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In January, World Series hero Pat Burrell left the National League to sign with the Tampa Bay Rays of the American League to be their everyday designated hitter. At 32, Pat Burrell still presents a power threat in any lineup, but his defense in left field has grown suspect in recent years. In 2008, for example, Burrell was removed for a late-inning defensive replacement in 100 of the 154 games he started.
Players like Burrell, Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr., Jason Giambi, and Boston’s own David Ortiz have extended and improved their careers thanks to the safety net of the designated hitter. Is this right? Should there be a designated hitter at all? Or, should the National League modernize and adopt the DH? SoB’s Adam and Jeff offer their own opinions.
I don’t consider myself a baseball traditionalist by any stretch. I favor instant replay when it comes to determining foul balls/home runs and the speeding up of pitchers to keep games under four hours. Growing up in a Boston Red Sox market but as an Atlanta Braves fan watching on TBS, I’ve been able to study the different nuances in each league. After years of seeing AL pitchers look goofy running the bases and behemoths like David Ortiz play baseball for four minutes a game, I’m not only for keeping the NL DH-less but I want the DH banished from baseball.
Baseball fans world wide flock to Williamsport, PA or watch on television to see the Little League World Series. Teams come from around the world to compete on the biggest stage for 12-year-old athletes. Many people (including myself) argue that the reason the LLWS is so popular is because the game is played the way it was intended to be played. Games are all about passion, team spirit and the basic rules of the game.
Now imagine you’re watching Lake Charles, LA vs. Kyoto, Japan play in the World Championship and all of a sudden out steps a 5’10” 200 pound 12-year-old Yokozuna wannabe from the dugout to the plate. He can barely run and probably can’t bend over to field a ground ball if he wanted to. But he’s the DH so all does is stand in the box, belts homers and goes to the dugout for another few innings. Not exactly the kind of baseball we were all taught as youngsters.
One statement I will agree with made by my counterpart is the unfairness going on in current MLB in regards to interleague play and World Series play. Like most others I found it hilarious when Randy Johnson had to step his gangly figure into the batters box, and see Pedro Martinez flail his way to a hip flexor injury (allegedly). These scenes are comical in mid June and July, but no so much in October when players who have less than a dozen at bats are forced to hit in the most important games of the year. So what’s the solution to this problem? Instead of adding a DH to the NL, how about we get rid of the DH all together?
The designated hitter rule was created in 1973 and since then has been adopted by most leagues at the pro and semi pro level. The rational is that pitchers are weak hitters so why keep them in the lineup. Having pitchers in the lineup makes for a lot more strategy and puts a lot more emphasis on the bench. Once AL managers create the day’s lineup, all they have to do is decide when to take a pitcher out. Double switches, pinch runners and sacrifice bunts are taboo in the American League and makes for high power, high slugging, and long baseball. It also emboldens some pitchers like Pedro and Roger Clemens to perhaps pitch a different way to hitters knowing they rarely step to the dish themselves.
My most passionate argument for eliminated the DH is the ascension of one David Ortiz. As a non-Red Sox fan it’s tough to argue his value as a hitter. He’s one of the top clutch hitters of all time and has been instrumental in Boston’s two World Series titles. But, this is a man who plays the field just a handful of times a year. He’s is on the field of play for just minutes during a three-hour game and gets paid handsomely to do so.
In ’05, ’06 and ’07 seasons, Ortiz played just 27 regular season games in the field, as opposed to 426 as a DH. If you assume that his average at bat/time on the field (including home run trots and time on the base path) is five minutes, and Ortiz totaled 1,708 at bats from ’05 to ’07 (which makes for roughly 8,500 minutes on the field) and made $25,000,000 over that time (according to Baseball Reference) that would mean Ortiz earned nearly $3,000 per MINUTE on the field of play during those three years. Many Sox fans would agree that he is worth it, but many DHs have been paid similar amounts and produced less.
Ortiz and all other baseball players should have to play the field in order to hit or we might be involved in another generational debate in the coming years, should DHs be in the Hall of Fame? Should David Ortiz make it even though right now he’s only played 238 games in the field in his whole career? I think not. The way to stay away from these questions is to eliminate the DH as it would give American League teams a fair shake in the World Series, would force pitchers to be accountable for their actions on the mound and most importantly, would make for better baseball.
I know someone out there is probably just starting to read this article and assuming that I’m making this conclusion based on Chien-Ming Wang getting hurt running the bases last season. But, that is far from it. After all, he could’ve injured himself similarly running after a bunt ground ball. Besides, appeals to emotion of that sort are not arguments I like to make. Instead, I think the NL is, in the modern game, at a competitive disadvantage without a designated hitter.
The average designated hitter (even if we leave Jose Vidro in the sample) is very clearly a better hitter than the average pitcher. A lineup of eight hitters and an average DH (an AL line up) would produce more runs than the same lineup with an average pitcher hitting instead of the DH (an NL line up). Thus, AL lineups are tougher for pitchers to face. NL pitchers are at a competitive disadvantage during inter-league and World Series play (though it shows less in the World Series because of the smaller sample) because they often are used to the easy out in the lineup that the pitcher usually presents himself to be at the plate.
Furthermore, NL benches are weaker than AL benches in inter-league play. If a DH cannot play the field, he’ll join the players on the bench and almost always be better than any bench player for an NL team. If he can play the field, he is likely pushing to the bench a player that is better than a bench player for an NL team.
The reason is that if a player on an NL bench was as good a hitter, they’d likely be on an AL roster, where they’re more likely to get regular playing time, or a candidate to be traded elsewhere. The only exceptions to this tend to be players who are yet to be eligible to become free agents. These players can still bring an NL ball club great financial value, bargaining advantage and don’t have a choice about what team they can play for. Also, when NL teams play in AL ballparks, their DH tends to be a bench player, who, as I’ve mentioned, is usually not as good of a hitter as the DH.
With a lower run-scoring environment, the difference in lineups would be lessened and the disadvantage the NL faced would not be as large. However, the factors that would promote a steep enough decline in run scoring are very unlikely to occur, given baseball’s explosion in popularity in the 90s correlating with the increase in run scoring. So, instead, I think the Senior Circuit needs to join the AL and adopt the DH. Sure, you’d lose the differentiation in style of play. But, you’d gain an increased chance of NL teams being able to win. I think that’s a situation that’s a win for everyone.