An Emotional Diatribe Against the Designated Hitter in the National League

I sort of knew it was coming. The increase in number of interleague games after the Astros move to the American League next year all but assured it. It’s at times like this when I’m reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s famous utterance, during his legendary debates with Stephen A. Douglas during the 1858 Illinois Senate campaign:

“A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

I have a very good friend who believes strongly in the ethic of Jefferson’s yeoman farmer, and that the true sovereignty of government rests with the municipalities and the states. I’ve long derided his view as outdated and naive, and when he pressed me for a reason why, intrinsically, his 18th-Century states’ rights ethic was inferior to the centralized and (ultimately, but coincidentally) communitarian politics I favor, I was only able to offer the following: “Because you lost the war.”

Friends, I come to you today in a moment of great historical import, because, if Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Verducci is to be believed, baseball has reached its “house divided” moment: the designated hitter is coming to the National League, and soon. And in the face of overwhelming evidence not only of its inevitability but of its potential benefit to the game, I find myself clinging to an antiquated and childish ideal, having lost the war.

Conservatism, Change as Progress, and Replacing Your Dead Cat

“Prejudice is of ready application in the emergency; it previously engages the mind in a steady course of wisdom and virtue, and does not leave the man hesitating in the moment of decision, sceptical, puzzled, and unresolved. Prejudice renders a man’s virtue his habit; and not a series of unconnected acts. Through just prejudice, his duty becomes a part of his nature.” 

–Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, 1790

Using the word “prejudice” the way Burke does, to mean “tradition” or “established practice,” we confront another change in the way we conceive of baseball. Up to a point, we can think of change as progress. Integrating the game, for instance, flies in the face of prejudice in both the common and Burkean conception of the word, and yet it was undoubtedly the single most positive step taken in the history of the sport. Similar positive judgments can be made about the internationalization of the sport, the statistical revolution, the democratization of baseball writing through the internet, medical and physical fitness advancements, expansion to new markets, the evolution over time of stadium design, and countless other innovations that have changed the game of baseball from the child’s game it was 200 years ago to the intellectually stimulating, all-engrossing, multi-billion-dollar enterprise it is today.

But even granting that change is usually synonymous with progress, can we say that change is always or even (to avoid creating a straw man) almost always beneficial? Does new almost always equal better? I would say no, at least, not often enough to accept any change as an improvement over the status quo without questioning it.

The designated hitter has been an important factor in increasing offense over the past few decades. Considering the offensive advantages it grants the American League compared to its rival, it is possible (though having no empirical evidence to support this theory, I’m inclined to say it’s unlikely) that the designated hitter is responsible in part for the dominance of the American League over the National League in interleague play. So are these the embittered ramblings of a fan of the National League’s best team, upset that an imbalance in the rules has prevented his team from getting the respect it deserves? Hardly.

What bothers me about the designated hitter is that it was a gimmick. The DH was instituted for the first time in MLB in 1973, as a gimmick. It was a response, by the American League, to ramp up offense in what was, at the time, the weaker league. Remember, this was around the time that the Oakland A’s were subjecting the world to Herb Washington, to say nothing of uniforms and facial hair that made Carnival look like a production of The Crucible. This was the age of Disco Demolition Night, and artificial turf, innovations that seem as antiquated to us now as Saturday Night Fever and Logan’s Run.

What sets the designated hitter apart? It’s a gimmick, as Verducci notes, that’s become tradition. There are practically no players who remember life before the DH. As the DH enters its 40th season, there are precious few writers, coaches, and managers who remember what life was like before baseball existed, to paraphrase Lincoln, half DH and half free. The designated hitter, a clumsy solution to a phantom problem, has become the subject of Burkean prejudice, as not only the American League but almost literally every inferior league in North America, from high school to the organized minors, adopted the rule as gospel.

Baseball changed fundamentally, with surprisingly little thought given to more than a century of established practice, in response to a set of circumstances brought about through its own propensity to overreact. After the offensive explosion of 1961, highlighted by Roger Maris’ 61 home run season, baseball expanded the strike zone, and thanks to a bumper crop of star pitchers, the next 10 years became the Dark Ages for scoring runs. We all know the stats: Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA, Don Drysdale’s 58 2/3 inning scoreless streak, Denny McLain’s 31 wins, and Carl Yastrzemski winning the batting title with a .301 average, all in 1968. Even if you accept that higher-scoring baseball is better baseball (which I don’t), or even more entertaining baseball (which I also don’t), the prudent thing to do would have been to return the strike zone to its previous state and police the height of the pitchers’ mound, which, to their credit, MLB did, starting in 1969.

I’m a cat owner. I love my cat, even if she doesn’t love me back, but such is life. If, God forbid, something were to happen to her, I’d be very upset. I’d probably be sad for quite some time, but I’d try to adjust. If, after a sufficient mourning period, I still felt lonely or lost without a cat, I’d get another. Now imagine that, upon the improvement of my mood, I decided that more pets would make me feel even better.

And imagine that I went out and bought a Neapolitan Mastiff.

