When the Cardinals take the field this spring, they will do so under a new collective agreement that will see the attacker-designated (re)introduced to the National League and Busch Stadium.
The American League adopted the designated hitter in 1972, but interleague play — where the National League plays its counterpart, the AL — didn’t begin until 1997, leaving a 25-year window in which NL teams had their only opportunity Using a designated hitter was when they made the World Series, and even then it was used biennially for the entire series, rather than rotating within the series based on home team.
While the NL took on the role during the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, it will now be a fixture throughout Major League Baseball as it moves forward. So while the Cardinals are deciding who will take that spot on the lineup – Albert Pujols, anyone? – Take a look back at some of the early Cardinals hitters who took the batter’s box instead of the pitcher.
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Gene Tenace and Dane Iorg
Gene Tenace has the honor of being the first to serve as a DH for the Cardinals, but Dane Iorg was the first to establish himself in the role — and it only took him one World Series to do it.
Joining the Cardinals, Tenace was a veteran when he was traded to St. Louis by the Padres in 1981. He was 34 years old. He played two seasons totaling 124 games in St. Louis.
Iorg, on the other hand, was a mainstay of the Cardinals. He made his major league debut in 1977, played in 499 career games over eight years with the Cardinals and hit a .294 in 1,250 plate appearances.
Neither player had designated hitter experience in 1982, when the need arose as the Cardinals advanced to the World Series to face AL-winners Milwaukee Brewers, and that year the DH was represented for the entire series.
Tenace was seeded into the fifth lineup slot as DH in Game One after appearing in just 66 games all of the regular season and seeing no time in the National League Championship Series. The 1972 World Series MVP lost 3-0 and one loss in a 10-0 game.
Manager Whitey Herzog replaced Tenace with Dane Iorg in the DH slot for Game Two, and the Cardinals have never looked back.
At first glance, Iorg’s selection was odd, as he only hit 15 extra-base hits all season, including just one home run — not exactly a traditional designated hitter, especially by modern standards.
The selection paid off immediately, however, as Iorg scored 9-for-17 (including five extra base hits) en route to leading the Cardinals to a World Series title. He led the Cardinals in hits, doubles, batting average, slugging percentage, and on-base plus slugging in the series.
Tenace, the first true DH in St. Louis history, retired just a year later and began a successful coaching career, winning World Series rings with Toronto in 1992 and 1993. Iorg played another five years, most notably with the Kansas City Royals. In 1985 he won the World Series against the Cardinals.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch Hall of Fame baseball writer Rick Hummel told the story of Dane Iorg in his 2020 series Where Are They Now, including a glimpse into Iorg’s mindset at the World Series, where he using his pinching experience to his advantage, and his approach to high-pressure moments.