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What is a Designated Hitter?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 23, 2024
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A designated hitter (DH) or “tenth player,” is a member of a baseball team who bats for the pitcher, who typically has a relatively low batting average, compared to other players. In 1973, Major League Baseball (MLB) changed the rules to allow for another player to hit in the pitcher's place in order to increase hits and scores. The designated hitter plays in the American League, but the National League still has the pitchers take their designated turn at bat. If a National League team plays in an American League park, the DH will be used by both teams. If the game is at a National League park, the pitchers for both teams will take their assigned turns at bat.

In general, this player can only hit the ball; he cannot play a defensive position. If the player is assigned a defensive position in the middle of a game, than he can no longer bat for the pitcher. Instead, the pitcher will have to bat when his turn comes to bat.

If this player does take a field position during a game, however, another designated hitter can be assigned for the pitcher’s spot. The rule here is that the hitter cannot currently be playing the game. In other words, he cannot come from the current lineup. Teams often will have several players on reserve who can sub in throughout a game, however.

A coach or manager of a team may employ this strategy to attack weaknesses in the other team’s pitcher. For example, a hitter who is left-handed might be subbed in to defeat a right-handed pitcher, or vice versa.

There have only been a few players who worked full time as a designated hitter. Normally, players want to play all aspects of the game, but having the option to play in this role means that the team can bring in new players to refresh the game or to give someone a rest who is clearly not performing well. Minor league teams now also often use this position as well, filling it as needed by players who are not currently in the lineup.

Some baseball purists feel that employing a designated hitter is a corruption of the original intent of baseball. They feel a baseball team, with both its good and bad players, should play through the game. Using a player to hit in place of the pitcher, they argue, takes away from the flow of the game and the natural strengths and weaknesses of the nine men playing.

Other baseball fans applaud the use of this player, since it tends to mean that there will be more action in a game. They argue it is not particularly fun to spend time and/or money watching a bad hitter strike out, when they could be watching a good man at bat have a hit or score a run.

Sports n' Hobbies is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By RocketLanch8 — On Jun 17, 2014

@Reminiscence- I respectfully disagree when it comes to the designated hitter debate. I think the strategy of the game should include the fact that a pitcher is going to be a weak hitter. Because of his knees, a catcher may also be a slow base runner. Every defensive position has an affect on the player's hitting and running ability.

I don't think the American League should be forced to give up the designated hitter position, however. It's probably helped a lot of good pitchers extend their playing careers, since they can focus on the mechanics of pitching and not the mechanics of batting. As long as teams avoid using a specialized power hitter as a permanent DH, I don't have a problem with it. I just prefer the strategy of playing to a pitcher as a hitter.

By Reminiscence — On Jun 17, 2014

Personally, I think both leagues should have designated hitters. The position of pitcher has become very specialized over the years, and I don't see why a manager would want to risk losing a well-trained pitcher because of a batting-related injury. Batters get hit by pitches all the time, and anything can happen when they're running bases. I'm not saying that pitchers should be treated like hot house flowers, but they shouldn't be forced to perform a skill that is clearly not in their wheelhouse.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Sports n' Hobbies contributor, Tricia...
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