I’ve never owned a dog. Now, I can believe that, over time, I might grow to love a 150-pound slobber machine. Maybe give him an ironic name, like “Tinkerbell,” and enjoy his jowly company. But I’m not sure my life would be better off. I do know that, over time, I’d forget what life was like when it was just me and a cat that ignored me.

The designated hitter is Tinkerbell, the Neapolitan Mastiff who eats four cubic feet of Kibbles ‘n Bits each week, thinks he owns the couch, and likes to sit on your head when you sleep. The designated hitter is a gimmick designed to fix a problem that 1) was caused by an overreaction by organized baseball in the first place and 2) probably would have cycled itself out over time. The only difference is, it’s been around long enough for us to learn to love it.

Debunking the Strategy Argument

“It’s the American League! They have the DH! How hard can it be?”

Little Big League, 1994

Verducci, like me, doesn’t like the DH. But I don’t think I’d go as far as he does when he says: “There is no question that the style of NL baseball is more interesting and nuanced than AL baseball. Yes, it’s a better game, the way chess is a better game than checkers.” In the end, baseball with the DH isn’t all that different from baseball without the DH. It’s not like the American League is playing with a square ball or anything. In fact, in 2011, the AL posted a collective OPS only 20 points higher than the NL.

So failing the complete dissolution of pitching and defense in the American League, how does strategy differ? Well, there’s almost no double switch with the designated hitter, which eliminates a fun, if sometimes chaotic, arrow from the quiver of the manager when it’s late and close. With that said, I’m not sure that I could live with myself if I were the kind of person who wanted to reverse 40 years of baseball evolution to increase the number of double-switches. Eliminating the need to pinch hit in late innings makes it easier for an AL manager to manage his bench. And perhaps one might alter one’s strategy during a rally knowing that the pitcher’s spot is coming up. But you also eliminate a big ol’ mess of sacrifice bunts with the DH, the positive effects of which can hardly be overstated. The sacrifice bunt is to baseball as hitting your point guard’s toe with a ball-peen hammer is to basketball.

Objectively, and taking the DH as a thing that is, and not as a band-aid that overstayed its welcome, I think the strategy argument is the strongest argument in favor of scrubbing the DH. With that said, it’s not that strong an argument. We still see strategic decisions in the American League, and given the propensity of field managers to meddle until they can meddle no more, more managing doesn’t necessarily mean better managing.

Ultimately, I’d compare National League baseball to Tom Wolfe’s 1979 book The Right Stuff, and American League baseball to Philip Kaufman’s excellent 1983 film adaptation. In the book, you get more detail, more nuance, but sometimes it drags. You lose some of that detail in the film, but no so much that you miss it a ton, though sometimes having a story visualized for you takes the fun out of it. And let’s say that eliminating the sacrifice bunt is like the movie adding one of the greatest soundtracks in film history (and yes, I know Bill Conti ripped off Holst).

That’s quite enough of that. Moving on.

Why the DH is Good

“I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter.”

–Crash Davis, Bull Durham, 1988 

The most common argument against the designated hitter (apart from the cranky old man argument I’ve been making: I just don’t like it and I want things to stay the way they are) is that not requiring pitchers to hit somehow diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers. This is total nonsense. Not requiring pitchers to hit diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers just as much as not requiring infielders to pitch diminishes their wholeness as ballplayers. On Monday’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, NPR’s Mike Pesca argued that pitchers are like placekickers in football: specialists whose skills in one area excuse them from being required to participate in other aspects of the game. All this makes perfect sense. I certainly don’t want to watch Matt Prater try to play boundary corner for the Broncos.

Others trumpet the DH as an injury prevention method for pitchers. After A.J. Burnett broke his face while trying to bunt last week, and after Chien-Ming Wang suffered a career-altering foot injury while running the bases in 2008, advocates for universal adoption of the designated hitter came out in droves, saying that for the sake of player safety, we should take pitchers off the basepaths and out of the batter’s box forever. I’m not sympathetic to this line of reasoning at all. Baseball is intrinsically dangerous. Batting is dangerous, even for experts. Ask Tony Conigliaro, or David Wright, or even Chase Utley. Baserunning is dangerous. Just ask Justin Morneau.

Moreover, pitching is dangerous. In addition to the innumerable soft tissue injuries to arms, shoulders, backs, and every other muscle, ligament, and tendon that goes into the incredibly violent motion of throwing an overhand pitch, there’s the danger of the line drive back through the box. Such an incident ended Dizzy Dean’s career. A Roberto Clemente line drive broke Bob Gibson’s leg in 1967. In 1998, a Sandy Alomar line drive nailed Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina in the nose. In 2000, Red Sox pitcher Bryce Florie, in one of the most graphic baseball injuries of all time, was defenseless when Ryan Thompson lined a ball back through the box, leaving him sitting on the mound with multiple facial fractures and bleeding that looked less the product of a baseball play than a scene from Hobo with a Shotgun. Then there’s the 2005 line drive that caromed off of Matt Clement‘s head and nearly into the seats by the left field foul line.

