What happened

The AL adopted the DH rule in 1973, in response to low offense, declining attendance, and the prodding of Charlie Finley. That one league adopted it and one did not is a relic of an era when the leagues were much more independent then they are now. I expect that the DH will be coming to the NL during the next Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), particularly since each team now plays 20 interleague games per year. The NL held a vote on the DH in 1980, but the motion failed due to a comedy of errors unimaginable in the cell phone age. The Pirate GM (Harding Peterson) was told to vote with the Phillies. The Phillies GM (Bill Giles) was unsure how the Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter wanted to vote (he was on a fishing trip and couldn’t be reached). The motion failed 4-5 with three abstentions. Had the Phillies and Pirates voted for the measure, the DH would have started in the NL in 1982.

I thought it might be fun to get in the time machine and speculate on who might have been some of the Reds designated hitters if the NL had joined the AL in passing the DH in 1973.

The Big Red Machine Era (1973 – 1979)

The First Reds DH

The first DH for the Reds in 1973 would have been Dan Driessen. Called up during the second half after posting and absurd .409/.474/.630 line at AAA Indianapolis, Driessen was inserted at 3B to replace a fading Denis Menke (.191/.364/.270). Driessen was a brutal 3B, but he was a good example of an underrated hitter; he was above average in most categories, but not outstanding in any.

That leads to one of the most interesting “what ifs” in the history of the Reds – if there had been a DH slot in 1977 available for Tony Perez would he have been traded? Bob Howsam was a disciple of Branch Rickey, who always believed it was better to trade a player a year too early as opposed to a year too late. Perez remained an effective hitter until he was 40, and he and Driessen had very similar years in 1977. Extending the career of an aging star was a common use for the DH, and keeping Tony in Cincinnati would have been an interesting and welcome possibility.

Another interesting potential Reds DH during the late 70’s was Champ Summers. According to his SABR Bio by Scott Ferkovich, Summers signed at the advanced age of 25 as an amateur free agent by the A’s even though he had only played about 35 games of college baseball. After struggling in limited trials for the A’s and Cubs, he was acquired by the Reds in Champ SummersFebruary 1977 for a PTNBL. He spent 1977 with the Reds as a pinch hitter and again struggled in a 76 AB trial. Sent to AAA Indianapolis in 1978, Summers broke through with a fantastic season, posting a .368/.465/.665 line with 34 HR, 124 RBI and more walks than strikeouts. That earned him a September callup, and unlike his previous “opportunities”, he was decent (119 OPS+) in 42 at bats. However, a slow start in 1979 resulted in the Reds trading him to Detroit for a PTBNL in May. Tiger Stadium was a perfect match for the lefty pull hitter, and Champ had a great 3 year run for the Tigers as a platoon outfielder (143 OPS+). With a DH rule in the NL, he would have had a place to play – whether the Reds would have given him an extended chance is another question.

The 1980’s

The 80’s were a strange decade for the Reds, mixing contenders with some of the worst Reds teams in history. The DH would have been useful in the early 80’s to provide a place for another aging star – Johnny Bench. What is forgotten about the Johnny Bench DHregrettable 1981 season is that Bench had stopped catching after April in favor of first base. He pushed Danny Driessen out of his starting role in May but broke his ankle in a slide at second while he was hitting .343. Two weeks later the 1981 strike began. In 1982, the Reds traded Ray Knight to the Astros for Cesar Cedeno and somehow decided that a 34 year old player that had caught over 1600 games would be able to handle third base. Bench could still hit some (he was a league average hitter his last two years), but he was overmatched at 3B and retired at age 35.

In the early/mid 1980’s the Reds farm system pumped out a huge amount of promising outfielders, including Gary Redus, Duane Walker, Eric Davis, Paul O’Neill, Tracy Jones, Nick Esasky (who came up as a 3B and eventually moved to LF), and Eddie Milner. They had Dave Parker in place and a DH rule would have created some playing time for several of theseKal Daniels. However, the best hitter of the group was Kal Daniels who was essentially Joey Votto with speed (74 steals with a 79% success rate in his Reds career, and a .301/.406/.506 slash line), but he suffered from bad knees and bad routes in LF. He could not stay on the field, and the Reds traded him to the Dodgers in mid 1989 for Mariano Duncan and Tim Leary. His Reds career was short, but on a rate basis he was one of the best left handed hitters in team history (Ranking behind Votto and ahead of Joe Morgan in Reds career OPS+). Redus, Esasky, and O’Neill also would have intriguing DH possibilities in the 80’s.

