I was engaged in a Facebook discussion today with two eminent Southern Baptist scholars who said some of the most inane, silly things in defense of the National League’s refusal to join the 20th Century (yes, I know it’s the 21st Century) and adopt the DH. They were not even persuaded by the fact that David Worley agreed with them – which should have been a warning to them. I think it is high time that we focus on the things that matter in America and take a strong stand here. I’m having a World Series hangover and am not ready to give up baseball until February, so let me stir the pot a little (troll?) and say this:
Make the DH universal!
The arguments against the DH generally run on 4 tracks.
1. The Tradition argument
Yes, baseball began with pitchers hitting – until the AL adopted the DH in 1973. That means the DH has been operational for 45 seasons. It isn’t exactly new. I understand the tradition argument. People like hymnals with pianos and organs too – all those new-fangled choruses are just 7/11 songs after all. Nostalgia is a powerful force. But no sport remains as it begins. The NBA doesn’t shoot into peach baskets. NFL players don’t wear leather helmets.
Baseball’s traditions have changed dramatically.
- Baseball used to allow people to put runners out by hitting them with a baseball in between bases. Tradition!
- There was a time when the bases were run clockwise (headed to what is now third base first). There was even a time when the runner could choose which base to run to and subsequent runners had to follow suit. Tradition!
- Early on, hitters were out if the fielders caught the ball on the fly or on the first bounce. Tradition!
- Baseball bats used to be square, or at least flat on the side used to strike the ball. Tradition!
- It used to take 9 balls for the ump to issue a walk. Tradition!
- Games used to end when one team scored 21 runs. Tradition!
- Pitchers originally had to throw underhand. Tradition!
- There was only one umpire in early games, and he used to confer with spectators to see if they had a better view on calls. Tradition!
- There were no called strikes originally, only swinging strikes. Tradition!
- Pitchers were allowed to doctor baseballs. Spitballs were legal! Tradition!
The only difference here is time. These traditions were replaced in the late 1800s or early 1900s because it was judged that the game was improved by these rules changes. The appeal to tradition is not a sound argument. The question must be whether the DH improves the game or not. Is the game better when a batter hits or when the pitcher hits? The appeal to tradition, while understandable, is not persuasive. Baseball’s rules have never been fixed. Change can be good.
2. The Strategy Argument.
This may be the weakest. “I like the NL game because it is a thinking man’s game. There’s strategy.” People, please! Every so often a manager has to make a double switch or decide whether to pull his pitcher for a pinch hitter. It isn’t rocket surgery.
Baseball is probably the sport in which the manager has the least influence on the game itself. He puts a pitcher out there or a hitter. He has to decide when to pull his pitcher, and perhaps when to bunt or hit-and-run. But baseball is not in the hands of the managers, it’s in the hands of the players. A football coach has to design plays and can have a real impact.
A basketball coach’s system can influence things. Yes, a manager can help his team’s psyche and make wise decisions about pitching changes and pinch hitters, but if his pitchers don’t throw strikes or if his hitters don’t hit, there’s not much he can do.
But the idea that there’s this intense strategy in the NL game that isn’t in the AL game is hyperbole.
3. The Propriety Argument
“It is only proper that a baseball player should both hit and play the field.”
Well, first of all, the rules don’t say that – anymore. The DH is a fully legal rule in baseball. That gets back to the tradition argument. Should a pitcher hit? That is a judgment call, not a legal issue. The rules do not require it at most levels of baseball. The AL, most levels of minor league ball, and other levels have instituted the DH. It is part of baseball now. At 45 years old, the DH is a new tradition.
You don’t have to like the DH but there’s nothing inappropriate or illegal about it according to the rules of baseball.
4. Ad Absurdum Arguments
If you talk DH with NL fans, they will devolve into absurd arguments pretty quickly.
Why not use one team for offense and another team for defense entirely?
That’s the one I hear the most, but there are others. There is nothing that stops baseball from going to two teams if they so choose, but I have never heard anyone advocate that. If the DH has been around for nearly half a century and no one has moved to push it farther, then such an argument is on its face absurd. Football was once played by players
I am guessing there was a hue and cry when football began to use different players on offense and defense. Pansies! But after 45 years not a single person has advocated designated fielders. Ever. If you look up “straw man argument” in the dictionary, they could use this as an example.
