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A designated hitter or “tenth player,” is a member of a baseball team who bats for the pitcher. Pitchers typically have a relatively low batting average, as compared to other players. In 1973, Major League baseball changed the rules to allow for the position of designated hitter in order to increase hits and scores, and the American League does use the designated hitter, or DH. The National League still has the pitchers take their designated turn at bat. If a National League team plays in an American League park (e.g., the Mets at Yankee Stadium), 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, the designated hitter can only hit the ball. He cannot play a defensive position. If the designated hitter is assigned a defensive position in the middle of a game, than he can no longer be the designated hitter. Instead, the pitcher will have to bat when his turn comes to bat.
However, if the designated hitter does take a field position during a game, another designated hitter can be assigned for the pitcher’s spot. The rule here is that the hitter cannot currently be playing the game. He cannot come from the current lineup. However, often teams will have several players on reserve that will sub in as designated hitters throughout a game.
A coach or manager of a team may employ this strategy to attack weaknesses in the other team’s pitcher. For example, a designated hitter that is left-handed might be subbed in to defeat a right-handed pitcher, or vice versa.
There have only been a few players that work full time as a designated hitter. Normally players want to play all aspects of the game. But having the option of employing a designated hitter means that one 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 have a designated hitter position as well, that can be filled 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 designated hitter takes away from the flow of the game and the natural strengths and weaknesses of the nine men playing.
However, other baseball fans applaud the use of the designated hitter, since it tends to mean one will see 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.