The 1990’s

The Reds acquired Glenn Braggs in June 1990 in a trade for Ron Robinson, who had been bumped from the Reds rotation. He turned out to be a valuable reserve on the 1990 World Champs and made a game saving catch in the 6th game of the NLCS. The stats say he was a decent but not a great hitter, but he was an intimidating one. How strong was Glenn Braggs? This strong. He would have been the Reds most likely DH in the early 90’s.

Glenn Braggs Eduardo Perez Eddie Taubensee

There are many ways to fill the DH position, and most teams now use it as a rotation of regulars to fill it (only four players had 400+ PA as a DH in 2014). From 1996-98, the Reds had an ideal platoon with Ed Taubensee and Eduardo Perez. Taubensee was a left handed hitting catcher who had defensive issues (but was highly regarded – he was traded for Kenny Lofton and pushed Craig Biggio to 2B). Perez (yes, Tony’s son) filled a role that doesn’t exist often today due to 12 man pitching staffs – that of the lefty masher. For his career, his OPS vs. left handers (.863) was .200 points higher than what he did against righties. As a DH platoon, they would have been very effective together. As was common then, the Reds didn’t know what they had, releasing Eduardo in 1998 (he played seven more years in the majors).

Another player in the “lit up the minors but never got a chance” class was Roberto Petagine. A left handed hitting first Roberto Petaginebaseman, he put up .900+ OPS seasons in the minors like clockwork, but never got more than 152 PA in the majors. Acquired by the Reds in 1998 in a trade with Mets, he won the International League MVP (his second straight) with a .331/.436/.617slash line with 31 homers and 109 RBI. Called up in August he had a good year (128 OPS+) in a limited trial, but the Reds sold him after the season to the Yakult Swallows in the Japan Central League. He became a major star in Japan, winning an MVP, two home run titles, and becoming the highest paid player in Japanese baseball. He returned to the states in 2005, but never received meaningful playing time. His minor league stats and time in Japan certainly suggest he was better than a AAAA hitter, but he never had a chance to prove it.

2000 to Present The Reds were loaded with potential DH candidates in the last 15 years. How does Joey Votto playing a full year in 2007 sound? (he spent most of the year in the minors). There were aging stars (Barry Larkin, Ken Griffey Jr.), sluggers that were challenged defensively (Russell Branyan, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Ludwick, Dante Bichette) and even Shin-Soo Choo (who was as bad a CF as he was a good hitter).  Adam Dunn DH

Of course, the Reds had the player that more than any was born to be a DH, the Big Donkey Adam Dunn. Dunn actually was not a horrible outfielder when he came up, but 2005 appears to be the point when his defense became a serious issue. The Reds had Chris Denorfia in their system and he would have been a major upgrade in left field (duh) and contributed offensively. Dunn remained a very productive hitter through 2010, and continued to contribute through the end of his career (with the exception of the lost year of 2011). He would have been the DH on the all time Reds All Star team had the possibility existed when he broke in.

Sources: Wikipedia, the incomparable Baseball-Reference.com, SABR bio project

34 Responses

  1. CP

    Not only Dunn, the Reds could have brought Yonder Alonso or Yasmani Grandal earlier and developed them faster.

    They could keep Mesoraco’s bat in the lineup (even now), and extend his life as a catcher.

    They could give Joey days off from the field.

    The DH gives AL teams a lot more flexibility in roster construction.

  2. ohiojimw

    I was right with you all the way to Petagine. Have to admit I don’t think I forgot about him; just flat never heard of him.

    IMO, Eduardo Perez’s problem in Cincy was that the GM had staked his career to Sean Casey and wasn’t going to have anyone around that might create controversy about sending Casey out to play everyday come heck or high water.

    • CP

      Regarding Casey, don’t forget Paul Konerko, who might have been the best DH of his generation. The Reds wouldn’t have had to choose between Casey and Konerko. That would’ve been nice.

      • ohiojimw

        You make a very interesting point. Konerko came to the Reds (along with Dennys Reyes) for Jeff Shaw midway in 98 and was moved for Cameron in the off season. Even with the DH in the NL that’s a deal that still might have been made I think.

        By way of background for younger folks, Casey was traded to the Reds on (literally) opening day eve in 1998. Other than a cup of coffee or maybe 2, with Cleveland prior to the deal, he was an unknown quantity, an MLB rookie. E.Perez was several years older and in 1997 had had what could have been seen as a breakout or prelude to breakout season (OPS 796; OPS+ 104 on 330 plate appearances). Paul Konerko, like Casey, was also a rookie in 1998.