The heart of this is simple. Like Tevye, people love tradition. And it’s about the home team. I don’t know fans of AL teams that are opponents of the DH. The only DH opponents I know are NL fans. This is pure and simple about home team tradition – my league against yours. I think the AL game is superior.
Arguments FOR the DH
1.Watching David Ortiz bat is better than watching Charlie Morton strikeout.
Essentially, the traditionalist argument is that the NL game is better because pitchers hit. Last night, in the (I think) 8th inning, Charlie Morton came to the plate to bat. He stood there at watched three pitches sail past him. He waved his bat helplessly at a couple of them. Charlie Morton is a big league pitcher who is largely responsible for the Astros’ game 7 win. But he is not a big league hitter. It was pathetic. If that game had been at Houston, a real, live Major League hitter would have come to the plate.
How many times are you watching a game and a hitter in the 7 hole gets to 2nd base. What do they do? Walk the 8 hitter and strike the pitcher out. Inning over. That doesn’t happen in the AL (not as much anyway), because the #9 hitter, while usually not Ty Cobb, at least knows which end of the bat to hold!
I cannot remember EVER cheering for David Ortiz in my life. Not a single time. But would we rather have watched Boston pitchers strike out and hit weak grounders to short stop than watch Ortiz bat for the last decade and a half? Would baseball have been better?
2. The superiority of the AL may be partly due to the DH.
We need not argue which league is superior. Interleague play has demonstrated that. The AL has won that battle for 14 consecutive years, for 17 of 21 years, and maintains a .529 winning percentage against the NL overall. The AL is 23-6-1 (remember the tie?) in the All-Star game (which I don’t think really says that much). The World Series has been much more evenly divided. In that same 30 years, the AL has won 16, the NL 13, and there was one year it was not contested due to a strike. Again, the World Series does not test league dominance as much as it tests which league has the single best team. But there is no rubric you can use (except emotion) that doesn’t point to the fact that the AL is currently a better league (this year it was closer than it has been in recent years) than the NL.
How much effect does the DH have on that? It is hard to quantify. But the DH does attract players who can hit but aren’t great fielders, or players who are in their twilight years. Some have argued that it tests pitchers a little more – they don’t get the break every 9th hitter with the easy out. This is admittedly speculative.
What cannot be argued is that the NL is a superior game. Not in terms of baseball anyway.
3. Having different rules in the two leagues is silly and the DH isn’t going away.
There is a proposal gaining some steam (I don’t like it) that would do away with the AL and NL altogether. Baseball would be divided geographically into 6 divisions. Yankees and Mets would be in the same division, as would the Cubs and White Sox, Angels and Dodgers, A’s and Giants. The top six teams would be in the playoffs and the next 4 teams would engage in the one-game play-in. Then an 8-team playoff would proceed. The season would be shortened back to 154 games.
And the DH would be universal.
The DH is inevitable. It may be 3 years, or 5. Maybe 10. But there will be a time before too long when the DH will be in both leagues. Having two rules in two leagues is silly. It almost went away about 20 years ago and it will go away soon. I don’t know if the proposal I mentioned will happen, but something like it will come.
NL fans, the DH isn’t going away. The player’s union won’t let it.
Coming soon to an NL ballpark near you. The DH.
4. Don’t exaggerate the differences.
If you hear an NL fan talk, the AL game and the NL game are completely different. One is a game of real baseball and the other is a cheap imitation. Let’s get real. It is the same game, except that in the AL, everyone who bats is a big league hitter while in the NL, every ninth hitter is a pitcher. Most of them can’t hit. Yes, a few can. Some of those Mets pitchers could pinch-hit. I hear there’s a Japanese player coming who can pitch and hit. Fine. No rule requires a guy to use the DH. But most pitchers are pathetic excuses for hitters.
Every so often there’s a double switch or a pitcher is pulled for a pinch-hitter.
It’s not like one league is playing American football and the other Australian Rules Football. Same game. A minor difference.
The Heart of the Issue
It all boils down to one question.
Is it better to have a pitcher hit or have a hitter hit?
I prefer the excitement of watching Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, Paul Molitor, Frank Thomas, Don Baylor, Hal McRae and others, rather than watching the helpless flailings of an overmatched pitcher just waiting to get back on the mound.
Now, can we talk about that dumb intentional walk rule?