The Case Against The Designated Hitter

By Paul DiSclafani

ron blumberg

It’s been 45 seasons since the American League adopted the Designated Hitter and until Inter-League play, it was considered a novelty.  The American League has always embraced the rule, allowing a designated player to take the spot in the batting order for the pitcher, while the National League has been indignant and treats it as blasphemy.

With pressure coming from all sources to implement the DH, and to bring consistency across the Baseball Universe, the NL is faced with a decision to stand up for what they believe is right. To play the game the way it was meant to be played.

The final chapter plays out in a large courtroom filled with spectators wearing their favorite team’s gear, both American and National Leagues, but sitting on different sides of the aisle that splits the room in two.  The fans are chatting amongst themselves in hushed tones as the bailiff announces that everyone “please rise” as the black robed judge enters the now silent courtroom.

The interested but serious faced judge addresses the seated jurors who fully understand the gravity of the decision they are now called upon to make.

judge my cousin vinny“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, you have listened to years of testimony, seen hundreds of exhibits, and evaluated the truthfulness of the evidence presented from both sides of this debate and now it is time for closing arguments.

“With the end of the current Collective Bargaining agreement rapidly approaching and baseball’s decision to create two 15-team leagues with Inter-League games being played all season long, a decision needs to be reached”, the judge said as the jurors sat silently giving him their full attention.  “Baseball can no longer exist while operating under two different sets of playing rules.

“Today, the two sides will be presenting their closing arguments,” he continued as juror #6 began to sweat, realizing that he still doesn’t understand how you can pinch hit for a Designated Hitter, “And at their conclusion, you will be charged with rendering a verdict that will be binding.  Arguments are not evidence but serve to paint a picture of how each side views the evidence presented to you.  The American League will start followed by the National League.

Rising from the prosecution table, lead counsel for the American League slowly approached the jury box with a thin smile on his face.

my cousin vinny prosecutor“This case is about a singular baseball league that has steadfastly refused to conform to the rules that have been adopted by not only their own league partners, but most of the baseball playing world,” he said as he sought to make eye-contact with each juror individually.  “For 45 seasons, the American League has been using the Designated Hitter rule, allowing a real, professional hitter to be substituted for the pitcher in the batting order.  This rule has not only been embraced by the fans, players and management of American League teams, it has been embraced World Wide in almost every organized baseball league.

“Let me say that again.  It has been embraced World Wide in almost every organized baseball league, except, of course, by the 15 teams that play in the National League.  Their argument has always been that it goes against one of baseball’s core rules, yet they allow their own minor league teams to use it.  They have been telling us it’s a travesty against the game.  You have heard previous arguments that it takes the entire decision making process out of the game.  That, of course, is absurd.

“As fans of this great game of baseball, isn’t it the goal to score runs and be entertaining?  Isn’t the goal of any sport to be unpredictable?   Is there anything more predictable than what happens when a pitcher steps into the batter’s box?  The pitcher has been an automatic out during most of the modern era.  Oh, you do get the occasional Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke, but those are the very rare exceptions.

“With all the money being spent by fans and advertisers, with the incredible amount of choices that sports fans have today at their disposal, why would the National League continue to subject their fans to that inevitable conclusion?

“National League pitchers, as a group, hit about .125 a season.  Is that something that you want to promote?  What about the strategy?  Is that what you spend your hard earned money on, to go to the ballpark and wonder if Clayton Kershaw is going to be lifted in the 7th inning for a pinch hitter with bases loaded and two outs of a 1-0 game?

“Pitchers are a different kind of ballplayer.  They have a different skill set than position players.  They also control the game because they have the ball at all times.  Pitchers need to develop their arms and concentrate on pitching.  Putting them up to bat and running the bases is a danger that they need not be exposed to.  The highest contracts in baseball today belong to pitchers, why wouldn’t you want to protect that investment?

“You heard testimony from pitcher Max Scherzer, who recently signed a $210m contract to pitch in the National League.  Even he doesn’t think the pitchers should bat.  He said ‘Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper?  Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules.’

“Most major league pitchers today and the future major league pitchers of tomorrow have not spent a lot of time batting.  By voting to eliminate the Designated Hitter rule in baseball, we would hinder the development of an entire generation of pitchers.

