Matt Garza buntWith the Houston Astros headed to the American League, and the attending equalization of the split between the AL (15 teams) and NL (15 teams), we’re going to see interleague play throughout the season in 2013. The net increase in interleague games is relatively small, but the fact that interleague will be in our collective face all year will probably bring the distinction between the two leagues into greater focus.

And that means a debate about the designated hitter rule.

For whatever reason, that NL designated hitter debate flared up yesterday, sparked, it seems, by an article by Yahoo’s Anna Hiatt. The gist of Hiatt’s piece:

Don’t pay attention to decades’ worth of howling from baseball purists. The DH doesn’t ruin America’s national pastime. Forcing pitchers to hit is essentially just adhering to tradition for tradition’s sake. When the AL succumbed to reason in 1973, the rule change — which takes pitchers out of the batting lineup and replaces them with a designated hitter who doesn’t play in the field — did baseball a world of good. Batting averages rose. So did attendance. The games were far more exciting. Baseball became less a battle of managers and more a competition of athletes.

Essentially, the AL game is a better game, argues Hiatt.

Craig Calcaterra then wrote in reluctant agreement:

With that in mind, it’s worth noting that, though I prefer pitchers batting, I don’t believe the National League’s rules in this regard are objectively better. Indeed, when I take my personal preferences out of the equation and look at the matter rationally, I cannot escape the logic of the DH in today’s game and the futility of pitchers batting.

The game is not played by all-around ballplayers anymore. Pitchers are just dreadful at hitting and, increasingly, are unable to even bunt particularly well. The strategy and gamesmanship my NL friends like to talk up is rather contrived when one thinks about it. Really, these machinations are more about the avoidance of pitchers batting than taking advantage of it. The whole dance in which managers spend so much energy to optimize minor matchups, often costing them their best pitchers and best hitters runs counter to the idea of my best nine playing your best nine and let’s see who wins.

Again, the thrust of the argument is that pitcher’s batting is no fun, making NL games less enjoyable than AL games. Craig’s right, by the way, that the presence of the pitcher in the lineup leads to tactical discussions about how best to operate with the knowledge that a crappy hitter is coming up after the next two hitters. Is that more or less fun? It’s probably debatable.

The decided weight of the punditry that I have observed, however – or at least those who have chosen to weigh in over the last year or so – is in favor of the NL picking up the DH, for a variety of reasons. Among them: (1) pitchers are terrible hitters; (2) the game is higher scoring and thus more fun to watch; and (3) pitchers risk injury by batting.

The opposition to the DH in the NL is generally some variation of “TRADITION!,” shouted with neck veins emerged and pulsing. The thing on that one, though, is that, as each year passes, it becomes harder to rely on “tradition” when the tradition on the other side – the AL DH – is now 40 years old. The DH is now pretty traditional. (And, for the record, I used to be a traditionalist, myself … I guess I’ve just grown weary of watching pitchers flail away or sacrifice bunt. I hate sacrifice bunts, except in extremely limited circumstances. So, I guess I’ve become biased. But that’s not why I changed my stance … )

I think both sides miss the greatest point, and it is one that cuts heavily in favor of expanding the DH to the NL.

While an AL team is able to dedicate a roster spot to finding the purely best hitter it can find, and then deploys that guy when the AL and NL square off in interleague games and the World Series, the NL team is left to pick a guy off of its bench when in AL parks. Because pitchers as hitters – whether AL or NL – are roughly equal in performance, the fact that the AL team has a dedicated DH puts the NL team at a decided disadvantage in half the games. I am not OK with this. Ironically, it is because I’m an NL guy at heart that I think they probably should adopt the DH. I can’t stand the unequal footing.

Since the DH ain’t going away in the AL, the only way to even things up is going to be the DH coming to the NL. And you purists should probably resign yourselves now to the idea that it is coming: with the DH being a player who makes a whole lot more money than a random bench guy, the possibility of 15 additional high-paying jobs is going to be enough to get the MLB Players Association on board with adding the DH to the NL. That’s 50% of your fight right there. Get a few NL owners on board, and things can change very rapidly.

  • BWA

    As much as I love the strategy involved in the NL game, I have to agree that the leagues need to be on an even playing field. This means that the best option is for the AL to adopt the DH.

    • BWA


  • cooter

    I agree with jayrig5. I like when the other team has to sweat through their pitchers and end up with a crummy pitcher for us to tee off of. By the end of the series it can get interesting. Besides I don’t want to see the best 9 against 9, I want to see 25 against 25. This aint football.

