Let me say from the get go that I do not like the Designated Hitter rule. I never did and likely never will. I am a National League fan, obviously since I have been following the Mets my entire life. Having said that, what I am about to write, for me, is a bit conflicting.
It is high time the National League cries uncle and accepts the designated hitter. Geez, I really wrote that. I wasn’t sure my fingers would be able to type that out–seriously.
Today on this planet, there are baseball leagues literally around the world. The Caribbean leagues just concluded their World Series in the Dominican Republic. The Australian Baseball League just saw the Perth Heat win their second consecutive championship. College baseball is underway around the country while pitchers and catchers are about to report to professional camps in both the US and Japan. There are leagues in Europe too. High School, minor leagues–both independent and affiliated, will be starting soon also and let’s not forget the kids, the little leaguers. These multitudes of leagues have one thing in common–they employ the designated hitter–all but one that is.
The National League, made up of 16 teams, soon to be 15 next season, is the only league on this entire planet that still holds on to the concept of the pitcher walking up to the plate with a bat in his hands. This rule is an original one, it was the way the game was meant to be played. Nine players in the field, those same nine get a turn to take a few hacks at the plate. But for 35 years now, the pitcher in the AL and all those other leagues mentioned have not swung a bat. Of course there are exceptions like when inter-league and playoff games are played between the National and the American Leagues. (In fairness, some minor leagues will make the pitcher bat when two NL affiliated teams are playing one and other.)
Basically there are two different games going on. One is played fast and crisp (NL) while the other moves like a dirge (Red Sox vs. Yankees approaching the length of an Engish Cricket match).
As I have said, I do not like the DH. But the reality is that the rule is not going away. The players union will never allow the rule to be abandoned. It is a job creating position. Perhaps the demise of the DH might occur if the owners agreed to increase the roster. However, more players cost more money and under the new collective bargaining agreement in regards to salary tax, payrolls will be going down, not up. Plus, ratings and gate statistics show that fans like offense and they pay the money to get into the ballpark and pay for hot dogs and Cracker Jack.
Baseball purists enjoy a 1-0 game (I do) but most fans want to see balls hit over the wall. With two less teams last season than in the NL, AL batters slugged only 10 fewer home runs (2271 vs. 2281). The average number of home runs hit by an AL team was 162.2 while it was 142. 6 in the NL. Only three teams in baseball last season hit over 200 homers, all were in the American League. Without boring you to death with lots of stats, in all offensive categories, the American League reigns.
Look at the two biggest free agent signings over the winter. Albert Pujols went to the Angels and Prince Fielder ended up in Detroit. Both abandoned the National League for long term, huge money contracts to head to the AL. Why? It’s simple.
As these players age and their agility leaves them, they can DH. American League owners can feel a bit more secure in these risky long term contracts because at least these players likely can still hit when their fielding skills will no longer be viable. Their potent bats can still be an offensive threat long after the ability to run around the field is gone.
The National League does not have that bargaining chip with these types of players. NL owners must be much more careful when considering offering a long term deal. These are the reasons why the NL is not as an offensive league as the AL and why NL teams have a much more difficult time landing big bats.
So why not just let it stand, keep the NL free of the the DH?
There are two leagues under one umbrella (MLB) playing by two sets of rules. Granted its only a one rule difference but it is a big one. How are players properly measured when the conditions they compete in are so different? How is an AL pitcher properly judged when compared to his NL counterpart that gets to face a pitcher at the plate at least once every three innings? Pitching is considered better in the National League but that’s only because the pitcher hits. Typically when a pitcher moves to the AL, they do better. The opposite is true when going to the NL. The playing field needs to be leveled.
Another point to consider is who’s really in charge? There is no National League office and president anymore. Same is true of the AL. The leagues were consolidated legally in 2000. Two leagues under one roof like the NFL run by a single commissioner but yet two sets of rules make no sense. It’s the National League owners that have been adamant in regards to no DH, not some league office.
The bigger question is would the National League radically change if it adopted the designated hitter?
Of course the senior circuit would change. But consider this. Instead of 15 teams attempting to lure the big DH hitter, there would be 30 teams fighting over their services. That’s 15 more possible landing spots for the DH hitter(s). There are not that many elite DH hitters to go around. If anything, I believe, the NL’s adoption of the DH, while increasing the league’s overall offense would actually minimize some of the AL’s power. In short time, the leagues would be more equally balanced in both pitching and hitting.
The down side to both leagues having the DH is that National League games could mimic the drawn out contests we often see in the American League. When the Yanks get together with the Red Sox we understand it’s a minimum of a four hour affair. That is not good for the game. Also, the loss of switching for the pitcher strategy late in games will be lost for ever. That is the purist’s last hold out position to not adopting the DH.
Speeding up the game would go a long way to making the DH more tolerable in the NL (and the AL for that matter). I spend a lot of money when I go to a major league game so I am not the one arguing for a two hour game. But a four hour game is a bit much. two and a half to three hours is plenty.
There are things that can be done to speed up the game. One is simple. MLB needs to make the umpires enforce a rule that is already in the book. If a pitcher doesn’t throw the ball after 12 seconds with no runners on base, the batter is awarded a ball. Also, create a new rule that prevents the batter from stepping out on the pitcher until he has two strikes. If a batter steps out before that, he’s given a strike. That certainly could help offset the length of games.
The perfect time for the NL to finally adopt the DH would be next season, 2013. The Houston Astros will be moving to the American League creating a 15 team American League, five teams in each division. The National League will decrease from 16 to 15 teams once the Astros move over. Because of an odd number of teams in each league, there will be an inter-league game every day of the season. Under the current rules, the pitcher will hit when the National League is the home team and a DH will be used in an American League ballpark. Again, what sense does this make? It makes the most sense and it is the most logical for both leagues to play under the same set of rules when the leagues realign next year.
I wish everyone would come to their senses and eliminate the DH. From the game perspective it would be the best thing to do. Games would be played faster, the strategy involving pitchers and pinch hitters would remain, and most importantly the game would return to its pure roots. But that is unrealistic. Baseball is a business and there is too much money to loose if the DH were somehow eliminated. Therefore it is not going away. As much as I might turn my nose up at the thought of an NL DH, it really makes the most sense to make this change. After 35 years, it’s time for the NL (and me) to join the rest of the world.