The point is, I have a hard time believing that implementing the designated hitter in the National League is really about player safety first and foremost. Preventing injuries to guys like Wang or Burnett by adopting the DH is no more of a solution than putting a screen in front of the mound to prevent injuries to guys like Mussina or Florie. From a player safety argument, it’s just not worth the hassle to prevent a major injury once every three years. There are dozens of innovations, from mandating the Great Gazoo-style batting helmet to padding all outfield walls to biometric analysis of pitcher mechanics that will make the game safer without significantly impacting the way the game is played.

The real argument, which I heard for the first time from ESPN’s Keith Law on the Baseball Today podcast last year, is that it’s just no fun to watch pitchers bat. To combine his argument with Pesca’s, would you find an NFL game more exciting if placekickers had to play offense or defense? Why not restrict the competition to those who specialize in a certain field, be it hitting, pitching, or punting?

I’m probably in the minority here, but I actually do find it fun to watch pitchers bat. And for the record, I think it would be very interesting to see how NFL strategy changed if placekickers were required to play on offense or defense. I imagine a generation of soccer players becoming combination placekickers/slot receivers. But that’s not the point.

While I concede the point that watching someone come up to the plate almost guaranteed to make an out can be disappointing sometimes (or when you’re watching Michael Martinez, all the time) I can’t follow that logic all the way to being convinced that universal adoption of the designated hitter is a good thing. Again, I’m something of a traditionalist on such issues, so your mileage may vary.

Caveats aside, the fish-out-of-water element actually appeals to me a great deal. It’s the same reason that seeing Wilson Valdez pitch in person last year was the greatest live fan experience of my life. When a pitcher hits a home run, or even reaches base, the rarity of the even makes the payoff all the greater when it happens. When a pitcher, particularly a good one, happens to be anything other than a catastrophic incompetent at the plate, every plate appearance is cause for excitement and anticipation. The Phillies, in Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee, happen to have two such players. What Phillies fan doesn’t remember Joe Blanton‘s home run in the 2008 World Series with fondness? Letting the pitcher bat adds an element of chaos to a game that can, from time to time, be a little too orderly.

Why Good Baseball is Bad Baseball

“[B]aseball is supposed to be played by young guys who can run, rather than old fat guys who can hit home runs.”

–Bill James, The New Historical Baseball Abstract, 2001

We all know the stereotypical Moneyball player by now: a guy who gets on base, and ideally can hit for power, batting average be damned. All things being equal, it’s better to have the .250/.400/.500 guy than the .300/.340/.430 guy. This is not, of course, the be-all and end-all of sabermetrics, because, like all baseball analysts, stats guys would rather have the guy who does everything well, including speed and batting average. The Phillies, who won a World Series in large part because of the contributions of Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, two men whose mobility is measured on a geological scale, know this well.

Burrell and Howard are two men who played the field because they had to. Given the opportunity to remove one or both of their gloves from the field, it’s likely that the Phillies would have done so (I’m ignoring Chris Coste and Greg Dobbs DHing during the 2008 World Series). One of the most attractive aspects of expanding the DH to both leagues, from a player union perspective, is that it extends the careers of, as James put it, “old fat guys who hit home runs.” That’s 15 more full-time jobs for the likes of Jason Giambi and Jim Thome, both relegated to spot duty and pinch-hitting on National League teams. And with big power numbers and big RBI totals come big money.

From a team’s perspective, Verducci mentions in his article, it takes some of the risk out of giving long-term, big-money deals to guys who either have only patience and power as virtues (Prince Fielder) or guys who will have only patience and power as virtues (Albert Pujols). If you can provide nothing but walks and home runs, and you don’t have to play the field, you can still be quite valuable, provided you produce lots of walks and home runs, as I’m sure Fielder will, well into his lunar phase.

If you’re manning a DH spot with someone who walks and hits home runs, and you’re judicious about your basestealing as a team, that’s smart. And while the DH makes it easier for fan favorites like Manny Ramirez and Thome to stick around, which is nice, allowing such players to extend their careers is the most underrated negative impact of the designated hitter.

Saying this borders on sabermetric apostasy, but from a spectator’s perspective, walks and home runs are spectacularly overrated. I’d much rather see close plays on the bases, singles, doubles, triples, stolen bases, spectacular defensive plays, all the things that slap-and-run speed merchants can do but full-time DH types can’t. I like a tape measure blast as much as the next guy, and the ability to turn a game on its ear on a single pitch with a three-run bomb is…well…titillating.

But what’s the cost? Last season, Jim Thome came to the plate 324 times. He produced no triples and no stolen base attempts, and he hit 15 home runs, drew 46 walks, and struck out 92 times. That’s 324 times to the plate, and 153 of those (47.2 percent of his plate appearances) resulted in one of the three true outcomes. The defense might as well go pee and get some popcorn when Thome comes up. Put another way: it takes at least 10 men on the field at one time to play baseball, more if you’ve got baserunners. But in nearly half of Thome’s plate appearances, at least 70 percent of the men on the field were doing bugger-all. That’s an unacceptable amount of inactivity, even for baseball.

