To DH or not to DH: the original post

I committed earlier in the week to try to keep posts under 500 words to force me to write more concisely.  Below is the original post which was closer to 1,000 words.  Any feedback on which post is better is appreciated.  The primary difference is how I wrap up the posts.  I had two different ways to end it and ended up going a third route in the shorter post to avoid bringing up periphery topics.

I was reading an article over at Joe Posnanski’s site the other day where he had some fun with the idea that the Kansas City Royals and Pittsburgh Pirates should swap leagues.  Putting the Royals in the Nations League would create some buzz with the natural rivalries in St. Louis and Chicago.  The reader comments were all over the map of course, but it was interesting to see quite a number of random jabs at the designated hitter rule in the American League.  I guess anytime someone talks about the AL it is a chance to tee off.

 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; it is a chance for some old fat guy to swing for the fences.  I’d much rather see that than some pitcher wearing a jacket get embarrassed at the plate, Dennis Martinez excluded.  He always looked sweet in that Expos jacket rounding third and flying (slowly) towards home.

 The idea of the DH has been around almost as long as the game of baseball itself, with the idea 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 issue was mumbled and grumbled about over the years and finally came into the AL in 1973 for a three year trial run.  Batting averages and scoring immediately went up in the AL and a slightly different game emerged to that played in the NL.

 The typical argument against the DH is summed up quite nicely by Tony La Russa, current 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.”

Those against the DH, not coincidentally, tend to be fans that support teams in the NL.   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 can’t hit worth a lick.  Double switches and frequent pitching changes are used in an effort to keep the pitcher from coming to bat, especially late in the game.  If the leadoff hitter gets on, the manager will try to steal or bunt him over in hopes of cashing him in before the pitcher comes up and kills the inning.  There seems to be a lot more going on in the NL and every run seems like a battle of will and skill.  The game in the AL is about bulking up and hitting that three run homer.

I find the argument a bit amusing.  While NL managers scramble to manage around the pitcher hitting and keep the pitcher away from the plate, one could argue the AL recognized the issue and made life easier by simply eliminating the pitcher’s responsibility to hit. 

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

The above argument is somewhat flawed, as there is a certain beauty to a well pitched 1-0 game.  The key to the above is that the typical pitcher, “…can’t hit my grandmother”.   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.  Where is the fun in that?  Does that use of strategy somehow prove superiority to a game where every batter in the lineup has a legitimate chance to get a hit?

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.  The development of specialized relievers in the AL grew in large part due to the need to bring a pitcher in for a short duration to get certain types of hitters out.  You won’t see any double switches in the AL, nor will you see as many intentional walks.  NL fans will conclude proof of a more boring, inferior game.  I would just argue it is a different game.

At the end of the day, I love the fact that a major professional sports league is split into two leagues that have distinct differences between them.  Elimination of interleague play might actually be a way to change the argument on the DH and quiet the arguments of which league is better, at least during the regular season.  The requirement for each team to play teams from the other league and adapt to their rules doesn’t make for better baseball and has long lost its novelty.  Maybe it is time to put each league back in its cocoon and let fans debate the superiority of their team’s league.  There is something to be said for allowing the debate to be settled once a year in late October.

{alternate last paragraph}

It is fun and interested to have a sport with different rules for different leagues and one of the reasons baseball is written about and debated so much.  It would be akin to the Western Conference of the NHL deciding ties via a shootout and teams in the Eastern Conference allowing ties.  It would be like the NFC making a rule that snaps had to go to the quarterback, effectively outlawing the wildcat offense, while the AFC making no such rule.  It makes for spirited debate and that is what being a sports fan is all about.


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