“Ladies and Gentleman of the jury, this lunacy has to stop.  The National League cannot be allowed to use a different set of rules just because they feel they are preserving some sort of integral supremacy.  Many other professional sports have adopted rule changes to modernize their sports and to satisfy the fans need to be entertained.  There are new overtime rules in the NHL, the NBA adopted a 3-point shot and the NFL recently made the PAT more difficult.

“But every single rule change has been adopted by all conferences together, as a unified sport.  It’s time for Baseball to join the 21st century and insure that both leagues are playing by the same rules.  Then, and only then, can the sport be united again.  The Designated Hitter has allowed the American League and their fans to enjoy their favorite players extend their careers just a few more seasons while being entertained with every single at bat.

“Thank you for your time and patience and I trust you will return with the only verdict that will unite the sport and, hopefully, allow it to reclaim the moniker of ‘American’s Pastime’.  Adopt the Designated Hitter in the National League.”

Springing to their feet, the American League spectators began wildly applauding as the prosecution table calmly shook hands with each other while the judge banged his gavel asking for “Order, order, order in the court!”

As he stared at the spectators who were now slowly settling down back in their seats, he nodded to the defense table and the lead defense attorney sauntered confidently over to the jury box.

my-cousin-vinny-courtroom“Wow, that was something, wasn’t it?   The fans want more offense, so let’s go and add an ‘extra’ hitter to replace the pitcher.  That sounds like a great idea!  After all, pitchers can’t hit and they are an automatic out, right? First, which fans are counsel referring to, American League fans?  Certainly not National League fans.  Who is not following the rules?  It seems to me the National League is following the rules as they have always been and it is the American League that wants to pervert them into something they were never intended to be.”

“In fact, isn’t it true that pitchers hitting is a natural part of the game?  The wonderful symmetry of baseball is nine players, nine innings and 27 outs.  No matter how many ‘designated hitters’ you try and stick into your lineup, you are still going to make 27 outs.  Oh and by the way, didn’t Babe Ruth start out as a pitcher?

“Remember when you were a kid on the sandlot, playing ball with your friends?  Didn’t you always have one simple rule?  If you wanted to hit, you had to play the field.  Nobody was allowed to just hit in a sandlot game.

“You heard an argument from the prosecution that nobody goes to a baseball game to watch the strategy involved when deciding to remove a pitcher, right?  Isn’t decision making a part of all sports?  Isn’t the life blood of all sports having passionate fans second guessing decisions made by the manager or coach?

“One of the greatest pleasures in life used to be having an argument in a local tavern about sports, specifically players that have done or not done something or the result of a game.  That has gone out the window with technology and smart phones.  Most arguments are settled in a matter of minutes as someone looks up the answer.  Now you want to take away arguments about decision making also?

“Has the desire for winning become so ingrained in our culture that we need to remove the manager decisions from the equation?  What are we going to do next, allow each team one or two ‘do-overs’ when someone makes an error and allow a reversal of the result?

“That is what the Designated Hitter rule was all about, ladies and gentleman.  It was a rule that was introduced to improve offense in the American League because they couldn’t compete with the excitement and offense being generated in National League in the early 70’s.

“Want some numbers from 1972, the year before the DH was introduced?  The NL hit almost 200 more home runs, has 1,000 more hits and scored 800 more runs than the American League.  Not only that, the National League drew over 4 million fans than the AL that year.  You think that might have been an influence on the AL owners?

“We all know that Baseball is a game of statistics, right?  Of course, it is undeniable that if you are using a DH over the course of a great portion of your season, you will have more power numbers.  It’s simple math.  But did you know that in 2015, the American League scored just 655 more runs in total than the National League?  That comes out to just 0.26 runs per team, per game, over the entire season.  So the DH in the American League is accounting for just about one run every four games for each team.

“And of course, the DH brings more power.  American Leaguers hit 359 more home runs than the National Leaguers, averaging 0.14 home runs per team, per game.  Surely the added expense of paying millions to a DH is worth seeing an additional home run every 7th or 8th game, isn’t it?

“Home runs, runs scored, power numbers, those are usually a product of many different factors – ballparks, bullpens, league pitching, even strength of schedule.  But one baseball statistic seems to be the marker across all platforms, across all leagues, across all countries and across all age groups; batting average.

“Any baseball player will tell you that your batting average is the true test of this great game.  Players don’t hit .500 and just a handful have ever been able to hit .400 over the course of a season.  With the mighty Designated Hitter in the American League substituting for the puny pitcher and bastardizing the game for the sake of offensive production, the American league hit just .002 better in 2015 than the National League (.255 to .253).