Consider Thome’s Twins teammate Ben Revere. Revere came to the plate 481 times in 2011, and posted an OPS more than 200 points lower than Thome’s, though as a center fielder, Revere was worth about the same as Thome above replacement, at least on a per-plate-appearance basis. Revere was hit by two pitches, drew 26 walks, struck out 41 times and did not hit a home run. By contrast, he hit five triples and attempted to steal 43 times. The defense was inactive when Revere batted only 14.3 percent of the time. When Revere hits, everyone plays. When Thome hits, everyone watches.

Considering Revere’s defensive ability, I’d rather watch him play than Thome, regardless of how much Jim Thome makes me wish I had a genial Uncle Gus who took me trap shooting on weekends and made his own hot sauce for fun. For my money, the most exciting (and only truly electrifying) baseball player of the past 20 years has been Ichiro, a guy who never walked, but was tons of fun to watch on defense and slapped and ran his way to a Hall of Fame career. Not only are strikeouts boring and fascist, but so are walks and, to a lesser extent, home runs. Baseball is at its most fun (if not at its optimal strategy) when stolen bases are attempted often and with reckless abandon, when fly balls and line drives are dived for, and when the extra base is taken. With every team that adopts the DH, another lead-footed retread takes a job away from a potentially exciting (and usually new and young) player.

Divided We Fall

Forgive me for being reactionary, traditionalist, and anti-intellectual, but if baseball is once again to be united under a common flag, it should be a flag under which pitchers bat. The DH represents everything that’s wrong with baseball: the sedentary, the path-dependent, the risk-averse.

I accept that the designated hitter is coming to the National League, and I’m resigned to that, because, considering how old the Phillies are getting, it might benefit them. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. The designated hitter is, and always will be, a gimmick solution that no one had the presence of mind to reject as short-sighted and ham-fisted. And it’s the only form of baseball our children and grandchildren will ever know.

I don’t expect anyone to be persuaded by this little outburst, and I don’t really care. I just really hate the designated hitter, and everything it represents. And I thought y’all might like to know.

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46 comments

  1. Bruce Walsh

    March 15, 2012 01:26 AM

    What about catcher? That is the second most demanding defensive position on the field. By the logic of the DH, the game would be far more compelling if we allowed him to be a defensive specialist. And… oh hell, shortstop is a bear. Let’s just sub in a killer hitter in the lineup for him, too. And centerfield really should be manned by the fastest, non-hitting athletes out there. You know what? Maybe we should forget this whole playing both ways thing. Football did, and look how fast and specialized it is.

    One of the beautiful, complicated, interesting, wonderful things about baseball is that you have to do two very different, incredibly difficult skills well. Or, if you’re overwhelmingly good at just one of them, you must at least attempt the other skill.

    This is a wonderful piece. Finally, somebody that is able to put into words what I feel every time this subject comes up.

    Thank you so much, Mr. Baumann!

  2. Css228

    March 15, 2012 12:26 AM

    Thank you.

  3. EricL

    March 15, 2012 12:26 AM

    First, let me say that one of the most memorable Phillies at bats of my life was due to the lack of a DH: mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?mid=200810033585690 Take that away from the game while simultaneously elongating the elapsed time a game takes? The mere suggestion of such an atrocity is blasphemy.

    When speaking of non-protected pitchers, let us not forget Juan Nicasio’s broken $@&^ing neck on that comebacker last fall.

    Of course, it will be done. Selig’s Razor, you know. At least you’ll be able to say, after penning this screed, that you did not go quietly into that DH blight.

  4. Susan Gorsky

    March 15, 2012 12:28 AM

    Whole-heartedly agree on the DH. I also enjoy watching pitchers bat. One of my fondest memories of the Phils run to the World Series in 2008 was Brett Myers fouling off pitch after pitch from CC Sabathia and finally working a walk, which led to Victorino’s back-breaking grand slam. Does that happen without Myers’ AB? I don’t think so. CC was clearly flustered after walking Myers. I don’t think he would have reacted that way had he walked a DH or position player.

  5. Bill Baer

    March 15, 2012 12:38 AM

    @ EricL

    The Phillies had quite a few memorable pitcher at-bats in the 2008 post-season. You had Myers against both C.C. Sabathia and Chad Billingsley, and then you had Joe Blanton against Edwin Jackson.

    Myers:

    Blanton:

    EDIT: The embedding isn’t working for some reason, but you can click on the video to go to the page itself to watch.

  6. Ned

    March 15, 2012 08:04 AM

    Here is why neither league will ever change their DH rules. For the sake of simplicity let’s say the Dh has become a $4 million/year position. The NL owners will never agree to add that money to their payrolls, when they can pay a utility player less. The AL on the other hand, will never get rid of it, because the Player’s Association won’t let them get rid off that $4 million dollar position. It’s just financials that really matter here.

    That said, the DH is stupid, along with expanded replay.

  7. Jonny

    March 15, 2012 09:01 AM

    I’m with you Bill. The DH is a gimmicky blemish on the face of my favorite sport. It’s like making Kate Upton wear a full piece bathing suit with an attached skirt because it covers her better. Ok, maybe not, but I still don’t like the idea of either very much, so there’s that.

