Monday, February 23, 2009

The DH: A Bad Idea Then, A Bad Idea Now

Roric Harrison's mark on the game of baseball is, I'm afraid, totally safe. Barring something highly unusual, that is.

Harrison was the last American League pitcher to hit a home run in a game featuring two AL teams. He did it on October 3, 1972, while playing for the Baltimore Orioles in Cleveland. The dreadful Designated Hitter Rule arrived the next year.

The DH was originally intended to be a three-year trial. The traditionalists held out hope that after the trial, the mucky-mucks in MLB would realize the error of their ways and abolish it, forever. An experiment gone horribly wrong.

No such luck.

The DH was ratified for good beginning with the 1976 season. It was the end of baseball as we knew it.

If you ever want get a rousing game of "Yes, it is/no, it isn't" going, there are few, if any, hot button topics in baseball that are better stimuli than "Is the DH good for baseball?"

No it isn't, by the way.

Roric "Home Run" Harrison

I guess I look at it this way. What did baseball ever do to the stuffed suits that caused them to so drastically change the way the game is played? Was there a crusade for the elimination of the pitcher actually stepping to the plate?

I feel where the stuffed suits were coming from, I really do, when they unleashed this wacky rule change on baseball in '73. MLB was coming off a decade -- the 1960s -- in which pitchers dominated. The first try to stem this tide came in 1969, when baseball lowered the pitcher's mound, on the heels of Denny McLain's 31-win year, and Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA season in 1968.

But that wasn't enough, apparently.

A player designated as the "hitter" for the pitcher!


For over 100 years, baseball seemed to be humming along just nicely with nine guys fielding, nine guys hitting. Sure, pitchers were weaker hitters, but so what? Kickers are poor tacklers; do they run off the field in football so that a "designated gunner" can run on and inflict extra punishment? No -- because that's one of the natural quirks of the game. Kickers don't work on their tackling, and they're physically smaller. Pitchers don't work on their hitting.

You've heard the rest of the arguments before -- whether you agree with me or not. The DH's removal of a significant amount of strategy, for one. The lack of discretion for the AL manager when it comes to waving pitchers in from the bullpen, since they have no place in the batting order.

Has the DH been handy, even convenient? Sure. In the matter of the aging, the hurt, the infirm. And it has, granted, enabled some players to display their hitting acumen for us longer than had the DH not been an option. Agreed. But some good coming from a bad idea doesn't make it a good idea.

I'm unashamed and unabashed in my dislike of the DH. It's just not the way the game was meant to be played. And the change was uncalled for to begin with.

Oh, and to those who crow that the DH saves them from witnessing the pitcher coming up to the plate to simply strike out and walk back to the dugout?

Close your eyes.


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