“If the DH is so great, why haven’t all American League teams committed to that position by now?  It’s been 45 seasons since they introduced the DH, you would think they would have been developing baseball players specifically to DH in the minors.  Shouldn’t they be drafting ballplayers with hitting as their only talent?  Instead, they are still drafting and developing baseball players – pitchers, catchers, outfielders, infielders and sticking them into the DH position AFTER they find out they can’t do anything else, or when they want to give a player a ‘rest’.  It has long been used as a position for aging ballplayers that can no longer play a complete baseball game.  If that’s how the American League is treating the DH position, why would the National League want to get involved with that?

“Imagine a position in baseball that is used for giving a player making millions of dollars a ‘rest’?  Is playing the field such a physically taxing burden that players need to take the day off, but hitting and running the bases is OK?  What professional sport would allow that?

“One of the greatest baseball players of this generation recently retired, playing his entire career in the American League and for the Yankees.  Derek Jeter has always said he ‘hated’ being the DH.  He would never elaborate on that hatred, but he was a baseball player.  And that means playing the game the way it was meant to be played – both on the field and at the plate.

“Baseball is the only major sport where the two leagues play by separate rules.  And every year in the World Series, AL teams are forced to play without a DH and NL teams were forced to play with one.  Do you think it is an advantage for the NL to use the DH a few times a year because it give them an “extra” batter?  It is more confusing than advantageous.  Besides, the “DH-For-A-Day” doesn’t know what to do with himself in between AB’s.  Baseball players aren’t wired to pinch hit four times a game.

“So what’s next?  Does baseball become a specialty sport like football?  Are they going to add designated runners because aging hitters can’t run anymore and they are still owed $20 million on their contract?  Why not designated bunters because today’s hitters have incentive clauses in their contracts and they are not going to give themselves up and make an out when they can drive in a run?  Hey, how about this for a new rule?  Why not bring the bases closer so we can have more hits?  Or how about getting rid of that pesky centerfielder and go with just two outfielders so we can increase extra base hits?

“Why stop at pitchers?  Many shortstops are not powerful hitters and most lineups have one or two guys hitting under the ‘Mendoza Line’.  Why not have two designated hitters or four or nine?  Then you can have a complete offense and defense.

“Preposterous you say?  Of course it’s preposterous.  Altering a basic concept of your sport is mindboggling on its own, but to agree to do it for only half your teams is ridiculous.  When the owners of both the National and American league teams could not agree on the concept of a designated hitter in 1972, the issue should have been scrapped, not implemented in one league.

“There is a new collective bargaining agreement being negotiated and with both leagues now having 15 teams and Inter-League games being played all season long.  The time has come for both leagues to play by the same rules.

“In the face of mounting pressure from not only the rest of their League owners, but most baseball organizations in the world, the National League is the only place where our National Pastime is still being played the way it was designed.  It’s the only place that hasn’t acquiesced to the pre-conceived notion that baseball with the DH is better than baseball without the DH.

“The arguments on both sides, ladies and gentlemen, are elegant and significant, but when it comes to the DH, American League fans and National League fans are like the Democrats and the Republicans – they will never agree on the subject.

“And even if you are not a baseball fan, or don’t understand the Designated Hitter rule, this decision is about returning the game of baseball to its roots.  It has been said that you can’t go home again, or that you can’t put the Genie back into the bottle.  We are not asking you to put that Genie back into the bottle for the rest of the world, just for Major League Baseball.  Return the sport to the pinnacle of excellence, a sport where each participant is a baseball player.  A sport where each player has to field his position, run the bases and get into the batter’s box for as long as the manager decides.

“The Major Leagues have always been called ‘The Show’ for a reason.  It is a show, it is entertainment and it is being performed by the best baseball players in the world.  As Tom Hanks said in ‘A League of Their Own’ about how hard baseball is:  ‘It’s supposed to be hard or everybody would do it.’

“Make the hard decision, ladies and gentlemen, and return a verdict that can correct an experiment that has lasted 40 years after its expiration date.  Let’s allow baseball fans to enjoy the game as it was designed to be played, with all its imperfections, with all its human drama.  How can you deprive them of the pure joy of watching Bartolo Colon, with a grin from ear to ear, stride to the plate with a bat in his hand?  He’s a baseball player, too, you know.  And he is stepping up to the plate to do his job.

“Now it is time for all of you to do your job.”

 

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