I really didn’t want to have to write this. I’ve avoided the Designated Hitter debate for the six years we’ve had this blog because making rational arguments against the irrational rarely accomplishes anything. It’s the same reason I avoid talking politics at all costs.
I was hoping reason and common sense would prevail before I had to do this, but as the haunting images of Bartolo Colon at the dish can attest, we’ve had no such luck. I can’t go into another season without getting this off my chest.
Some things are so obvious that it seems silly to even have to state them. The earth is round. The sky is blue. Miguel Cabrera will hit .320 this season. Dusty Baker is wearing wristbands right now for reasons known only to him.
Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, and the gang referred to these kind of truths as being self-evident in the Declaration of Independence. I’ve always loved that phrasing. It’s like they were telling King George ‘of course we’re going to start our own country…’ and then added ‘…you fucking dumbass!’ It’s with that same kind of incredulity that I approach the sadly eternal debate over the DH.
I struggle to understand how there could even be a debate of the DH. It is implicitly wrong for one game to have two sets of rules for over four decades. Even worse, one set of those rules requires a disaster like Bartolo The Clown to embarrass himself and the game. Of course the DH should be universal.
Having different sets of rules for half the league isn’t quaint, it is ridiculous. No other sport would even consider it. It’d be like NFC teams playing football without being able to have a running back or forcing Aaron Rodgers to also kick field goals while the AFC operated normally. No one would stand for that. Yet we put up with that same kind of lunacy in baseball solely because of archaic tradition.
But since that cat is already out of the bag, we must chose the better of the two ideas. Just as the telegraph and dirigible were good ideas at the time that would later be replaced with better ideas like smart phones and Uber, so too is the DH an empirically better idea than sending pitchers up to bat like prisoners to a firing squad. I’ll let Baseball America‘s Matt Eddy take you through the numbers:
“The pitcher at-bat has become increasingly non-competitive in the major leagues, and given the anecdotal evidence suggesting early specialization at the amateur level and the hard evidence pointing to decreased performance at the big league level, pitcher at-bats can only become less competitive from this point forward. Also, in a game starved for more frequent balls in play, the pitcher strikeout rate borders on 37 percent in the past three completed seasons.”
“Nearly nine out of 10 pitcher plate appearances today result in an out being made—occasionally with a baserunner advancing via a sacrifice bunt—and this level of futility, in the grand scheme, does not make for compelling viewing. Nor does keeping the NL rules intact for the sake of tradition do anything to enhance the game’s appeal for potential fans, especially younger ones.”
I can just see baseball *purists* running to to their typewriters to wax rhapsodic about the majesty of the double-switch. Those dogmatists cling to useless relics of the past like Linus clung to his blanket (wow, never thought I’d have to make a goddamn Peanuts reference, but here we are). The average age of today’s baseball fan is 56 and I’m willing to bet proponents of the current rules disparity average much older than that. Yes, we know you hate bat flips. You hate celebrations. You hate the DH. But you’ll be dead soon and where does that leave the rest of us?
Fans want to see the best of the best doing what they do best, especially the younger fans whom MLB must do a better job of attracting. There’s no bigger buzzkill in sports than watching the nuts get cut off a potential early-innings rally simply because the pitcher’s slot is coming up in the order. The next most depressing thing to see is a great pitcher being pulled from the game prematurely in the later innings for the same fucking reason. Why are we depriving fans when we have a better solution?
The universal DH is inevitable because it’s better for baseball. It’s better for the fans and it’s better for the players. The MLBPA isn’t giving up 15 high-paying jobs, but would certainly welcome adding 15 more. It’s been a perfect way to extend the brilliant careers of hitters like David Ortiz and Victor Martinez. We’ve also seen the migration of power-hitting free agents like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols to the American League in recent years. While those examples have had varying degrees of success, that trend will eventually lead to a competitive disadvantage to NL teams if it hasn’t already.
I was born in 1973, the year the AL adopted Rule 5.11. It’s indefensible that baseball has operated under different sets of rules my entire life. It’s well past time for the Senior Circuit to back away from their kinescopes and Marconi machines and join the rest of us in the modern world. The fans will thank you, the players will thank you, the game will thank you, and Bartolo will definitely thank you.
These truths are self-evident, dumbass.