out and was granted the position.

Ever since this meeting, fans and various owners alike have urged the MLB to make the designated hitter position universal. However, it is still only an active rule amongst the American League.

DH Rule in League Play

Any league can adopt to use the designated hitter rule. If two leagues have different policies during the World Series or exhibition games, the decision to use the designated hitter rule will be based on the home team's policy. In All-Star games both teams have to agree to use designated hitters for it to be allowed.