Baseball 101 – 1973, the DH and Paul Molitor.

For those of you born in the 80s or 90s or heaven forbid in the 21st century, you probably don’t have any idea that before 1973 there existed only one set of rules for baseball. These rules applied to both the American League and the National League. That is until 1973.

Now, 1973 and the few years before were not the first time the DH was discussed by baseball. Rumor has it that Cornelius McGillicuddy, Sr. (aka Connie Mack), the part-owner and manager for the Philadelphia Athletics from 1901-1954, brought up the idea of the DH around 1906 because he was tired of watching his pitchers flail around, looking pathetic. Nothing came of it though. The real push for the DH came from Charlie Finley, owner of the A’s (you’ll recall mention of him in the Catfish Hunter post). It is somewhat ironic that it was Athletics owners who pushed for the DH.  Finley managed to push the rule change through in the AL in January of 1973. The NL held off.

The first game in which a DH came to bat was on April 6, 1973. The Red Sox hosted the Yankees at Fenway Park and, my daughter’s new favorite pitcher, Luis Tiant faced off against Ron Bloomberg in the top of the first. Luis was struggling to get through the first. He allowed a lead off single that was then erased by a double play. But, then he gave up a double to Matty Alou, walked Bobby Murcer and then walked Greg Nettles to load the bases with two out.  That brought up Ron Bloomberg, the first DH in a major league game. Tiant walked Bloomberg to force in the first run of the game. Bloomberg got the first AB, walk and rbi as a DH. Luis then gave up a two run double to Felipe Alou (Matty’s brother … they had one other brother in the big leagues named Jesus … back in 1963 all three played in a game for the San Francisco Giants). Fortunately, that was it in the first for the Yankees. The Sox would end up trouncing the Yankees. They would score one in the first, four in the second, three in the third and four in the fourth en route to a 15-5 shellacking. Tiant would pitch a complete game. For the season, Tiant would go 20-13 with a 3.34 ERA and would lead the league in WHIP -1.085 – and have an ERA+ of 120.

Other notable DHs that day were Orlando Cepeda (for the Red Sox), Tony Oliva, and Gates Brown. The DH is something that most fans now just take as a given in AL parks. Despite the increase in hitting and attendance the AL received in 1973, the NL did not pass the DH and has not even voted on adopting the DH since 1980. I expect that debate is pretty much dead. Fans now expect both leagues to be different.

Most career HR as a DH:

  1. David Ortiz – 381
  2. Frank Thomas – 269
  3. Edgar Martinez – 243
  4. Harold Baines – 236
  5. Don Baylor – 219

Most career games as a DH:

  1. Harold Baines – 1643
  2. David Ortiz – 1622
  3. Hal McRae – 1426
  4. Edgar Martinez – 1403
  5. Frank Thomas – 1310

How many Hall of Famers are there with more then 1,000 ABs as a DH, you ask? Two. Frank Thomas, who will be inducted this summer, and Paul Molitor, inducted in 2004.

Paul Molitor is an interesting case. He was a jack of all trades. He played some first base (196 games), second base (396 games), third base (788 games), shortstop (57 games), and outfield (52 games). I always thought of him as a third baseman or first baseman. But, really, he was a DH. When I looked it up I was surprised to see that he played 1,171 games at DH. I am stunned by that. You always think of DHs as guys who really could not field or at least struggled in the field and were slow footed – think David Ortiz, Frank Thomas or Harold Baines. Molitor was nothing like that. He was smooth and fleet of foot. In fact, Molitor stole the most bases by a DH – 167. Don Baylor was a distant second with 81.

Molitor appreciated the DH. “Probably more than any player in the last 20 years, I have reaped benefits from the DH rule,” he said to Tim Kurkjian in a Sports Illustrated interview in 1996. But, it’s not like he was a slacker. He was a ball player who settled into the DH role after years in the field. “Maybe I incurred some injuries because I played so many positions,” he says. “You know, learning a new position, the change in throws. I wasn’t a Gold Glover, but I was decent defensively.” Indeed. I have no memory of Molitor as a below average fielder. Molitor finished his career with 3,319 hits, a magic mark for Hall of Fame admittance.

