Just say ‘no’ to the DH

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The DH

By Jake McCormick

It’s easy to make a case for the designated hitter. It sells baseball. The American League scores more runs per game than the National League, pitcher at-bats are typically sacrifice bunts or half swing strikeouts, and chicks simply dig the long ball. Since the DH was implemented in 1973 on the grounds that run scoring was scarce and revenue was suffering, the American League has evolved along the same lines of MTV and VH1.

VH1 programmingInstead of showing actual music videos, MTV has shows like My Super Sweet 16, and Date My Mom. Instead of Behind the Music and Pop-up Video on VH1, we get treated to Flavor of Love and Brooke Knows Best. In that sense, baseball’s inherent strategic gambles using sacrifice bunts, hit-and-runs, and double switches are just as scarce in the American League as any Behind the Music episode on VH1.

Proponents like to argue that people against the DH are against it because of baseball “tradition,” but that is far from the truth. I’ve fully accepted that if there is a change to universal MLB rules, it will benefit the DH because money drives the change bus.

I’m not saying that pitchers should hit because it’s tradition, I’m saying pitchers should hit because they are asked to do everything else expected of a fielder. So when he releases the ball, should the pitcher be allowed to just stand off to the side, and just check out until he receives the ball again? It’s not an issue of tradition, it’s an issue of consistency. Does Edgar Martinez deserve to be in the Hall of Fame? There’s a reason it’s a controversial issue, and it has nothing to do with tradition. He never had to field or throw a ball, and basically took his hacks three to four times a game and returned to the bench. It doesn’t make sense to allow players to only have to use one set of skills required for the sport while other similar players are asked to make the full 162-game effort in the field and at the plate. As a recent Onion headline read, “Designated hitter given day off from standing up four times.”

The DH is typically a power hitter with average to poor fielding skills. The position sometimes allows players considered past their prime to continue playing a couple extra years while their once-nimble knees fill with fluid. This tends to be more of a rarity now, as the DH has been around long enough that players start their careers at the position.

Yovani GallardoBecause it requires pitchers to bat, National League baseball tends to be more cerebral than the American League. In a close, late-inning game with the pitcher coming to the plate, the NL manager is forced to make a decision regarding a pinch hitter and subsequent pitching replacement. If a pitcher looks like Kevin Gregg and is due up to bat in the next inning, the manager has to make a double switch and bring out a defensive player in order to move the pitcher’s spot down in the lineup. As for the American League, the manager moves pitchers in and out as he pleases without forced lineup alterations.

Having the DH in one league and not the other also changes a pitcher’s strategy and could possibly be more dangerous for the hitters. Randy Johnson, who has pitched in both leagues, said “If you’re the pitcher and you’re playing in the American League, then you may have a tendency to throw inside a little bit more knowing that when the ninth hole comes up, you won’t be hitting. You’re protected in that regard.”

Statistically, it is rare that a pitcher is going to take a plunking because they are considered easy outs, but if Nolan Ryanyou want to throw at someone, which league would you prefer to do it in? There’s no possibility of staring down an upper 90s fastball in the American League, so go ahead and throw at your least favorite Yankee, Twin, or Angel. At most you’ll get a warning and their pitcher will get thrown out for plunking your best player.

I’m in the decreasing minority of DH-haters, but I’ll admit it is a lot more comforting to know that the nine-hole hitter can actually swing the bat. That doesn’t mean I need to agree with the dumbing down of a game that I was drawn to because of its chess-like nature of play. No matter what change (or lack thereof) lies ahead, I’ll always maintain that NL baseball, however boring, is the only style that holds true to the definition of the sport.

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Comments

  1. Peter Christian says

    I see Jake’s point of view (and actually shared his opinion) on all of his arguments except one: Edgar Martinez doesn’t deserve to be in the hall of fame because he didn’t play defense. First, he did play defense early in his career and wasn’t a bad third baseman, but switched to DH after tearing his hamstring and overwhelmingly succeeded in the role. The problem with excluding him from the HOF because he was a DH is like saying a closer shouldn’t be in the HOF. He was the best in the game in a role CREATED BY THE LEAGUE, and therefore he really is just setting the bar for what a DH needs to be to get in. Just as there are different qualifications for different positions to get in (a second baseman doesn’t need the same type of statistics as a first baseman or outfielder to get in). Traditionalist or not, the DH is part of the game, and has been for 27 years, to limit someone from being a HOFer is ignorant. If you can get voted into the All-Star game as a DH, you can get voted into Cooperstown as one.

    Also, plenty of players already in the Hall cemented their Cooperstown status as regular DH players (i.e. Eddie Murray, Paul Molitor, Dave Winfield) and you could also argue that Tony Gwynn, while still a great hitter, was a liability in RF late in his career. Yet, I don’t see anyone docking Gwynn’s legacy because he was below average in the field for the last third of his career. Simply because an injury pushed Martinez into the role prematurely does not mean that he shouldn’t get into the Hall. Even now, the best defensive players don’t get the Gold Gloves, it is the best defensive players that also rank among the best offensive players, so it isn’t like the baseball writers really value the true test of defense either, so why should the Hall?

  2. Peter Christian says

    Oh look, I wrote a book in the comments section. (Cut to PMB yelling to Lisa, “Honey! I need my reading glasses, Peter Christian just wrote four chapters in the comments again”)

  3. paulmbanks says

    It is pretty rare that we see a comment post in length that is 60-80% of the original article. Pretty sweet.

    Lisa would never grab me by glasses. That would “go over like a lead balloon” as she likes to say

  4. paulmbanks says

    I sort of remember Jack CLark as the qunitessential DH who had his career elongated thanks to that rule. Edgar may have been the best DH in history, but Clark was the epitome of a guy that wouldn’t be in the league without it.

    It’s funny to hear someone refer to MTV and VH1’s “evolution” I totally agree with your points and understand your argument. I would just call it “degeneration”
    The last time I watched either of those channels was like 5 years ago and “top 25 celebrity butts” or something was on

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