If it weren’t for then-Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter’s summer 1980 fishing trip, the DH likely would have been in the National League much sooner.
The designated hitter appears to be coming to the National League. Yet, the NL likely would have had it four decades ago, had it not been for then-Philadelphia Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter going on a fishing trip in the summer of 1980.
With a noticeable increase in offensive production in the American League in the 1970s, attributed to implementation of the designated hitter, National League owners took notice. So much so, they decided to hold a vote on whether they, too, should implement it.
It was August 1980, just a couple months before the Phillies would win their first-ever World Series championship. And, according to MLB.com’s Chris Landers, it seemed the owners “might actually give it their approval, until the most ill-timed fishing trip in the history of American sports threw everything off the rails.”
Just 12 teams and two divisions (East, West), made up the NL at the time: the Phillies, Montreal Expos, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, and Chicago Cubs in the former division, and the Houston Astros, Los Angeles Dodgers, Cincinnati Reds, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, and San Diego Padres in the latter.
Just a majority of the 12 National League teams’ owners needed to sign off on the DH. Landers writes that the Pirates GM at the time, Harding Peterson, was given “very straightforward instructions” from his team’s owner to “vote as the Phillies voted.”
Likewise, then-Phillies Vice President Bill Giles, was told by Carpenter to vote for the DH. Thus, the NL appeared to already have an early two votes to adopt the DH. Carpenter was so “confident” that Giles had “things under control” in regards to the vote, Landers writes, that he decided to go fishing.
Then, things took for a turn. As the summer 1980 meeting began, teams were told that even if a majority voted “yes” on the DH, it would not come into effect until 1982.
“Giles hesitated, unsure whether this new information would change his owner’s thinking,” Landers writes. “And, given that this was a couple decades before the advent of cell phones, nobody could get a hold of Carpenter, so Giles was forced to abstain.”
Therefore, just as quick as the two votes were put on the board, they came off from Pennsylvania’s two Major League teams, who both abstained. The final vote ended up being four in favor, five opposed, and three abstentions overall.
Had the Phillies, and in turn the Pirates, not abstained, there would have been a majority “yes” vote, and, therefore, the DH in the National League starting in 1982.
Fast-forward to 2020, and there appears to no longer be a debate among owners as to whether or not to implement the DH. Almost all reports suggest that as part of MLB returning to action in 2020, it would be with the universal DH. The DH could be installed permanently in 2022 through the new collective bargaining agreement.
Had Carpenter not gone on the fishing trip, he would have been with Giles at the meeting. The landscape of the entire National League over the past 38 years, since 1982, would have looked a whole lot differently without pitchers taking swings in the batter’s box.