  3. seat101

    Alas. My 2015 season ticket purchase will be the last if the DH is adopted by the national league.

    Why not have designated fielders, or adesignated runner?

    Hey, I don’t own a team. The only vote I get is with my dollars. If I’m in the minority, then so be it.

    • Kurt Frost

      I love watching pitcher flail wildly, or my favorite, watch them stand there and take 3 strikes. Bunts are the best too. Love giving up outs. But nothing, and I mean nothing, gets my juices flowing like a double switch. Just gives me tingles typing it.

      • jdx19

        This made me laugh! Man those double switches sure do get my dander up!

    • ohiojimw

      Alas the powers to be want games played at a quicker pace with more offense (which I suppose somebody has decided makes the games seem quicker even if they end up taking more time to play).

      At length I’ve come to be ambivalent about it. I think everybody competing in the same playoff pool should have the same amount of DH games, be that all, none, or some formula in between.

    • jdx19

      Good thing you don’t live or didn’t grow up in an AL city.

      Your seasons tickets are contingent upon seeing pitchers hit? That’s likely the most extreme view of the DH I’ve ever read; anywhere.

      • Nick Doran

        I think that is a dishonest portrayal of Seat101’s opinion. Nowhere does he state that his opinion is contingent on seeing pitchers hit. He clearly states his opinion is based on the fact that baseball players should have to play offense and defense.

        If a player is too fat and unathletic to play defense he shouldn’t get to hit either. It used to be that you had to be an all-around player. You had to be a good athlete who could run, jump, catch, judge a fly ball, dive, throw, field and hit.

        If you think the only difference the DH makes is that we don’t have to watch pitchers bat then you are not paying attention. The DH rule has ramifications all over the field.

        Teams with pitchers who can hit (like Mike Leake, Zack Greinke, Travis Wood, Stephen Strasburg, Yovanni Gallardo etc) should have an advantage over teams with pitchers who can’t hit (like Aaron Harang or fat Bartolo Colon etc). Teams with hitters who can play good defense should have an advantage over teams with hitters who are poor fielders (like David Ortiz, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Billy Butler, etc).

        It cheapens the game to allow one-dimensional players with limited talent and skills to thrive at the expense of all-around, complete baseball players.

      • jdx19

        Agree to disagree. People view entertainment differently. Pitchers hitting is not entertaining to me.

        That doesn’t change my opinion that him cancelling his season tickets over the DH rule is extreme. It’s neither dishonest, as you state, or unfair.

        Also. Mike Leake is not a good hitter. I love the guy on the Reds, don’t get me wrong. But he’s not a good hitter. Having a hot 2012 with a lucky BABIP-fueled stat line does not make him good. He’s been horrendous since 2012. We can say he has some pop for a pitcher, which is true. But he’s not a good hitter.

        Anyone who strikes out more than Javier Baez is not a good hitter.

      • jdx19

        *2010 and 2012. And we’re talking about 60 and 69 PAs, respectively.

      • Nick Doran

        You can make any player’s stats look bad if you exclude his good years and leave his worst years in.

        There are certainly some pitchers who bat much better than other pitchers. I think everyone will agree on that.

        I think it is mostly casual fans who want the DH.

      • tct

        Ah, the “good ole days argument”. Back when everybody was a five tool, “complete player”, huh? Nope. Baseball players today are much more athletic than they used to be, and in much better shape, thanks to advances in nutrition and exercise as well as the money to afford the best nutrition. The good ole days argument is wrong. Baseball today has become a young man’s game because guys are coming up to the majors in their early to mid twenties in peak physical condition. The guys in their mid to late thirties just can’t keep up, no matter how hard they work.

        You say it cheapens the game to allow one dimensional players? Guess what, that ship has sailed. We are in the age of specialization. Left handed relievers who only face lefties, groundball specialists, defensive wizards who can’t hit a lick, etc..

        We have allowed the pitchers to specialize, so why not give a nod to the offense? It’s not about finding a spot for a guy who can’t field, as all the DH’ s can play at least first base if needed. It’s about getting another bat in the lineup in a time where offense is disappearing.

  4. davisremy10

    NO DH! The game is a lot more fun to “couch manage” when you have to deal with pitch hitters and double switches.

  5. jdx19

    Pitchers hitting is not entertaining. It adds no difficult “strategy.” It makes the game boring by adding a black hole to blunt any rally that your 6-8 hitters might get together.

    DH, please.

