Coming Soon To A League Near You: The Designated Hitter

An article by posted on June 23, 2013

matt harveyImagine waking up tomorrow morning, checking out MMO and reading that Matt Harvey got injured. Our jaws would drop, our stomachs would sink and our heart would skip a beat. Then, to take it one step further, imagine if our ace and the pitcher we intend to build our future around was injured not by pitching, but while taking a turn at bat. Wouldn’t it be that much worse?

The question I raise is this: Is it time for the NL to adopt the DH?

Let me begin by saying I am a traditionalist when it comes to the grand ol’ game. I think artificial turf is stupid. I’ve never warmed to the idea of three divisions. And yes, even though extra wild card spots add excitement until the very last day, it bothers me that 1 of every 3 teams make the post-season. This is Baseball, not Basketball.

And honestly, I’ve never liked the Designated Hitter. I’ve always thought that to have a guy on your roster who can only do ONE thing—HIT—is lame. I believe that guys who spend the bulk of their career as a DH, like an Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz, should not be considered for the Hall of Fame. If they are Cooperstown-worthy, then why not Jose Oquendo?

What if a guy had no talent other than a strong arm? Should he play right field as a Designated Outfielder? In 1975, the eccentric Charlie Finley included Herb Washington on the A’s roster. Washington had no baseball skills whatsoever. His only attribute was that he was speedy. He was baseball’s one and only Designated Runner. (The experiment lasted one season)

Pitchers get hurt. We, as Mets fans, realize that better than anyone. Approximately one third of our 2013 payroll, $24 million plus, is locked up in a LHP who may never pitch again. So, yes, injuries are a part of the game. Injuries to pitchers are devastating. But when pitchers get hurt doing something they’re not paid to do, it’s that much worse.

If a Buster Posey gets run over blocking the plate and misses 4 months, well, that’s part of the game. If Jose Reyes pulls a hammy running the bases, well, that’s part of the game. But when a pitcher gets injured hitting?  Well, that’s just…different.

Several weeks ago, Ryan Vogelsong of the Giants was having his first solid start of the season. In the fifth inning, he swung at an inside pitch. The ball came in, effectively breaking the pinky finger on his pitching hand in two places. See you in 6-8 weeks, Ryan. From 2006 to 2008, Josh Beckett, Randy Johnson, Bartolo Colon, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Zambrano, Chien-Ming Wang and Scott Downs all missed significant time due to injuries sustained from hitting or running the bases.

Had the DH been around for most of the last century, how different would the history books look? In 1934, Babe Ruth played part time because he was too old to field his position. Yet, he still hit 22 HR’s in 365 AB’s. In 1928, Ty Cobb saw limited playing time due the fact he was 42 and his legs were gone. Yet, he still hit 323. Had Cobb DH’d several more seasons, Pete Rose would not be all our all-time hits leader. And we can only imagine what kind of numbers Mickey Mantle would’ve compiled had he not been relegated to patrolling the expansive outfield of the old Yankee Stadium on bad knees.

Mickey  Mantle Lying on Couch with Covering on Injured KneePerhaps it’s time—and I cant believe I’m actually typing these words—for the NL to adopt the DH.

It was 1973 when, for the first time in history, the AL and NL played under different rules. For the following 3 years, pitchers had to bat in the World Series. Beginning in 1976, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn decided to alternate the DH. One Fall Classic with, one without. In 1986 that rule was changed to the DH allowed when the AL champions played host.

Over the last decade and a half, however, the glamour of interleague play has lost some of its luster. It’s no longer the novelty it once was. Attendance during The Subway Series as well as games between the two teams in southern California, northern California, Chicago, Texas and Missouri have decreased slightly for a few years now.

And with 15 teams in each league and an interleague game every day of the week for the entire season, the NL is at a huge disadvantage. On most AL teams, the DH is usually one of the best hitters on the team and hits in the 3, 4 or 5 hole. By contrast, the NL must resort to inserting someone who would normally be a bench player—a fourth outfielder or a back-up first baseman.

Even in the most recent Subway series where we swept the Yankees (and what a beautiful thing it was), John Buck was used as our DH in one game, allowing Anthony Recker to play. Recker’s batting average was .160. The other game in The Bronx Lucas Duda DH’d and Mike Baxter found a spot. Baxter and his 228 BA batted ninth. Meanwhile, the Yankees DH was Travis Hafner. Big difference.

And of course, it does not balance out when the NL plays host to an AL team. Can anyone say the difference between Hafner to Recker is offset by Matt Harvey batting as opposed to Hiroki Kuroda?

Since the advent of interleague play, the AL has a .525 winning percentage. I believe a large part of this is due to the advantage of a DH as opposed to a fourth outfielder.

Just thinking (or writing) out loud, what about a compromise? A DH is allowed—but he must bat in the #9 spot in the batting order.

Granted, putting the DH in to the NL would indeed take away strategy. And strategy has always been one of baseball’s bright spots. We’d see less double-switches, less pinch hitters, less walking of the #8 hitter forcing the manager to decide if he should pinch hit for his starter. I love that stuff. We all do.

On the flip side, how many times when a pitcher steps to the dish with a man on base and less than two outs, we already KNOW he’s going to bunt. How much strategy is that?

Those in favor of the DH say they don’t come to the ballpark to watch the manager think. I agree. On the flip side, how many come to the ballpark to watch the pitcher hit? We go to games to see pitchers pitch and hitters hit.

As Baseball fans and Mets fans, there are certain stats we have logged in our brain. Cy Young’s 511 wins. Walter Johnson’s 110 shut outs. We all know Seaver won three Cy Young Awards and that Doc was 24-4 in 85. However, does anyone know what their batting averages were? I sure dont.

This week the Mets will face the White Sox and their DH Paul Konerko or Adam Dunn. Do we have anyone on the bench to adequately counter them?

About the Author ()

A Mets fan since 1973, Rob was born in the shadow of Yankee Stadium. Luckily, his parents moved to Queens at a young age so he was not scarred by pinstripes. Currently living in Las Vegas, he writes crime fiction and mysteries.

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