In my latest article discussing position changes by players after the age of 35, there was a discussion in the comments regarding the designated hitter.
Several people don't consider it a real position and thus shouldn't have been included in the article (love when a discussion in one article spurs another article to be written!). I plan on covering several of the areas of concern brought up in those comments in this article.
Let's start with the first area of concern: Should the designated hitter be considered a position when discussing all-time greats or best ever at certain positions?
Baseball Reference will list designated hitter as a position under a player's name on their player's page. Take a look at David Ortiz's page and you'll see this. If you also scroll down further on that page, under Fielding, you'll see games spent at DH in each season.
What this tells me is that Baseball Reference considers Designated Hitter an actual position.
If you go the "member search" area of the Baseball Hall of Fame site, under the position drop-down menu, you'll notice that Designated Hitter is an option.
Last year or the year before, if you ran that search, one name came up; Paul Molitor. Molitor played more games as a Designated Hitter than any other position. Now, the search returns zero members (site was changed over the last couple of years).
So, even though there are no members of the Hall of Fame listed under Designated Hitter, the site itself considers it a real position.
What this means is basically the two best sites for historical baseball information, Baseball Reference and the Hall of Fame, both consider Designated Hitter a real position.
Moving on to the next area of concern: Is being a DH the same as playing an actual position?
I would have to say it is. Some players fail at being a DH while others succeed. They just can't seem to hit as well if they're also not playing in the field.
Jason Giambi is probably the best example of this. Giambi was a beast offensively when he was in the game playing first. However, on those days when he was given a break in the field and made the DH, his offense suffered.
It takes a certain mindset to sit in the dugout all game and keep your head in the game when you're not doing anything. Granted, it doesn't have the same "value" as a position player because they can't affect the game with their defense, but they're still integral to the team's success.
Whether or not you believe the DH should be abolished all comes down to if you're an American League or National League fan or how much of a "baseball purist" you are.
Personally, I prefer the DH over watching a pitcher attempt to hit.
The designated hitter has allowed many players to continue their careers. The results varied as I mentioned in the article linked above. Some players got in to the Hall of Fame because being a DH allowed them to reach a "magic" number while others saw some of their career stats like batting average, OBP or Slugging Percentage drop because of it.
Without the designated hitter position, we would have never got to witness the mastery of Edgar Martinez at the plate or David Ortiz hitting a ninth inning home run off Mariano Rivera. Both those players would have been out of baseball within just a couple years of their careers starting.
While the Hall of Fame and MVP voters have yet to recognize a pure DH just as Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz with either Hall of Fame induction or even a MVP award, there's no doubt that they played a real position.
Just think how different baseball history would be without the designated hitter.