Friday, June 09, 2006

The National League Continues To Get It Right When It Comes To The DH

Did you know that, in the 1920's, the National League wanted to adopt a designated hitter rule, but the American League rejected it, preferring to stick with tradition? The NL then abandoned their bid.

It's funny what you can learn about the game on any given day. I read that one in a Tigers history magazine that was distributed during the 2001 season -- the 100th anniversary of the team being in the American League.

The DH question is sorta like Coke or Pepsi; you either like one, or the other. There are few fence-sitters.

I'm anti-DH, but beyond that, what has me bothered is that every level of organized ball from adolescent years on up has adopted the rule, leaving the National League as the only league that does NOT employ the DH. Which means that the chances of the DH being abolished at the major league level are slim and none -- and slim just left town.

I suppose you can call me a traditionalist. Or Traditionalist. Regardless, what is it about baseball that screams, "It was perfect the way they designed it! Leave it alone!"

Basepaths 90 feet long. Pitcher's mound to the plate: 60'6". These distances remain ideal, despite the increased abilities of today's athletes versus those of the 19th century. Yes, the mound was lowered after the 1968 season, but the distance to the plate remained unchanged.

Why did we have to fool around with the game to the extent of the designated hitter to begin with? Why, after about 100 years of professional baseball, was it determined that the pitcher should no longer bat?

The AL agreed to try the DH for a three-year trial, beginning in 1973. Then, after the third season -- during the 1975-76 offseason -- the rule was permanently adopted. At the time, the AL was the lone wolf when it came to a DH rule. But gradually, minor leagues began to use it, then colleges, then high schools. No wonder pitchers are even lousier hitters now than they were pre-DH; not a one of them has to bat beyond the age of 15.

But this isn't about whether pitchers are bad hitters or not (they are, obviously). It's about how the game was designed to be played, and the logic behind changing that. The theory of the DH rule was, indeed, to inject more offense into the game, no question. But what was the basis for such a desire? Were polls conducted? Were fans consulted? Was there an overwhelming feeling that the game needed more runs scored? Was baseball losing fans due to low-scoring contests?

I was 9 when the DH rule was introduced, so I don't recall for sure, but I remember thinking the game was just fine the way it was. I suppose I was in the minority -- not that 9 year-olds were consulted.

The funny thing is, a majority of the baseball fans I talk to tell me they are anti-DH. And it's a legitimately random lot; I don't just "hang" with anti-DH people.

Yes, my arguments are the same bleatings you've heard ad nauseum: The DH takes away strategy; it makes managers' jobs in the AL easier, especially when it comes to pitching changes; it has artificially lengthened careers.

I'm sorry, but all these are true.

Pitchers are bad hitters, granted. They've been bad hitters, mostly, since the early 20th century. For every Babe Ruth (as a Red Sox slugging pitcher), there were maybe a dozen Bob Buhls (Buhl was a pitcher who once went over 50 at-bats between hits in the 50's and 60's). But that's just the way the game is (or was, in the AL). Just like kickers are bad tacklers in football. But the NFL didn't institute a "designated tackler" who would run onto the field after a kickoff or punt was booted, did they?

Every sport has its own quirks, or perceived weaknesses, like poor-hitting pitchers. Basketball has defensive specialists who can't shoot. Football has its poor-tackling kickers. Hockey has the offensively-challenged defensemen, and skill-challenged tough guys. It's just part of those games.

The further away we get from 1973, the more I laud the NL for sticking to its guns and refusing to adopt the DH rule. They now stand as the lone wolf, just as the AL did in '73.

Call me a "double switch lover" -- I don't care.


Blogger Ozz said...

Good blog, but at this point, I don't think there's any point in debating whether it should stay or go, since (as you alluded to) it's here to stay.

12:47 AM  

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