As I said in an earlier post (I think it was in my Roberto Clemente post) there have only been 25 guys to get 3,000 hits in the history of the game. They are all in the Hall of Fame except for Pete Rose (lifetime suspension for gambling), Craig Biggio (just barely missed this past year … some suggestion of steroid use but may likely get in next year) and Rafael Palmeiro (suspected of steroid use and thus may never get in) and Derek Jeter (still active).

Back to 1973.

Some odd things happened this year. Well, not some, but at least one. To start things off, George Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees for $10 million dollars from CBS. Can you believe that?  10 million dollars? Oh, to have Marty McFly’s book and to go back in time. The Royals opened their new stadium and Roberto Clemente’s jersey was retired. There were five no hitters thrown that year. Steve Busby was the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter without coming to bat – remember, it’s the first year of the DH. Nolan Ryan threw two (he would throw seven in his career), Jim Bibby and Phil Neikro threw the others.

The Orioles would beat out the Sox for the division title, but would lose to the A’s in the AL Championship Series. The A’s would beat the Reds for their second of three straight World Series titles.

But, the oddest thing of the 1973 season happened that spring. Fritz Peterson and Mike Kekich came to Yankees spring training and announced they had traded families. Yep, wives, two children each and even the family dogs. At some point during the 1972 season, Mike Kekich fell for Marilyn Peterson, and Fritz Peterson fell for Susanne Kekich.

“We didn’t do anything sneaky or lecherous,” said Susanne. “There isn’t anything smutty about this. … But you have to admit there are some funny aspects.”

Yep, some funny aspects. I’d agree with that assessment. How did it turn out? Fritz and Susanne lived happily ever after. Not so, Mike and Marilyn. They split after only a couple of months together. Can you imagine if that story came out today? There would be news trucks following the couples around 24/7 and they would probably have their own reality TV show.  We already have one called Wife Swap, I think, so it couldn’t be that. Jock Swap? Reverse Brady Bunch? Family Ties? You Start, I’ll Relieve? Oh, the fun we would have.

Who’d a thunk it.

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One thought on “Baseball 101 – 1973, the DH and Paul Molitor.

  1. Marc Ducharme

    Just read your piece on opening day 4/6 at Fenway Park. Sox hosting the Bronx bombers. Actually, they were just the Yankees at that time, about to endure their 9th straight pennant less season, a streak that would reach eleven before hitting the series in ’76. Here’s what’s cool though for me and it speaks volumes about the time period. My dad rounded up our family of seven into the car and we drove from Vermont to Boston to attend opening day. Until last year, it was my one and only opening day game. At the time, I was not really a Sox fan, still wallowing in the hangover of the Washington Senators and their new digs in Arlington, Texas. Yet, I was certainly rooting for the Sox and jeering Ron Bloomberg, rejoicing at having Orlando Cepeda, knowing nothing about the importance of healthy knees in athletics and firmly believing that a new uniform and rest would resurrect Cha Cha Cepeda. Nothing doing, really. He was swinging on fumes. As for the game, I vaguely remember Tiant pitching but Chris, my memory has Carlton Fisk hitting a grand slam! No? Somebody hit a grand slam that day. Memory does play tricks on us. As for a statement of the times, no way does single income family drive 6 hours to Fenway and get pretty good tickets for opening day. We bought them at the box office that day. In addition to seven tickets, Include parking and five hungry kids. You can’t do that today. First off, good luck getting seven tickets on opening day. Secondly, the family wouldn’t be able to eat for a week. NESN minus Jenny Dell much cheaper for the single income family today. My dad, a professor in education at the time, must have taken all five kids out of school for the day. The significance of that dawns on me now, the importance and impact of baseball in our lives at that time.

    Reply

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