  6. jdx19

    Worst thing about the NL not having the DH is that some GMs (like ours) are not serious about having a 9th “real” bat on the team. If the DH existed, every NL team would try harder to have another option that can swing the bat a bit. Right now, our DH is likely Boesch, maybe Schumaker or Negron, but probably not since they have more defensive utility off the bench. Brennan Boesch. Ew…

    • jdx19

      Or Pena catching with Meso at DH, assuming he didn’t break his hip.

  7. jdx19

    Unrelated:

    Just heard on the PHI/WAS game that Bryce Harper has never faced a pitcher younger than he is (as a pro)… that’s insane.

    • Steve Mancuso

      Yes, and he’s still the youngest player in the NL, including Kris Bryant.

      • jdx19

        Based on the fact that most projection systems for minor leaguers use some sort of age-for-level factor, I think it’s safe to say Mr. Harper still has a pretty good shot of being something special.

        At some point he’ll be 27 facing rookie pitchers. Yeesh.

  8. daytonnati

    I am opposed to the DH, but I have the feeling that it is inevitable. If so, what about the DH changing each at bat? Teams would possibly be forced to use their entire bench during a game. Once all bench players have hit (if the game is a slugfest, or it goes extra innings), the last DH used would be the last one available, like the relief pitchers in an extra inning game. That would leave “some” strategy for managers as to when to use their “best” DH and to think ahead about pitching match-ups. If a bench player replaces a regular on the field during a game, he is removed from the DH pool.

  9. Eric the Red

    I don’t know what would have happened, but I’m darn glad it didn’t happen. It massively alters the strategy of the game.

    • CP

      How does it massively alter the strategy of the game? All it does is remove automatic sacrifice bunts and substitutions of pitchers. Teams in the AL do not play much different than the NL.

  10. gerald

    we already have one whole league to see over the hill or one dimensional players its called AL and you can chose any team you want

      • jdx19

        Good call, CP.

        I just don’t understand how people can make the “one dimensional” argument with a straight face.

        Pitchers can’t hit.
        DH’s cant’ field.

        Both are one dimensional. Except one forces us to watch the sadness, whereas the other stashes the sadness on the bench.

        Tradition and preference is really the only real logical argument anyone can stand on that is anti-DH. THe rest are self-contradictory since, in fact, pitchers are one-dimensional just like a DH is.

      • doctor

        The solution I have always thought about is make rule change that pitchers don’t hit and the batting line-up is the 8 regular “everyday” position players. This gets rid of a bad hitter(the pitcher) and turns lineup over quicker for better offense. Yet at same time enforces the concept if you want to hit, you have to field.

        I would rather see this then the permanent DH.

      • gerald

        except some one must pitch he could be hitter we just chose not DH is simply to try to change offensive output of game. Find better hitters with better discipline don’t just add hitter that has no other skill. You could chose pitchers with better hitting skills if you wanted.

      • Nick Doran

        Sure there are one-dimensional players in the NL, but their teams have to pay the penalty in terms of reduced overall effectiveness if they want to use those players. In the AL there is no penalty for using players with poor skills. That is the whole point. It cheapens the game to allow non-athletic specialists to take over the sport at the expense of better all-around players.

  11. Ryan Lykins (@ryan_lykins)

    One of my favorite things about watching Johnny Cueto pitch is when he comes up to bat. He is always entertaining in the fact that you can tell he doesn’t take it nearly as seriously as he does pitching. Watching him casually take pitches is hilarious and then when he does make contact or get a walk I love watching him “run” down the first base line. I’ll definitely miss his at bats when he’s gone.

  12. Jon

    My feelings are this, One both leagues should have the same rules. Two, the DH takes away from the strategy of the game, but CP and JDX19 make a good point at least with the DH the bad side is hidden.

    I have always been a no DH guy but really I just want them to unify the rule through out MLB and since there is practically no way the AL gets rid of the DH, seems to be a matter of time before NL has it too.

    Lastly, Greg left out a big one from recent years Edwin Encarnacion. He was a dumpster fire defensively but would have and has made a great DH.

  13. Greg Gajus

    Good point on EE. I will never forget the time that Brantley said there was no way he would come through in a high leverage situation, and he homered on the next pitch. He is a good lesson to remember that not everyone peaks at age 27. Another similar player from the mid-90’s was Willie Greene. The Reds traded John Wetteland in his prime to get him. He had a few years that were similar to EE’s seasons with the Reds.

  14. Art Wayne Austin

    Don’t forget good hitting pitchers like Leake would not get to bat. Perhaps a DH for the last couple of times a pitcher comes to the plate while continuing to pitch.