To DH or not to DH: That is the question

As someone who was born after the DH rule came into effect in 1973 and someone who grew up loving the Toronto Blue Jays, I have never really understood what all the fuss was about.  The DH is just part of the game; I’d much rather see a DH than some pitcher get embarrassed at the plate.

The idea of the DH was first proposed by Connie Mack in 1906.  With the exception of Babe Ruth, pitchers have almost always struggled at the plate.  It’s hard to play every fourth or fifth day and get into any sort of groove at the plate.  

The typical argument against the DH is summed up quite nicely by Tony La Russa, manager of the St Louis Cardinals (NL) and former manager of the Oakland A’s (AL).

“There’s no doubt in my mind that the game of baseball in all its beauty and entirety is the National League game. I would kick the D.H. out so quick it would make your head spin.”

The DH has taken away from the way the game was originally meant to be played.  The DH takes away from the strategy of the game required when one of your nine batters is the pitcher.  Double switches and frequent pitching changes are used in an effort to keep the pitcher from coming to bat, especially late in the game.  There seems to be a lot more going on in the NL and every run seems like a battle of will and skill. 

The argument for the DH can be summed up as follows:

“The average fan comes to the park to see action, home runs. He doesn’t come to see a one-, two-, three- or four-hit game. I can’t think of anything more boring than to see a pitcher come up, when the average pitcher can’t hit my grandmother. Let’s have a permanent pinch-hitter for the pitcher.” – former A’s Owner Charlie O. Finley

Fans of the AL will quickly point to examples in the NL where a team will be poised to score some runs only to have the number 8 hitter walked, followed by an easy strikeout of the pitcher to end the inning. 

In the AL, we often hear about a lineup with ‘no easy outs’.  The Blue Jays in the early 1990’s were a prime example, as are the New York Yankees today.  Strategically, it is much harder to manage a game where you are never given a free out.  There might not be as many managerial moves made, but that does not equal a strategically inferior game necessarily.  You won’t see any double switches in the AL, nor will you see as many intentional walks. 

It is fun and interesting to have a sport with different rules for different leagues and one of the reasons baseball is written about and debated so much.  I think the right answer is to enjoy the diversity and appreciate the beauty of the game in each league.

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