Designated Hitter / Extra Hitter
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   Designated Hitter / Extra Hitter

Implemented in the MLB American League in 1973, the Designated Hitter (DH) rule has migrated to most levels of amateur baseball, but in somewhat different forms. While OBR Rule 5.11 provides for a designated hitter to bat for the pitcher (and only the pitcher), most DH rules in amateur baseball leagues allow the DH to bat for any defensive player.

And that is only the beginning of the differences. In fact, DH rules, and particularly substitutions with respect to the DH, are among the most confusing rules in baseball – particularly the NCAA and the NFHS versions of the rules.

While the initial intent of the rule was to enhance offense in the game (and to protect some aging players whose defensive skills were failing, but whose hitting remained strong), many amateur implementations of the DH rule are as much to increase the opportunity for more players to play as it is to increase offensive strength. It is this latter point that has extended the concept of the DH to add yet another player, the "extra hitter" (EH), which is found in many amateur leagues.


Designated hitter (DH)

I won't try to summarize all of the DH rules for all of the leagues. That would require a small book. Instead, I'll present a list of key features of the DH rule and point out where other rule sets are likely to differ. Of course, the key point here is that you must be familiar with the DH rule for the league (or leagues) that you work.

  • The DH is a player who is in the batting order but who does not play on defense. In the Major Leagues (the American League), the DH, by rule, bats only for the pitcher. In most amateur leagues, however, the DH can bat for any defensive player. The net result is that the batting order lists ten players, but only nine of these players bat.
  • Using the DH is optional. In leagues where the DH is allowed, teams are not required to use a DH. This can be a game-to-game manager's decision.
  • The DH must be declared on the starting lineup. The DH must be on the starting lineup presented to the plate umpire at the plate meeting prior to the start of the game. If a team begins a game without a DH, they may not add one to the lineup after the lineups become official at the plate meeting.
  • If the DH later enters the game defensively, he keeps his place in the lineup and the pitcher (or other player for whom he's batted) takes the spot in the lineup that was occupied by the player the DH just sub'd in for. Important: Whenever the DH enters the game defensively, the DH position is terminated for the remainder of the game.
  • You can substitute for the DH. If you start the game with one player as your DH, you can later sub in another player into that spot in the batting order, and that player becomes the DH. You can make this substitution either on offense (as a pinch hitter or pinch runner), or on defense, as a straight-up substitution.
  • The player listed as the DH on the starting linup must bat at least one time before being substituted for. There are two important exceptions to this rule. (1) If the DH is injured (or ejected, for that matter), you can sub in another player. (2) If the opposing team changes its starting pitcher before the DH has his first at-bat, you can legally sub in another player at the DH position.

This is all pretty straightforward. Where it gets messy (and where many leagues go their own way) is in the matter of substitutions involve both the DH and the pitcher. It gets so messy, in fact, that the NCAA requires (by regulation) that at least one umpire on each crew must carry a laminated cheat sheet to help them negotiate the subtleties of pitcher/DH-related substitutions.


Extra hitter (EH)

The extra hitter (EH) rule takes the concept of the designated hitter one step further. Instead of just adding a player to bat for the pitcher (ten players, but only nine batters), the EH adds a tenth batter to the batting order. If a team is playing with both the DH and the EH (this is not uncommon), then you have eleven players in the lineup, ten of whom bat.

Of course, the EH rule is not a part of the OBR rule set and is not used in Major League play. The impetus for the rule is simply to more easily involve a greater number of players in the game, and is particulaly common in youth leagues. Because of that, EH rules are league-level and may vary from league to league. The EH rule generally stipulates the following (but again, you must check your league rules):

  • The EH must be declared on the starting lineup. An EH cannot be added to the lineup after lineups become official at the plate meeting.
  • The EH may bat in any spot in the batting order. However, the EH spot in the batting order may not change during the game. That is, if you have the EH in the three-hole at the start of the game, the EH remains in the three-hole for the entire game, irrespective of substitutions into and out of the EH slot.
  • The EH is eligible for substitution and re-entry into the game. Whatever substitution and re-entry rules are in effect for the league and level, these rules apply equally to the EH. This means you can sub in a new EH during the game, and in most cases re-enter the original EH later in the game
  • The EH may be entered into the game defensively. Combined with the free re-entry rule, this means that a manager can make defensive moves that include the EH, including swapping a defensive player for the EH, whereupon the defensive player that was just swapped out can become the new EH. In short, the manager can shuffle his ten players in the batting order (excluding the DH, of course, if also in the game) among the nine defensive positions. These are defensive swaps, not substitutions.
  • The EH role may not be eliminated during the game. Once you start with an EH, you must keep the EH for the entire game. The only exception is if your team drops to only nine players due to injury, ejections, or players leaving early.

There are some loose ends on the EH rule, and variation from league to league (and level to level) so it's essential that you be fully briefed on the rule for the league you work.