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Designated Hitter Improves Overall Quality of Game

One of major league baseballís great controversies is whether there should be a designated hitter, and whether the National League should adopt the rule. The issue that seems to most upset fans is having the two leagues be different. In a July 5, 1975 editorial, The Sporting News advocated that either the National League should adopt the rule or the American League should drop it. This also seems to be the view of baseball commissioner Peter Uberroth. Having the two leagues be different is one of the gameís great charms. It creates controversy, and if all baseball controversies were resolved, it would take away much of the fan interest. It is wonderful that there is no fair way to compare Ruth and Aaron, and no definitive proof as to which league is better.

If the designated hitter rule was a drastic alteration or just increased offense, I would be against it, but neither is true. The American League adopted the rule in 1973 in the midst of perhaps the most turbulent era in baseball history. More drastic events surrounded this single rule change. In 1969 baseball split into four divisions with divisional championship series. The strike zone was changed (along with the pitcherís mound) after having been changed just seven years earlier. We witnessed drastic statistical aberrations in favor of the pitchers in the intervening years. The 1972 players strike obliterated several games at the beginning of the season. Free agency was on the horizon. New stadia featured ersatz grass. Televised football was challenging baseball as the national pastime. All of these changes had greater historical impact than removing the pitcher from the batting order.

People suggest that Abner Doubleday (who had nothing to do with the invention of baseball) would turn over in his grave if he knew about the DH, not realizing the founding fathers would be much more shocked by players wearing gloves to catch the ball, pitchers throwing overhand, foul balls as strikes, and bunting. Projected spin-off rules havenít happened and arenít being discussed. There are no designated runners or separate offensive and defensive platoons as in football.

Daniel Okrent made a plea to ban the DH in the July 1983. He complained that more complete games ruin pitcherís arms (as Billy Martin devastated the Oakland starters through overuse). However, that has nothing to do with the DH, if anything the opposite is true: pitchers come out when theyíre through (it doesnít take a major league manager to stick a fork in a pitcher to tell when heís done, the average fan can tell). AL pitchers are no longer pitching more complete games than NL pitchers. We miss great hitting pitchers, but we also miss lousy hitting pitchers who discredit the game by not being multi-skilled athletes who can do it all (ironically, an argument made against the designated hitter). Okrent believes that stars should retire rather than embarrass themselves as a DH with only a shadow of their former skills. I agree, but also suggest thatís been an early misuse of a rule still too new to have evolved into a standard form of usage. When the rule was introduced, the first designated pinch hitters (according to William Leggett in Sports Illustrated) were expected to be Harmon Killebrew or Tony Oliva, Frank Howard, Dick Allen, Al Kaline, Rico Carty, Frank Robinson, Matty Alou, Orlando Cepeda, and Alex Johnson. All were former home run or batting champions. They were expected to eradicate the difference of 824 runs between the two leagues as happened in 1972.

The designated hitter is mostly misused. Ideally, no player should be a DH. Sparky Andersonís use of the DH in Detroitís spectacular 1984 season was ideal. Catcher Lance Parrish was rested while keeping his bat in the lineup (a more logical way of prolonging his career), partially injured players, and players returning from injury were also used as designated hitters. Darrell Evans, the venerable slugger most managers would have used, batted just 199 times as a DH, while doing an adequate job at first base by not having to withstand the wear of everyday play. A spot on the roster should not be wasted on a one-dimensional player (AL DHs like Gorman Thomas, Hal McRae, or Andre Thornton or NL pinch-hitters like Jay Johnstone, Rusty Staub, Richie Hebner, or Chris Chambliss, all ďactiveĒ in 1985).

The rule is at least neutral in adding or removing strategy. Tracy Ringolsby, in his pro-DH response to Daniel Okrent, claims that the DH creates more strategy because of such things as a 9-man lineup. He points out that having a pitcher sacrifice when everyone in the ballpark knows itís coming is not strategy. Trent Frayne said in MacLeans, ďIf thereís anything sillier than seeing a pitcher hit, itís watching a manager think.Ē

The designated hitter rule improves pitching by allowing pitchers to come out of the game when they become ineffective, rather than due to managerial moves based on the dictates of the game. Also, pitchers never have to run the bases or risk injury from beanball retaliation.

The designated hitter rule improves defense! In the 1970s the New York Mets had an endless string of players with the defensive skills of a designated hitter: Ed Kranepool, Art Shamsky, Ken Singleton, John Milner, Staub, Jim Beauchamp, 42-year-old Willie Mays, Benny Ayala, Dave Kingman, and Steve Henderson. The punchless Mets were forced to play them as outfielders and first basemen. The DH rule not only takes at least one of these Teflon-gloved or lead-legged players off the field, but also allows a good-field, no-hit shortstop or catcher to bat ninth (who will still out-hit a pitcher by at least .050). A number 9 AL hitter doesnít have to be as good as a number 8 NL hitter. By not carrying pinch-hitters who can only hit, rosters are cleared for other one or two-dimensional types who can run, field, and/or play one position very well instead of three adequately. A pinch runner for the designated hitter takes only one player out of the game, while in the National League, a pinch runner for a pinch hitter takes three players out of the game. Thus, the designated hitter rule, when maximized, potentially improves all facets of the quality of play: more hitting (as everyone agrees), better pitching and defense, and faster players on the bases in clutch situations.

 

 

 

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