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Will MadBum be the last pitcher to hit a HR?

A feat Bumgarner may have unknowingly set
@michaelsclair
July 14, 2020

When Orioles starting pitcher Roric Harrison stepped to the plate in the sixth inning against the Indians on Oct. 3, 1972, no one in attendance thought they were watching history. It was a doubleheader on the last day of the season featuring two teams out of the playoffs. So, when

When Orioles starting pitcher Roric Harrison stepped to the plate in the sixth inning against the Indians on Oct. 3, 1972, no one in attendance thought they were watching history. It was a doubleheader on the last day of the season featuring two teams out of the playoffs.

So, when Harrison took pitcher Ray Lamb deep, no one cared much about it. Sure, newspaper articles the next day mentioned the home run alongside facts about his strong start, but really, this was just one of the 22 home runs hit by American League pitchers that season.

It took months -- and perhaps years -- until we learned he had recorded an unbreakable footnote in history: Harrison was the last AL pitcher to homer before the DH.

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While the idea of the designated hitter had been discussed as early as 1892, there was no guarantee it would ever be embraced by both leagues. Even when Harrison went deep, few were talking about the DH being enacted that winter. It took low attendance figures, a collective .239 AL batting average and a bit of cajoling by A's owner Charlie Finley to convince the rest of the owners:

“The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn’t come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game,” Finley said. “I can’t think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can’t hit my grandmother. Let’s have a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher.”

Ron Blomberg looks at the bat he used as the first DH in a display at the Hall of Fame in the 1970s.

Even after the DH won by an 8-4 vote in the AL -- and lost by one vote due to a seriously mistimed fishing trip in the NL -- it was only supposed to be a three-year test. At the end of that time frame, both leagues would either adopt the DH or do away with it. The chance of another AL pitcher stepping to the plate was still quite high.

Instead, as you know, the rule stayed in place exactly as it was, with the two leagues featuring different rulebooks. It would take until Interleague Play in 1997 for another AL pitcher to homer again:

That brings us to Madison Bumgarner, who is set to potentially become the modern Roric Harrison. Unlike Harrison, who was just a rookie when he made his mark, Bumgarner is arguably the best hitting pitcher in the game. He's skilled enough at the plate that when the Giants visited the A's in 2016, manager Bruce Bochy opted to keep his bat in the lineup rather than use the DH.

When he made his final appearance with the Giants, it wasn't on the mound, but as a pinch-hitter. He did well, ripping a liner at the third baseman against Clayton Kershaw:

But the at-bat we want to talk about came five days before when he made his last start as a Giant. Coming to the plate in the bottom of the third inning, Bumgarner went deep off Rockies starter Jeff Hoffman.

That dinger was the last hit by a pitcher in the 2019 season and the 19th of Bumgarner's career. The southpaw looked set to keep hitting them when he joined the D-backs and their much friendlier home stadium this offseason on a five-year deal. Instead, that home run could very well be his last.

Because of the coronavirus, things have changed. As part of the rule changes for baseball's shortened 60-game season, both leagues will utilize the DH for the first time this summer.

Bumgarner, never one to mince words, wasn’t thrilled.

"Obviously my thoughts don’t really matter on that deal," Bumgarner said. "I do what I’m told. I’ll sit there and pitch and that’s it for now. I think that’s obviously where everybody wants the game to go, so it is what it is."

Still, at the moment, pitchers are expected to return to the plate for the 2021 season. It's even possible the D-backs could decide to forego the DH a few times this summer and Bumgarner will come to the plate. Though that's pretty unlikely, hey, stranger things have happened.

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Harrison would go on to hit five more home runs in his big league career after being traded to the Braves in November 1972. Not only may Bumgarner never swing a bat again, but if the DH stays in the NL in 2021 and beyond, as has been rumored as a possibility, his home run could be the last one ever hit by a big league pitcher.

Michael Clair writes for MLB.com. He spends a lot of time thinking about walk-up music and believes stirrup socks are an integral part of every formal outfit.