We lost our self-reliant American way long ago.

But how long ago?With which step did we strike out most irretrievably down the wayward path to debilitating dependency on an ever-growing — and evermore fiscally reckless — government?

Some folks who rightly decry that unsustainable course date its first steps to the first two decades of the 1900s, when the Progressive movement emerged, championed by, among others, Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.

A century later, many Americans who lean left — and have caught on that the term “liberal” has picked up heavy baggage over the last half century — proudly brand themselves “progressives.”

Back on the right, many conservatives point to Aug. 14, 1935, as the day of infamy when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act.

Others trace our ongoing downfall into entitlement-excess oblivion to July 30, 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Medicare bill as a centerpiece of his overreaching, demotivating Great Society.

However, while all of those were significant retreats from “can do” individualism to “can’t do without the Nanny State” collectivism, the biggest leap away from personal responsibility came on April 6, 1973.

It didn’t happen in the halls of power.

It happened at Boston’s Fenway Park when Ron Blomberg of the New York Yankees stepped into the batter’s box as the first designated hitter in regular-season big-league history.

Blomberg, like all DHs since, didn’t have to play in the field. Yankees starting pitcher Mel Stottlemyre, like all AL hurlers since, didn’t have to hit. Yankees manager Ralph Houk, like all AL managers since, didn’t have to make tough decisions about when — and when not — to pull a pitcher for a pinch-hitter. The spectators at Fenway, like all spectators since, didn’t have to figure out whether they agreed or disagreed with such managerial moves.

But the DH isn’t just a blight on our national pastime.

It’s a blight on our national psyche.

It began as an experiment aimed at boosting fading public interest in baseball by boosting runs scored. It became an insidious contributor to the now-pervasive mindset of designating duties we should perform ourselves to others.

If we have designated hitters, why not designated warriors, designated workers — and designated taxpayers?

Ponder the cumulative cultural decay as succeeding generations of U.S. youngsters — boys and girls — grow up playing not pure baseball but a warped version that teaches corrupting life lessons.

Ponder this series of unprecedented setbacks America suffered soon after the then-new gimmick first tainted our grand old game:

-- Less than a year after the DH broke into the majors, a U.S. president, for the first time, lost his job by being forced to resign in disgrace.

-- Less than a year after that, the U.S., for the first time, lost a war as North Vietnamese troops overran Saigon.

-- Less than 19 months after that, we elected a president so utterly inept that when he ran for re-election he lost 44 states — the first time any sitting president lost that many.

Coincidences? Or karmic confirmation that the DH, though by now an American League tradition, is un-American?

After an eight-year rally under a baseball fan who had long before “re-created” Chicago Cubs games for a radio station in Des Moines, Iowa, and played Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander in a movie, America’s DH-driven decline resumed in 1989.

Yet neither pundits nor politicians are making the DH a 2012 election-year issue.

At least President Barack Obama, despite his defining flaw of seeking illusory big-government solutions and his misguided allegiance to the AL’s Chicago White Sox, delivered this perceptive pitch two years ago:

“Even though I’m an American League guy, I gotta admit though, I’m a baseball purist — I think no DH makes more sense.”

Too bad Obama hasn’t followed through on that insight by making the elimination of that national menace a presidential priority.

And my repeated attempts over the last few days to get a response from Mitt Romney’s campaign on where he stands on the DH have failed.

Maybe Romney’s AL ties as a Boston Red Sox fan make him a DH dupe.

Maybe not. After all, those who know Red Sox lore should be able to answer this revealing sports-trivia question:

Which Boston southpaw set a record, which stood for more than 40 years, for consecutive scoreless World Series innings pitched (29?) while helping the Red Sox win the titles in 1916 and 1918 — their last championships until 2004?

Babe Ruth.So remember “The Bambino.”

And realize that to get America out of the dumps, we must dump the DH.

Frank Wooten is assistant editor of The Post and Courier. His email is wooten@postandcourier.com.