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Call for change: Adopt the DH in both leagues.


Indians manager Terry Francona is among the best at leveraging the DH to get the best possible matchups against an opposing pitcher.

An iconic scene from the 1988 major motion film “Bull Durham” features Crash Davis, portrayed by Kevin Costner, reciting a series of closely-held beliefs that include an affinity for well-made scotch and a rejection of JKF conspiracy theories.
“I believe there ought to be a Constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter,” Crash tells love interest Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon.)
He may have been right about the scotch and Astroturf.
Among the most polarizing question among baseball fans is the issue of the designated hitter.
Since 1973, Major League Baseball clubs affiliated with the American League have made use of this rule, which affords a team the choice of designating a hitter to bat in place of the pitcher. Of course, National League teams never adopted the rule and pitchers to this day play both ways in games contested in NL parks.
The issue has been a fault line since.
A cease-fire between pro- and anti-DH advocates held for decades. Regular season separation between the leagues kept opposing sides at bay, and partial fans could pick which league best suited their taste.
After all, the only time the rule was relevant was during the All-Star game and particularly the World Series. Then, there was some novelty to the sight of an AL pitcher batting, or an NL manager constructing his roster with the benefit of an extra position player.
Attitudes surrounding the designated hitter often are contingent upon a given fan’s favorite team. Naturally, Yankees fans are less likely to much care about the DH than a Mets fan might.
Anecdotally, there exists a wholly unscientific correlation between a person’s political views and their position on the DH. For example, a conservative person with a strict interpretation of the United States Constitution is likelier to a be a “baseball purist,” insisting the pitcher bat as God and Abner Doubleday intended.
With proper separation between the leagues, the argument between DH advocates and detractors has a chocolate or vanilla feeling – that it just all comes down to a matter of preference, and there’s no wrong answer, necessarily.
In 1997, MLB began scheduling Interleague Play, featuring regular season matchups between AL and NL teams. The DH rule stands in games played in AL parks. Pitchers bat when the NL club hosts.
In its earliest days Interleague Play was effectively limited to teams playing their geographic rival in the other league. See also: A’s-Giants; Yankees-Mets; Reds-Indians.
Gradually, Interleague Play expanded. Following the Houston Astros defection to the AL ahead of the 2013 season, at least one interleague game is played each night of the regular season.
A team will crossover and play in the opposite league approximately once every nine games during the regular season.
The novelty is worn off. Widespread interleague games have normalized the relationship between the AL and NL, and it is time to end the distinction of the DH rule.
For the sake of conformity, consistency and competitive balance the DH rule should be the same across both leagues. It’s time the National League adopt the Designated Hitter rule.
Rosters tend to be constructed differently between the American and National leagues. NL clubs will often carry one additional reliever. AL teams have the benefit of extending that spot to a middle-of-the-order power bat that may otherwise be a defensive liability; or, as the DH position has evolved, to a switch-hitting utility player that helps his manager leverage the best possible matchups.
This doesn’t just boil down to which team scores more runs per game. After voting to adopt the DH rule in ’73, American League owners argued the change would increase scoring.
That, in fact, happened. For the intervening 36 years, the AL outscored the NL 35 times, according to Baseball Reference. That gap has narrowed the last decade, however, and the NL even outscored the AL in five straight seasons beginning in 2009 through 2013.
Still, American League teams have dominated overall head-to-head matchups with NL counterparts since the adoption, and especially expansion, of interleague play.
The AL is 2,890 wins to 2,574 losses against the NL all-time in regular season games. The National League hasn’t won a season series against the junior circuit since 2003, and has only four such season series victories since crossover play began over 20 years ago now.
Opponents of the DH will argue – hell, I’ve argued – that a game played with a designated hitter somehow is less than baseball.
“I don’t like the designated hitter,” former Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott was once quoted by Baseball Almanac. “A guy who plays should be able to catch and hit.”
Self-proclaimed purists assert an NL game features more strategy, more decision-making from the skipper.
If an individual claims to be a baseball fan, and cannot clearly explain a double switch, is that person really a fan? That is the prevailing attitude of too many National League elitists with an overly simplistic view of what constitutes strategic decision making during a nine-inning game.
“Everyone in the world disagrees with me, including some managers, but I think managing in the American League is much more difficult for that very reason (having the designated hitter). In the National League, my situation is dictated for me. If I’m behind in the game, I’ve got to pinch hit. I’ve got to take my pitcher out. In the American League, you have to zero in. You have to know exactly when to take them out of there. In the National League, that’s done for you,” Hall of Famer Jim Leyland said once, according to Baseball Almanac.
Furthermore, expanded use of sabermetrics renders antiquated the stereotypical over-the-hill DH that couldn’t cut the mustard defensively in the National League. DH opponents talk down to the perceived lack of strategy in an AL game, and than scoff at advanced metrics such Wins-Above Replacement and OPS.
Sport and position specialization penetrates even the youngest levels of youth baseball, and nowadays kids as young as little league are being groomed as pitchers, only.
College and low single- and double-A ballclubs bat designated hitters, and the only time pitchers hit in AAA is during games between two NL affiliates.
If pitchers should be made to bat in MLB, then there should be greater emphasis on the skill at all levels of professional baseball. It’s going the other way, though.
In an era of $100 million-plus contracts, owners are even less likely to emphasize a pitcher learn to bat, lest he sustain an injury that would prevent him from pitching – you know, the thing he’s paid to do in the first place.
A pitcher in the batting order basically renders the number eight hitter in the lineup moot, as well. Not only is there an overwhelming statistical probability that no offensive production comes from the number nine spot in the batting order, but opposing pitchers aren’t as likely to seriously challenge the number eight hitter, either.
Let’s say that due up for your favorite National League team in the bottom of the inning is the 4-5-6 spots in the order.
The number four hitter singles to left, and the number five batter draws a walk; six fouls out to third, and number seven hitter strikes out. In a National League game, it’s a virtual certainty that number eight hitter is not going to get a single decent pitch to hit.
The pitcher is going to “pitch around” that batter, and eventually walk him to bring up the light-hitting pitcher. Sure, the bases are loaded, but that inning is about to be over in about four pitches, because the starting pitcher looks more uncomfortable holding a bat than a New York Times reporter at a Trump rally.
If Major League Baseball insists on crossover play between leagues throughout the regular season, then fundamental rules should be the same between leagues.
And if the rules should be consistent for all teams, it should skew towards the more interesting game that allows for greater flexibility in roster constructs and in-game situations.

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