"That was one of the best years, because I was playing on one leg and I hit .289," Cepeda said earlier this season. "And I hit four doubles in one game. Both my knees were hurting, and I was designated hitter of the year."
Designated hitters last year had the second-highest average salary by position at $8.1 million, behind first basemen at $8.6 million. That's the main reason why eliminating the DH to bring the AL back on line with the NL is almost unfathomable. Boston's David Ortiz, who recently passed Harold Baines on the career list for hits by a DH, is making $14 million this season at age 37.
The designated hitter has also helped teams keep their best players in the lineup while giving them some type of rest. Minnesota All-Star catcher Joe Mauer is a prime example. When he needs a break from crouching behind the plate, manager Ron Garden can keep his potent bat in the lineup at DH.
"I get a lot of questions about the DH, how we use it and all that stuff, but basically the way I see it is I'd rather see David Ortiz hit than some pitcher," Mauer said, intending no offense to his own teammates. "So we'll see. It is what it is right now."
Most of Mauer's AL peers predictably express support for the DH's existence, even if a lot of them would rather play a position than sit around between at-bats. The power of the players' union, protective of this lucrative and prominent job, is another undeniable force for the DH. And despite the complaints from dads with sleepy kids at long games, fans usually enjoy seeing runs cross the plate.
The cumulative AL batting average has beaten the NL's mark in each of the first 40 seasons of the DH. The last time the NL hit above .270 was 1939. The AL has 11 seasons of .270-plus batting during the DH era.