  8. hk

    March 15, 2012 09:10 AM

    My two cents is that baseball should adopt a hybrid DH or designated PH (DPH). The games would begin with the pitcher in the batting order, but whenever a team pinch-hits for their pitcher, they would be allowed to use the same hitter (as long as he is still batting in the same spot in the line-up). If there is a double-switch, the team would have to use a new DPH if they want to bat for the pitcher. I suspect that old fat guys who hit HR’s (and their agents) might object as such a rule would probably lead to some sort of split where P’s hit ~60% of the time and DPH’s hit ~40% of the time.

  9. Michael C Lorah

    March 15, 2012 09:45 AM

    Hear, Hear!

    Nice article, and I agree 100%.

    My feeling on the DH has always been that baseball, at its most pure, is played on the Little League level. Every player must, at minimum, play one inning defensively and bat one time. Now, at the Major League level, we don’t necessarily have to see Michael Martinez bat and play field in every game, but the greater spirit – that everybody fields, that everybody bats, that everybody throws, is (to me) integral to the game.

    Honestly, I NEVER watch AL games any more (and my dad’s a big Yankees and I live about four miles from Yankee Stadium) and fidget uncomfortably during AL-based interleague games. They’re just not that exciting to me.

    What I hate even more than “protecting” pitchers from batting is “protecting” sluggers from having to field. I’ve played baseball or softball every summer for nearly thirty years now, and playing defense is the best part of the game! My softball season starts April 12, and I hope for every single batter to scorch something down the third base line at me. Defense is exciting – if you can’t play it, you’re not a ballplayer!

  10. Mark H.

    March 15, 2012 09:57 AM

    Take pitchers hitting away from the NL and you don’t get Robert Person Hitting a Grand Slam, three run shot, and almost connecting on a second Salami that went foul. Not to mention he pitched 5 stong innings of no earned run ball agaist the Expos. I watched that game from start to finish and can still remember jumping up when he hit the first one and then going nuts after the second. A memory I will never forget.

    To go along with that I can’t think of a single exact game where Howard hit two let alone my emotions and reactions to the shots.

  11. Paul Boye

    March 15, 2012 10:06 AM

    The awesome thing about the commenters here is that no one is referencing the length of the article; instead, everyone’s actually discussing the issue itself. I love you people.

  12. Brian

    March 15, 2012 10:10 AM

    Prior to interleague play, the fact that NL and AL teams didn’t meet until the World Series was something special. It gave the World Series an extra sense of gravity. Even with interleague play, that sense is still there.

    Adding the DH to the NL and constant interleague (and expanded playoffs), removes the distinction between the leagues and takes away from the magic of the World Series.

  13. Mike B.

    March 15, 2012 10:17 AM

    Michael, you brought a tear to my eye. Well-said. As much as I love Jim Thome, and even though it will likely save the Phillies’ payroll bacon in a few years, I detest the DH.

    Long live Real Baseball!

  14. bharring

    March 15, 2012 10:32 AM

    Watching American League games is boring! Ban the DH!

  15. John Franco

    March 15, 2012 10:36 AM

    I completely agree with your sabermetric apostasy. I know that the “correct” way to win is by taking walks and hitting bombs, but I’d much rather watch a bunch of triples hitters who never walk or strike out.

    How about eliminating the rule that you can’t put the DH in the field? That might bring back some double switches and add some strategy. I don’t know exactly how it would work… but let’s say the Tigers start Inge at 3B and Miggy at DH, they could move Miggy to 3B and put in Boesch as the new DH.

  16. Dan K.

    March 15, 2012 10:42 AM

    TL;DR.

    No, but really, I wholeheartedly agree. I was always a defensive-minded player (even when pitching), but if you would have told me that I could pitch and have someone else hit for me I would have laughed in your face. Baseball is not a game divided by offensive and defensive corps. It is a game where we have to take into account all aspects of the game when determining which player best fits where. If a player can hit for miles but has trouble in the field, he gets stashed at 1B or LF. If he’s a defensive wizard with no bat, SS or CF. That’s part of the fun, the strategy of determining if a player with one skill and not another is gifted enough in the one to let him play. And it makes it all that much more exciting when you’re presented with a well-rounded player like Utley.

    On another note, I see there’s a captcha now… That could be irritating, but it will cause fewer troll posts.

  17. Rob SJ

    March 15, 2012 10:51 AM

    I completely dislike the DH and would love to see it removed from the AL. That isn’t happening though. After this offseason, the inherent disadvantage an NL team has in signing an aging player to a long contract just cannot continue. Some of you will say that not allowing a team to sign a 32 year old to a 9 year contract is saving a team from itself, but the point is that the AL team has an insurance policy that an NL team does not. I am now of the opinion that the league’s cannot continue to have separate rules, even putting aside the fact that interleague play is inevitably expanding.

  18. Richard

    March 15, 2012 11:00 AM

    Good stuff.

    Frankly, for me, the only argument that matters is that everyone hits and everyone fields. I think the strategy argument is overrated. I don’t care about wholeness of the player. Only that baseball involves playing the field and taking your turn at the plate.

