“The designated hitter corrupts the purity of an otherwise elegant game. Illogical. Illogical.” Even “The Simpsons” realizes the insanity of having the designated hitter. Unfortunately, Major League Baseball does not.
The Designated Hitter was installed as a three-year experiment in the American League back in 1973. Much to the chagrin of purists, including myself, the experiment has never officially ended. The DH is largely seen as a last chance for aging power hitters or poor defensive players with big bats to continue with their professional careers. Now rumors are swirling that the DH will soon expand into the National League as a way to create more offense and excitement. Others say the DH speeds up play.
There are two burning questions at play here. Do you like the designated hitter and should it be expanded into the National League so both leagues are always playing by the same set of rules? Or should the DH be eliminated from all of baseball?
One thing is certain – the DH will remain in the AL for 2015 and each NL club will have to play a DH for at least ten games because of interleague play. Since the Houston Astros moved to the American League in 2013, creating an odd number (15) of teams in each league, interleague play now takes place nearly every day of the baseball season. When an NL team travels to an AL park, they must play with the DH, something most NL teams are ill equipped to do. For example, the San Francisco Giants may be forced to play backup catcher Hector Sanchez, who hit .196 last season, because they choose to use Buster Posey as their DH against the Oakland A’s in the final week of the season. It creates an unfair competitive advantage for the home AL team.
On the flip side; when the AL Red Sox travel to NL parks this season, their best hitter and usual DH David Ortiz may have to man first base a majority of the time. Because Ortiz is a butcher defensively, he is almost exclusively used as DH; having him play games at first base down the stretch could cost Boston a potential playoff spot in a tight race.
While there have been no official announcements from the league office, rumors are swirling that the DH might come to the National League soon, as early as the 2016 season. The move would establish a single set of rules for both leagues, but it eliminates a lot of the strategy in the game, specifically when to pinch-hit for pitchers.
Tony Clark, head of the MLBPA, has said owners are pushing for the DH to come to the NL: “It has been a topic of discussion going back to the last two bargaining agreements. Nothing has changed at this point in time. But I am guessing come 2016 that conversation will come up again.”
The main reason many fans like the DH is because it creates more offense. Nine of the top fifteen teams in runs scored last season were American League teams.
Commissioner Rob Manfred has brought up the possibility of adding the DH to the NL as a way to speed up the game. Having the DH means there’s less managerial maneuvering that often takes place at the end of the game. But there’s no proof that having the DH makes the game go faster. In fact most American League games are longer than the average National League game.
According to ESPN’s fivethirtyeight.com, run by famous pollster and statistician Nate Silver, from 2002 through the 2014 season, the Yankees and Red Sox added the most time to their game with 13.9 minutes and 10.5 minutes respectively.
There has been a big public backlash against the DH ever since it was installed. Rick Wise, a former all-star pitcher equated the DH to having another basketball player take free throws for Wilt Chamberlain. Meanwhile famed sports reporters like NBC Sports’ Bob Costas and ESPN’s Keith Olberman have each spoken out against it. Costas said: “Baseball is simply a better game without the DH.” Olberman has called the DH a “nonsensical rule”.
It will never happen, but if baseball wants to create a uniform set of rules for the game it should get rid of the designated hitter. Having the DH in both leagues removes the pinch-hitting and end of game relief pitcher strategies that baseball is famous for.
A famous example of manager strategy is Game 6 of the 1981 World Series. Yankees manager Bob Lemon made the controversial decision to pinch-hit for starting pitcher Tommy John in the bottom of the fourth in a 1-1 game versus the Los Angeles Dodgers, with runners at first and second with two out. Pinch-hitter Bobby Murcer proceeded to fly out to end the inning.
From there the floodgates opened; Yankee set-up man George Frazier gave up three runs in the top of the fifth, and the Yankee bullpen gave up four more runs in the top of the sixth to blow the game open on the way to a Dodgers World Series victory. Even though the decision to remove Tommy John backfired, it would not have been done if a DH was in the Yankee lineup.
While Major League Baseball’s decision to add the DH seems inevitable, it does not mean it is the correct choice.
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