Major League Baseball stands apart from their counterparts in professional sports because they are the only league that requires their teams to play using different rules based on the league they are in. Can you imagine if the NBA had two separate sets of rules? Exactly. The American League adopted the rule of implementing a designated hitter (DH) for their pitchers back in 1973. The National League did not follow suit deeming their rules to be “the way the game was meant to be played.” And we have sat at a Mexican standoff ever since. But the fact of the matter is that we need to universally take a stance in order to assure that all teams are in fact playing the same game.
To lay a bit of background for those of you that don’t know, I’ve grown up in an American League city. I’ve watched the likes of Frank Thomas, David Ortiz (with both Minnesota and Boston), and Jim Thome (all 20+ of his teams) come into our yard and promptly leave it before we had recorded
an out in the first inning. It was truly a festival for the eyes. All of them made Hall of Fame careers for themselves because of their offensive abilities. And none of them would’ve lasted nearly as long as they did without being able to DH in a majority of their games.
At the same time I have friends that cheer for another team across the state. They happen to play in the National League. These same friends grew up watching their pitchers hit, and the depth on their 25-man roster being vitally important. Their argument against the DH rests on the shoulders of a few buzz words: strategy, pure, traditional. And in reality they aren’t wrong either.
The thing is, I’m not one to make another’s argument for them.
Everyone needs to implement the DH.
According to Forbes, this season, ten teams are leading their market’s ratings during prime time hours. Seven of these ten play in the American League. In other words, ~50% of the AL while only 20% of the NL are dominating the TV’s in their markets. So while it may be fun for the self-proclaimed purists, the casual fans aren’t getting their rocks off to a double-switch in the 5th inning. The fact of the matter is that most people enjoy watching offense. And from 1973-1997 The American League scored more runs than The National League in all but one of those years (1974).
In 2014, pitchers accounted for outs in 86.4% of their plate appearances. They triple slashed .122/.153/.153 as a collective unit which is (BA/OBP/SLG) awful. I’m being nice when I say that. And the three best hitting pitchers that come to mind are Madison Bumgarner, Zack Greinke, and Jose Fernandez. All of which have been at least in the Top 3 of Cy Young voting. They are the best of the best at what they do, and what they do is pitch. Bumgarner is a career .182 hitter. Fernandez is at .211 in his young career. While Greinke leads the way at .225. When these “elite” hitting pitchers are starting they are still dramatically the worst offensive player in the lineup.
Major League pitchers are paid to pitch. And paid a lot of money at that. When they run the bases and swing the bat they only increase their likelihood of injury, causing a loss of investment. End of story. Not to mention that when they step into a batter’s box and attempt to luck their way into success against their counterparts (who again, are paid to pitch) just makes for some lackluster entertainment. It’d be like going to a movie where the cameramen were the supporting actors. Maybe it made sense a century ago when movies didn’t have supporting actors (or hell, dialogue for that matter) but it doesn’t make sense now.
Infusing baseball with a universal DH won’t hyper-specialize the game anymore than it already is. Pitchers in today’s game are already hyper-specialized. You have lefty’s that only pitch to lefty’s. You have strikeout arms. You have ground ball arms. You have guys that are on the roster purely to pitch in blowouts. Don’t believe me? Just sit down and watch Terry Francona manage an the Indians’ bullpen sometime. I’ll wait for your acknowledgement of my point. Actually, no, nobody has time to wait for all of Francona’s moves to finally subside. Just look at their pitchers in the box scores sometimes. They aren’t the only team doing this either. All teams are. Just like years before and years to come, the game evolves.
So now it’s time to take another leap. In the world of entertainment, we as consumers crave to see the best. When a pitcher steps into the batter’s box we are just being flat out robbed off this opportunity. It’s time we say enough with the 1890’s charade and demand that only hitters be the ones to hit.