Hey National League! It’s the 21st Century. Adopt the DH Rule Already!

Ask most people who Ron Blomberg was and you’ll draw a complete blank. Which is too bad because Blomberg holds a place in the history of Major League Baseball that Babe Ruth could never have accomplished and that Sandy Koufax would never even have had a chance to have. Although he isn’t as well known as Jackie Robinson, Blomberg was also the first player to break down an important barrier.

On April 6, 1973 Ron Blomberg stepped up to the plate as a New York Yankee and forever changed the game of baseball. At least for the American League. Thanks to Blomberg on that fateful day, thousands of fans were for the first time spared the humiliating spectacle of a pitcher attempting to get a hit. Yes, Ron Blomberg was baseball first designated hitter to take a pitch. In fact, he took at least four pitches because he drew a walk. With the bases loaded. History tells us that if Blomberg had hit from the ninth position-instead of the sixth as he did-that Luis Tiant of the Red Sox would probably not have given up a walk to allow a run. He would probably have struck the opposing pitcher out.

Over thirty years later, the DH rules remains a flash point for arguments. Those who oppose it say it takes strategy away from the game. They say that the DH means that a manager never has to consider taking an effective pitcher out of a game in the late innings in order to pinch hit with a good batter. Those who like the DH counter with the argument that nine times out of ten a pitcher makes an out whenever he comes up and isn’t the game made more exciting by watching a batter who actually knows how to swing a bat?

Let’s look at the argument against the DH, that it removes strategy from the game. Supposedly the reason the DH is a bad idea is because it takes some of the mystery out of the game. Here’s the scenario: It’s late in the game and the score is 3-2. Your pitcher has been doing very well, he’s got seven strikeouts and since a two-run homer in the first he hasn’t even given up a hit. But now you’ve got a man on second with two outs and the pitcher comes up to bat. Your pitcher’s batting average is .124 and he’s not going to scare anyone. Do you pinch hit for him and take the chance on bringing in the run, or do you send him in order to keep him in the game?

This is supposedly where the strategy comes in. The manager has a difficult choice. Either attempt to bring in an insurance run, or stay with the hot pitcher. What do you do? What do you do?

You know what I do? I take the pitcher and pinch hit. It’s a no-brainer. Unless, of course, your team has a completely unreliable bullpen. In which case, this game probably doesn’t matter anyway because you’re in the division cellar. Today’s pitching staffs are so specialized that it’s not unusual for a team to have a reliever that they only bring in to face left-handed batter, or only bring in when it’s the ninth inning and runners are on base. Every team in baseball, whatever the league, has a relief pitcher they can go late in the game.

When the DH was first introduced, it was still unusual for pitchers to not have ten or more complete games in a season. Since then, probably the most overlooked change in the game of baseball has been the rise of reliance on relief pitchers and the failure of most starting pitchers to go the whole nine innings. Since you know at the beginning of the game that your pitcher more than likely isn’t going to go the distance, the whole concept of the strategy of whether to pinch hit for him late has become almost null and void.

But let’s look at from another perspective. Pitchers almost always bat in the ninth position, meaning on average that team’s pitcher will come to bat anywhere from three to five times a game. If it’s a high scoring affair, it could be even more. That means that fans have to sit through this fiasco anywhere from a half dozen to a dozen times a game. How often do you suppose the strategy argument comes into play during any given game? A manager’s not going to take a good pitcher out in the second, third, fourth or fifth inning even if the bases are loaded when he comes to the plate. The strategy argument only comes into play in the late innings. And on top of that, the strategy only matters in close games. If you’re behind by five runs you aren’t even going to think about taking out an ineffective pitcher or an effective one.

So the question becomes, how many times during a season is the game close enough at the point where the pitcher comes to bat with potential runs on the line? I’ll be honest. I don’t know. But I have a pretty good idea. Not often. At least not often for this argument to be viable.

Another argument revolves around the question of why shouldn’t pitchers bat? Every other position player has to. True. But how many pitchers have hit .300 in a season? How many pitchers have hit 30 homers in a season? Now ask the same question about any other position and you’ll answer why that argument holds absolutely no water.

Why shouldn’t a pitcher bat? For one thing, most of them stink. For another, the pitcher is the only player on the team that is involved in every single pitch. It is theoretically possible for an outfielder to play an entire game without ever touching the ball. Not so the pitcher. Every single pitch in a game involves the pitcher. That’s his job. To throw the ball. And occasionally to catch it. Why should he also be forced to bat? Nobody complains that a kicker in a football game only kicks the ball. And most people laugh whenever a kicker tries to make a tackle. Because it is funny. Because he hasn’t been trained to do it and he’s not expected to do it well. For that matter, most attempts by a quarterback to tackle an opposing player are pretty lame. But nobody holds them accountable and cries out about the lack of strategy whenever they make a half-hearted lunge that completely misses a linebacker who just intercepted him.

Baseball is not more exciting without the DH. It’s infinitely less exciting. If you want to talk about strategy, consider this. Whenever a pitcher comes to bat, most outfielders hardly pay attention. Rarely is any infield shifting done. The players simply wait for the pitcher to either strike out or hit a slow grounder to short. But when a DH comes to bat, the outfielders have to be aware. The infield has to decide whether to play in or along the lines or at the corners. Not only is there still strategy involved in the game with a DH, but there’s actually more strategy! Because the DH comes to the plate more often than the pitcher and every single time he comes to the plate there is the potential not only for a hit, but for an extra base hit or even a home run.

Watching a pitcher come to bat is more often than not the most predictable event in all of sports. We all know he’ll probably make an out, which is why it’s so incredibly exciting those rare times he actually gets a hit. The strategy argument has become obsolete in the era of specialized relief pitching. Not only has it become obsolete, but it simply doesn’t come up enough over the course of a long season to make it worthwhile.

It is the 21st century National League. Wake up. Put pitchers out of their misery and finally adopt the DH rule.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

− 1 = seven