    Also, it irritates me that, as you note, it was a gimmick introduced to address a non-problem.

    Re: your saber-heretical notions, I agree to a point. But I actually like walks, in that I like seeing batters work the zone, being patient, and when you have good baserunners, a walk can just enhance the exciting baseball you’re talking about. And I like strikeouts, from the pitcher perspective. Homeruns I dig, but I’ve occasionally wondered if they’re really in the true spirit of baseball. At least some of them. Like, it’s one thing to hit a ball so far that no one can catch it, and you get a homerun out of it… but those balls that curl around the foul pole, or land in the flowerbed? Balls otherwise easily caught with just another step or two? Not always so sure…

  19. Pat

    March 15, 2012 11:38 AM

    I like the DH. It’s misleading to call it a “gimmick”. Gimmick is code for “change I don’t agree with”.

    Watching pitchers hit is really boring. The reason a pitcher hitting a home run is memorable is because it happens about twice a year. In between you watch literally hundreds of awful ABs. I’d rather watch a 3 true outcome DH any day. Do agree that it takes some of the strategy out of the game, but I can live with the tradeoff.

    Also, regarding Thome. If the NL had a DH, he would’ve been hitting 5th for us from 2006-2010. Can anyone argue that would’ve made the team less exciting?

  20. Matt C

    March 15, 2012 11:47 AM

    Loved this article, so much. I also (like many, many Phils fans I’m sure) immediately thought of Myers vs. Sabathia as a wonderful moment I would never trade for the DH. Listen to the crowd in that clip! When else has a walk gotten that kind of response, let alone a flyout and single? Simply wonderful.

    Down with the DH, down with overspecialization, down with old, slow guys playing long past their time; long live well-rounded ballplayers!

  21. Css228

    March 15, 2012 11:50 AM

    @Pat. Yes. See Game 2 of the 2008 Divisional Series. Or Big Joe’s Game 3 HR in the 2008 World Series. Or Cliff Lee generally being Cliff Lee on the bases. You take away the one thing that makes Carlos Zambrano fun to watch. And what about when Micah Owings played left field for the D-Backs a few years ago. I love watching pitchers hit. When a regular hitter strikes out, its pretty boring. When CC Sabathia strikes out its hilarious. I love the fish out of water aspect to the game. The same reason I loved Oswalt’s put out, or Wilson “I’m a better emergency RHP than actual baseball player” Valdez. And quite frankly as an NL fan, its not like I’m worried about more managerial mistakes. They actually add a debate thats fun to talk about if frustrating. The AL fans should get to experience the fullness of the game that we experience in the NL. That’s why the DH should go

  22. Richard Hershberger

    March 15, 2012 12:12 PM

    I agree with the substance of this post, but note that baseball has always been in a state of change. In the beginning of organized baseball there were no substitutions. You played with who you started with. Your potential relief pitcher was in the outfield, and switched places with the pitcher. The only substitutions were for injury, and both captains had to agree that the guy was injured. Even top professional teams carried only eleven or twelve guys on their rosters. This changed in the 1880s, when the modern substitution rule was instituted. Interestingly, the first DH proposal came soon after that.

    Ancient history, I hear you cry. The game was stable through the 20th century, right? Not really. Consider roster size. Look at a team photo from a hundred years ago and you will see perhaps fifteen or so guys. The expansion to twenty-five guys affected strategy at least as much as the DH.

    Moving more recent, when I was a kid teams carried ten, or perhaps eleven, pitchers. Back then many teams carried three catchers, and they all had a deeper bench than today. Now the discussion is between carrying twelve or thirteen pitchers, with all that this implies about pitching strategy, pinch hitting strategy, how very long extra innings games play out, and even about the whole player development structure. This is a purely ideological shift, with no change in any rules.

    I dislike the DH for mostly the usual reasons. But I don’t imagine that this is a radical change from some imaginary pure version of the game.

  23. TH

    March 15, 2012 12:14 PM

    I disagree in the fact that I want to see the DH come to the NL for purely selfish reasons (if we had it in 2006, no need to trade Thome), but this is an outstanding article. Well done.

  24. Jeremy Staffordshire

    March 15, 2012 02:12 PM

    An argument could be made that the real problem is that there aren’t enough DH’s in the rotation. I propose a system more like football with a separate offense and defense. You have your defensive players, i.e., your fielders, and you have your offensive players, i.e., your “designated hitters.”

    In its current form, we don’t have a chance to the see the “best” hitters or fielders because each player has to find a compromise or balance between hitting and fielding. If we did away with that compromise, we would truly have the best at each position. The increase in skill among the fielders would likely offset the increase in skill at the plate.

  25. Peter DeMarco

    March 15, 2012 02:27 PM

    When you think about it, the pitcher hitting is kind of like forcing each player on the field to pitch one inning.

    The problem I have with pitchers hitting is not the fact that it increases the likelihood of an injury, it’s that some managers have instructed their pitchers not to swing, creating essentially a wasted out for no other reason than the manager would rather take the out than risk the pitcher getting hurt. The Toronto Blue Jays were even considering implementing a rule preventing any of their pitchers from swinging during inter-league play. Is this really what we want to preserve?

