DH turns 30

O's recall rule as hit from start

Baseball: The likes of Terry Crowley and Tommy Davis embraced the new rule in 1973, with Davis adding a little extra mustard to his prowess.

April 06, 2003|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Orioles hitting coach Terry Crowley can't believe it has been 30 years. He was a 26-year-old platoon outfielder when manager Earl Weaver inserted him into the 1973 Opening Day lineup as something called a designated hitter.

The DH rule will celebrate its 30th anniversary today, probably with just a few close friends and relatively little fanfare. The decision by baseball owners to take the pitcher out of American League batting orders was controversial from the start, but Crowley didn't mind it a bit.

"I loved it," he said. "Offense was a much bigger part of my game than defense. It gave me a chance to get some at-bats, so I was very much in favor of it."

New York Yankees outfielder Ron Blomberg went into the record books as the first official designated hitter, making the first DH plate appearance at 1:53 p.m. on April 6, 1973, against Boston Red Sox ace Luis Tiant, but Crowley wasn't far behind.

He batted eighth for the Orioles against Milwaukee that day and popped out to Don Money at third base in the first regular-season Orioles DH at-bat, but he didn't waste his big opportunity. Crowley finished the day with two hits.

"It did take some getting used to," he said. "What I tried to do was stay involved in the game. I didn't feel real comfortable leaving the bench to ride the [exercise] bike or move around. If I left the bench, I felt I was not in the game 100 percent."

There was no blueprint for DH success in those days, so different hitters took different approaches to maintain focus at the plate. Tommy Davis, who would replace Crowley in the permanent DH role three games into the 1973 season, had no qualms about leaving the bench between at-bats.

He would go back into the clubhouse and -- when possible -- watch the opposing pitcher on a television monitor. He also would find other ways to keep busy and entertain himself, sometimes to the chagrin of his hard-nosed manager.

Phones and burgers

There is an Orioles legend that he was talking on the telephone in the clubhouse when his turn at-bat came up one night. Davis allegedly told the person on the other end to hold the line, went out and delivered a clutch RBI single, then returned to resume the conversation.

Davis set the record straight on that last week. The story, he said, is absolutely ... true.

"I was on the phone, and our trainer [Pat Santarone] came running in and said `Tommy, you're up,' " Davis recounted by telephone Wednesday from his home in Alta Loma, Calif. "I had to go through that tunnel and Earl was there. He had that look. It was a hateful look. The look of death.

"I got a base hit to knock in a run, and as I went back to the phone, he turned his back to me because I guess he didn't want to say anything bad to me."

Weaver might have been perturbed, but he couldn't have been too upset about Davis' performance in the DH role. The veteran outfielder, who in his prime had won two batting titles with the Los Angeles Dodgers, hit .306 and drove in 89 runs in 1973, spending 127 of his 137 games as the designated hitter.

He was a serious hitter, but he never took himself too seriously.

"I used to come out on deck with ketchup and mustard on my shirt," Davis said. "I liked to eat a hamburger between at-bats and then go out and get a hit."

Davis would remain the Orioles' regular DH for three seasons before ending his 18-year career with the California Angels and Kansas City Royals in 1976.

Crowley didn't do anything to play himself out of the new position. He gave way to Davis after just two games because Weaver valued him more highly as a late-inning pinch hitter. He would appear as a DH sporadically throughout the remainder of his playing career, playing a total of 195 games in that role.

"The main thing DH-ing did was allow me to get some at-bats in between pinch-hit appearances," he said. "I really didn't do it that much.

"Psychologically, when I was DH and didn't get any hits, I really felt like I was letting the team down, because that was my sole purpose. I had a tendency to put a lot more blame on myself."

The DH created a special niche for good hitters with defensive liabilities or physical problems. Former Oriole Harold Baines accumulated nearly 3,000 hits in a long career spent largely as a designated hitter, overcoming fragile knees that likely would have forced him out of the game much earlier if not for the DH rule. Paul Molitor also took advantage of the DH rule to extend a career that is all but certain to rate him a plaque in the Hall of Fame.

Seattle Mariners star Edgar Martinez might be the best of them all, entering this season as the all-time DH leader with a .323 career batting average.

He also ranks second in career RBIs and is tied for third in home runs and figures to be a candidate for Cooperstown after he retires.

So far, no one who has made his name as a designated hitter is enshrined in the Hall of Fame, something Martinez said is an injustice to the players who have embraced the role.

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