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Opening Day Countdown: The 1973 Brewers - Year of the DH

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We're only 73 days away from opening day! I know you're excited. Today we're looking back at the '73 Brewers. This was the first year of the designated hitter, by the way.

Hey everyone! Guess what? The 1973 Brewers were the best in franchise history! Well, depending on your perspective that is. If we were talking about this right after the '73 season ended it would be the case. You see this was the first time, up to that point in the life of the franchise, that the Brewers finished with more than 69 wins. In point of fact, the '73 Brewers won 74 games. But that's not the interesting thing about the 1973 season.

This was the first year the designated hitter was introduced to baseball. The possibility of the NL now adopting it has been a topic of conversation all week here, on Facebook, Twitter, and on the radio. So I thought it might be interesting to see how the Brewers' DH spot fared in it's first ever season.

These days fans tend to think of the DH as a spot for aged players or fielding disasters. That's not really true anymore. Certainly players like David Ortiz have thrived in the role in more recent years, but I think a dedicated DH has become rare these days. So I was interested to see how the Brewers thought of the DH in that first year. Or at least how they utilized it.

Turns out the Brewers used three players in that capacity: OF Ollie Brown, OF Joe Lahoud, and OF Bobby Mitchell.

Player Innings PA Triple Slash
Ollie Brown 21.0 333 280/355/392
Joe Lahoud 288.0 258 204/302/311
Bobby Mitchell 132.2 136 223/250/385

Innings in that table refers to fielding innings. We can't look at splits from that far back--in terms of what position that player was when batting--so I can't be certain just how many of those plate appearances came while those players were the Brewers designated hitter. It's a weird mix.

I don't know if the Brewers just didn't have a better option or if they just weren't sure how to utilize the DH yet. Brown was clearly the player who spent the most time there. But he also still only got 333 plate appearances. No idea why so few. He definitely wasn't spending time at other positions. Maybe someone who watched this team remembers. But yeah, I don't see a clear tactic here.

I found this interesting note on Wikipedia when I was looking for more info on the DH in 1973.

Up 10-1 in the 8th inning of a game played on September 3, 1973, the Milwaukee Brewers elected to send DH Bobby Mitchell into left field, thereby forfeiting their right to use a DH. Relief pitcher Eduardo Rodríguez accordingly came to bat in the ninth—and hit a triple, scoring on the same play due to a throwing error, sealing the Brewers' 13-5 win over Cleveland.

Apparently that is one of the rare times in baseball history that a DH has been substituted resulting in a pitcher hitting in an AL game. I wonder how many times it will happen once the DH comes to the National League? Sorry, I couldn't resist. But buckle kiddies, because it is coming some day. Heck, 2016 might even be the last year the DH in any capacity doesn't exist in an NL game.