    Also, bunting? Seriously? They really shouldn’t be doing that in the national league regardless, other than when the pitcher is up. It’s not really a strategy, it’s an admission that your hitter has no chance at being productive.

    At the end of the day, if you are really against the DH because you feel it is a gimmick, rather than have pitchers hit, the best solution may be having baseball go to an 8 man line-up.

    I think the best way to understand what the better option is would be to pole Milwaukee Brewer fans which they prefer, and most of them grew up with one format and then had to get used to the other. Otherwise most people’s preference is a result of where they were born.

  26. Ken

    March 15, 2012 02:36 PM

    Understating it, I abhor the DH, and for the usual reasons. However, before it was adopted, there was near implementation of a form of it that actually might have been a really strong presence. The AL, in 1967, or 68 discussed a DH rule that would have allowed a designated hitter to hit twice a game. That would have opened all sorts of strategic considerations, and created a form of compromise.

  27. Richard

    March 15, 2012 02:56 PM

    “When you think about it, the pitcher hitting is kind of like forcing each player on the field to pitch one inning.”

    No, no it’s not. The pitcher hitting is like the pitcher taking his turn in the lineup, like another position player. Like in baseball.

    I actually don’t despise the DH–I kind of like that the leagues have different rules. But I do hate the arguments in favor of it, especially the ones that go on about how “boring” it is watching pitchers bat.

  28. Dan K.

    March 15, 2012 03:48 PM

    “When you think about it, the pitcher hitting is kind of like forcing each player on the field to pitch one inning.”

    The pitcher doesn’t have to do anything other than field his position and hit, just like everyone else on the team. While you may think that throwing all those pitches makes the pitcher do more work than everyone else, does it really? For one, pitchers don’t pitch every day. Meaning they get more rest than the regulars. For another, what about catchers? Not only do they have to throw back to the pitcher each time, they also have more ground to cover defensively as well as are responsible for things such as throwing out baserunners. If anything, catchers deserve a DH the most. Also, you have to take into consideration that, as a position player, there is always something you can be doing. Infielders should be adjusting themselves based on the baserunners, the batter, and the count. Outfielders should as well, although to a different degree. When the ball is in play, you should be either running towards it (to make the play or back up the person making the play), holding a runner, or backing up the throw. If you’re idle you’re making a mistake. So, while the pitcher throws the ball more often than everyone else, the fielders must cover much, much more ground on every play. Fielders are just exerting themselves in a different way than the pitcher, and they’re doing it almost daily.

    So no, asking a pitcher to hit isn’t asking all that much of him.

  29. Jack_Cust

    March 15, 2012 03:58 PM

    I agree with Jeremy Staffordshire. Let the best hitters hit and the best fielders field and never the twain shall meet.

    And Peter DeMarco, I don’t think the Milwaukee fans would appreciate you poking/impaling them.

  30. JC

    March 15, 2012 04:02 PM

    “So no, asking a pitcher to hit isn’t asking all that much of him.”

    Back to Peter DeMarco’s point, I think it is asking a lot of him. They rarely work on hitting; from the time the get into the minors the pretty much only pitch. Asking a fielder to pitch is also asking a lot of a fielder.

    I don’t mind the DH, I actually prefer it. All of the great stuff that happens when a pitcher bats is great, but if a better hitter can fill that spot, baseball is more exciting. Just my two cents.

  31. Robby

    March 15, 2012 04:16 PM

    Coming from Seattle, I only know of AL games (thanks to a lack of other NL teams within 1000 miles). I went to SafeCo last year to watch the M’s play the Marlins, where the Marlins were the home team. Besides being a surreal experience (the stadium was near empty so it acted like a true Marlins’ game), it was fun seeing the other side live. Sure, I was in the King’s Court (a rowdy group whenever Felix Hernandez pitches), and watching him get a hit was one of the highlights of the night.

    If it was my way, all the interleague games would swap DH and Pitchers batting (AL hosted teams would have pitchers hit while NL hosted teams would have the DH). Think of it as a “you’re our guest, so we’re going to do it your way” type of gimmick. It gives the hometown fans something different to watch when the teams come to town (I know you Boston/Phil and NYers and Californians and Chicagoans, and Texans all have the luxury of choosing which AL or NL team to go visit, but everyone else in the country isn’t like that). I believe that the mixture of each league having their own quirks is what makes this game great.

  32. awh

    March 15, 2012 05:04 PM

    Michael, thank you for this excellent piece of writing.

    I HATE the DH and what it has done to baseball as it should be played.

  33. Css228

    March 15, 2012 05:55 PM

    @Robby – I have a better idea. When NL teams come to AL parks pitchers hit. And when AL teams come to NL parks… they still hit. Its a radical new idea called actual baseball. I hate watching the DH play. Mainly because of the pure comic relief a guy like Papi or Manny can provide in the field. If you’re going to get their bat, you should have to live with their glove. Besides, the only pitchers who get hurt hitting, if you haven’t noticed, are AL pitchers. I mean who are your notable examples of guys getting hurt? Burnett (AL pitcher for the last few years) and Wang? I can’t remember the last time an NL guy got notably hurt. And its a lot of fun watching guys like Hernandez and Lee hit. Watching whatever third rate guy is dhing for Seattle? Not so much.

