Baseball is the national pastime of the United States and because of that it holds a special place in all of sports and in society. Its importance can be seen in the image of a president throwing out the first pitch or in the re-telling of Jackie Robinson's story or the first game in old Yankee Stadium after September 11th. It is the deep respect that fans and players alike hold for baseball that makes adjusting the game in even the slightest way a controversial issue. It took a tie in the All-Star game and dwindling interest for the mid-season showcase to change the old format and only after games and series and seasons were decided by horribly missed calls did the institution of baseball introduce instant replay.
Rule changes have been made for all kinds of reasons, like preventing catchers from blocking the path to home plate which is akin to the seat belt law, "it's for their own good" and competitive reasons like a wider strike zone to help batters against pitchers who had become untouchable.
Technology has played a part in changes to the game as seen in the one piece helmet for catchers which has become the norm for catchers as opposed to the exception it once was. If you have ever seen a fielder's glove from the 1920's you can tell we've come along way in that department as well.
Some rules have been good, some have been bad and gotten rid of and others, well it's too soon to tell, but there is one rule change in one league, in particular that needs to be made or more appropriately abolished and that is the designated hitter. Adopted by the American League in 1973, it has been around long enough that its effects can been seen and measured and the verdict is in.
Here are the top 10 reasons why Major League Baseball should ban the designated hitter.
Baseball is one game, but within the sport there exists two different rules for certain teams. The NFL has two conferences, and can you imagine a rule existing that the quarterbacks in the NFC have to throw with their left hand only? The NBA has two conferences as well and imagine the Western Conference teams don't incorporate a 3-point line? That's the case in baseball; two sets of rules for one game. When you imagine kids on the sandlot picking icons to emulate, it's crushing to picture them arguing over who gets to be David Ortiz because whoever does has to sit on the bench because Ortiz is a DH.
9 Increase in Offense
How can removing the DH from the game increase offense you ask? Well, it's simple really. Forcing pitchers to hit means that if you want to pinch hit for a weak hitting pitcher you have to remove him from the game. Relief pitchers are generally weaker than starters and bringing relief pitchers into the game sooner means hitters will likely have a greater rate of success facing inferior stuff from the mound. Sure the starting pitcher will not likely contribute a great deal of offense, but the odds that the starter will stay in the game as long is improbable and there replacements will give up more high fat ones for batters to feast on.
8 The Bunt, Hit and Run
Sabermetrics is here to stay and that's fine. It's there to help teams compete and win and is a natural evolution from the disparity in team financial realities, a discussion for a later date. The down side is that Sabermetrics has all but killed the bunt and the hit and run.
Managers hold on to outs like precious jewels and never risk giving one away by bunting or putting on a hit and run. With pitchers forced to hit and and pitchers being considered a sure out, managers will turn to the bunt, hit and run as a way of making those outs as productive as possible. The movement of the bunt and hit and run creates opportunity for excitement in balls being thrown away and runners scoring all the way from first on hit balls finding holes.
7 Specialists overload
Baseball and sports in general has become far too accepting of the "specialist". In baseball the specialist is seen in the left handed reliever that only comes into the game to get the one big left handed power hitter out with a lefty-lefty match up. Baseball also has the one inning closer that only appears in the 9th inning to protect a lead and secure a win. The designated hitter is just another specialist in a game with too many as it is.
They are rarely ever more than just power hitters, with some being power and high average hitters. You will never see a DH who can hit for power, average and can run. True those types of players are rare, but having one more specialist who enters the game on four occasions to do one thing just compartmentalizes the game that much more and turns baseball into an assembly line.
6 Five Tool Player
The expression "being a five tool player" used to be the highest compliment you could pay to a baseball player. It meant he could do everything well, every skill that was needed to be good at baseball, he could hit for power, hit for average, run, field and throw. It was the ideal aspiration because if you were a five tool player you could help your team win in a number of areas. A designated hitter generally has three tools, hitting, sitting and watching.
5 Intimidation and Intrigue
Batters generally don't enter the batter's box these days without a layer of Kevlar to protect them so no matter how hard a pitcher throws it is difficult to intimidate with an inside pitch. The rare time a pitcher does want to keep batters honest and go inside, umpires and opposing managers will lose their minds and warnings and ejections usually follow, but what if a pitcher who wanted to go inside with a fastball on a hitter knew he had to bat the next half inning.
If he did go inside, what response would he face personally as opposed to an unfortunate teammate? How would this affect his pitch selection and location? Forcing pitchers to hit would create more intrigue in the story lines that develop throughout a game.
Part of the appeal in baseball is following the game within the game. Baseball more so than other sports allows the fan to speculate on the manager's options concerning who is on deck, who is available to pinch hit, what reliever could be called in etc... Removing the designated hitter forces managers into making more decisions late in games and utilizing their bench. The trickle down affect is that general managers have to search for utility players that can do more than just substitute as a pinch runner or late game defensive replacements.
3 Hiding a weakness
How many other sports allow you to completely eliminate your weakness so that you are able to only perform in the areas where you excel? Not many. You can't play basketball if you can't dribble and you can't play hockey if you don't know how to skate backwards, but in baseball if you can't field, it's okay as long as you can hit. The designated hitter hides a player's deficiency when the true nature of sport is to use strength and weaknesses to evaluate players, draft a team and play the games to win. Players need to play the whole game, every aspect and not be hidden away in order to restore a little integrity to baseball.
2 Statistics are thrown off
Baseball is all about numbers, whether it's judging a player's value or comparing his accomplishments to players of the past, the baseball junkie will always use statistics to help make a decision. The designated hitter throws off statistics by inflating batting in the American League while diminishing American League pitching numbers. The earned run average of an American League pitcher may be 4.00 but if he were in the National League that number could be as low as 2.00. Baseball places a huge emphasis on the numbers it tracks and records and because of the DH those numbers are not painting an accurate picture.
1 Opportunity for Greatness
Babe Ruth is considered one of the best players in the history of the game. His hitting prowess alone is worthy of such praise, but early in his career he was also a top flight pitcher. Everyone assumes that pitchers are lousy hitters, but young baseball players have to hit and pitch. No one is born a DH or a closer. Fans of the game want to see their favorite team win, but next to that they want to see great players making great plays and creating history. Removing the DH and requiring all pitchers to hit, increases the chances of possibly seeing a pitcher combine pitching greatness with batting exploits and accomplish something truly incredible that every fan can marvel over, like another Babe Ruth.