  34. Pat

    March 15, 2012 07:11 PM

    Yes! ACTUAL BASEBALL! The way it’s supposed to played! First they let all these pansies were gloves. Then they moved the mound back to 60’6″. Next it was night baseball and integration. My God, wasn’t it enough that we were letting the Catholics play? These spoiled brats whined about “fair pay” and “freedom of movement” so we gave them free agency. The last straw was when those hippie AL owners turned to that commie gimmick, the DH.

    Now this disease is spreading to our last sacred institution like a plague of locusts. Gentlemen, for the sanctity of this great sport – as american as Woolworth’s or Oldsmobile or the Pony Express – we have to stop the DH from coming to our league. Fans need to experience the electric fish-out-of-water excitement that is Don Carmen sauntering to the plate with two on and two out. What would John Wayne say about all this? John Wayne would say Don Carmen is a goddamn cowboy and this generation of NL pitchers are a bunch of sissies.

  35. Phillie697

    March 15, 2012 07:30 PM

    @MB,

    The DH coming to the NL will not help the Phillies; RAJ squandered all of our cap space to the point we can ill-afford the increase in team salary that will happen in the NL because of the DH. So we move Howard to DH, then what? It’s not like we have the money to spend on a stud 1B, or anybody in the minors who’s ready to be a stud 1B, so everyone else will get better offensively, whereas we might be better off to continue to bat Hamels and Lee. That doesn’t help us.

  36. Giving_Chase

    March 15, 2012 08:22 PM

    Yep. It seems to be inevitable that the DH will come to the NL, and I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t miss it.

    But, I think consistency is a big deal. I don’t like how two leagues play by different rules. I wish that both leagues would play without the DH, but there is no way that the AL loses the DH now (with contracts for DHs and fan-favorites only having a spot on the team if there is a DH).

    So I guess I’m saying that I’ll be somewhat relieved when the NL adds the DH, for consistency’s sake, but I’ll also dearly miss it.

  37. Dan K.

    March 15, 2012 09:48 PM

    @697,

    DH would be a convenient place to plug Brown in since they seem intent on him not playing the outfield at the major league level.

  38. EricL

    March 15, 2012 10:31 PM

    I’m actually very intrigued by the idea Ken threw out there.

    Allowing a DH to hit twice a game seems like an interesting compromise and could make for some incredibly fascinating strategic moves. If we must rectify this ‘house-divided’ situation, I could get behind something like that middle-ground compromise.

  39. Edgy DC

    March 15, 2012 11:18 PM

    “I certainly don’t want to watch Matt Prater try to play boundary corner for the Broncos.”

    What is WRONG with you? Think about this some more, won’t you?

  40. Scott G

    March 16, 2012 02:09 PM

    The first rule in the MLB rulebook:

    Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under direction of a
    manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires.

    9 players. Having the pitcher on one side and the DH on the other seems like 10 to me.

  41. JC

    March 16, 2012 03:06 PM

    @ScottG

    But it’s still 9 players/team/inning. Defense is 9, batting order is 9.

  42. Jim

    March 17, 2012 04:47 PM

    One reason the DH grates, and feels different from other “changes”, may be that on a significant level it is a departure from the fundamental construction of the game. The whole reason there are nine slots in the batting order is that there are nine slots in the field. If the players in the field don’t need to bat, then why have nine slots in the batting order? Why not let the best hitter keep on batting until he gets on base (or makes three outs), and then the next-best hitter bats? In this regard the DH rule reminds me of the three-point shot in basketball, which too still grates: the whole idea of the game is to get the best shot, so why should we reward a “worse” (lower percentage) shot just to make the game more “exciting”? It just isn’t the same game.

  43. Larry

    March 20, 2012 07:23 AM

    Growing up in the fifties and sixties they were a plenty of children which made it easier to gather a team of nine. You wanted to play baseball by being in the field and sharing the experience. Sometimes we had young stragglers who were glad to help out before and during the game. They would snag a ball way off past the foul line or home plate.
    Sometimes there was one who didn’t want to wait to get older and was good enough, so he got into the game when there was a big lead. He would run, not walk, onto the green grass and brown dirt while hammering his fist into his glove along the way. He was with the guys out in the field and it made him determined and leap for joy inside. It was great to hit and run the bases but that was only half of the equation which made up the game. A designated hitter is a position no adult can relate to in any of their memories playing baseball as a child. Nobody wanted to sit on a bench while everyone else was having fun.

  44. Garrett Miller

    July 30, 2013 02:19 PM

    Hi Michael,

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    We are planning a poll to run on our website/mobile app, asking if people are for or against the Designated Hitter in MLB, and would like to feature an excerpt from your post.

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  45. Robert Heemstra

    July 22, 2014 11:11 AM

    Baseball is a game of nine position players, no more no less.

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