  • MightyBear

    The Designated Hitter is the worse thing to hit baseball ever. You hit, you play the field. You play the field, you hit. That’s the game we all grew up playing. With all due respect Brett, you don’t like pitchers flailing at pitches and bunting is the stupidest argument for the DH ever. I don’t like watching slow footed fat catchers running the bases, so let’s have a pinch runner. I don’t like slow footed outfielders, so let’s have a designated defensive outfield specialist who only plays defense. It’s a stupid rule. I hate watching American League baseball. There’s no strategy. To me baseball is at it’s best when a team wins 3-2 or 4-3, not 15-11. The problem is the players union is not going to give up those 15 extra high paying positions without a fignt. In the next CBA negotiations, the owners and the commissioner need to put their feet down and get rid of the damn thing once and for all.

    • Mick

      Hmmm, maybe that’s how you grew up playing in the sandlot. When I was playing, I wasn’t allowed to take fielding or batting practice, I had to go run with the pitchers. I couldn’t take flyballs because I was off on the side throwing bullpen sessions or playing long-toss. I had to bunt 10 times before I could take cuts. The game has changed, period. This isn’t 1909. Pitchers are being developed as specialists not all around players.

      • MightyBear

        Playing in the sandlot is where most of baseball fans come from. Most of us weren’t on select teams or pitchers only. In little league most of the pitchers were the best hitters anyway because they were the best athletes. Most of the people who go to baseball games weren’t elite athletes.

        • Mick

          It’s just where the game is today. Back in the beginning starting pitchers rarely came out of the game so hitting made sense. Later on closers used to pitch multiple innings, now relief pitchers regularly only face one batter at a time. Not adapting to the DH is an antiquated or romantic idea of baseball’s past. Can you imagine the idea of instant replay 50 years ago?

    • hansman1982

      If the owners decide to draw the line in the sand and get rid of the DH then you better expect some baseball-free summers until they give in.

      The game changes, evolves and grows. It used to be that strength training was thought to be a big no-no, wearing a glove was not allowed, the catcher used to stand 20 feet behind home to field the pitch. Heck Batting Average used to be an advanced stat.

  • Kevin

    Good post Brett! I personally believe the 15/15 split was done with the NL switching to the DL in mind. Overall, it creates a higher demand for power bats which ultimately increases salaries and, most importantly, higher revenues for MLB.

  • hansman1982

    But, But, But…the pitcher should play the field AND hit…it’s what baseball has always been…

    Except the last 40 years in the AL, most of the minor leagues and every other WS game, and the All-Star game…

    It used to be tradition in baseball to NOT use a glove…

  • DaveY

    From an entertainment perspective, who doesn’t enjoy seeing the occasional pitcher flailing away wildly and miss a pitch by two feet? Tell me you don’t chuckle at that every now and then. Who doesn’t laugh at Dwight Howard free throws or punters trying to run for first downs on busted plays. Has anyone seen Wellington Castillo run the bases? He might be the slowest player in MLB this year and I will be cheering him down the line but deep down, I will be laughing at his turtle’s pace despite the %110 effort he is giving. I will fight the designated runner for Wellington Castillo down to my last feeble comment posting. Who doesn’t cheer for the fat lineman that picks up a fumble and tries to run with the ball? Not every athelete is perfect for every role on the field but it’s the game that we enjoy watching and sometimes when it’s not the most graceful it’s still quite entertaining.

    • Cyranojoe

      Amen DaveY! What a perfect, multi-sport assessment of why pitchers should have to hit!

      That said, why do we have to replace pitchers batting with a DH? If allowing the pitcher to bat is anathema to fun (though I disagree), why not skip the batter’s spot altogether? It’d be a compromise: the traditionalists get their way, partially (at least if you get to bat, you must play in the field, if not the other way around), and the modernists don’t have to endure the pitchers’ flailing.

      Won’t happen — the DH is entrenched in the AL — but I can see a good argument for it.

  • Oswego Chris

    Brett you nailed exactly why I am for the NL DH, AL teams have a discernible advantage…I credit that advantage for the “dominance” the AL has had over the last 15 years…yes, I know the NL has won the last three World Series…yet that is easily explainable…
    1. The Giants dominant pitching can defeat any line-up in a series
    2. The 2011 Cards could slug with Texas because they had enough hitters to DH…

    How much better off would the Cubs be with the DH right now?….Regardless of Soriano, think about having Vogelbach and Rizzo in the same line-up in a couple of years…something that won’t happen without the change

  • Edward

    I hate the DH. Why don’t we try teaching the pitchers how to hit? They were all studs in High School. Then they get to College and don’t have to hit anymore until they reach the National League or maybe a AAA game. Of course they are going to suck at that point.

    • hansman1982

      They don’t teach them how to hit because teaching them how to pitch is incredibly difficult.

      If you know your paycheck is directly tied to Thing A, are you going to worry to much about Thing B if it isn’t required that you be good at it?

    • Edward

      I just think a little bit of practice would go a long way. I don’t see why they can’t take BP like everybody else. Still enough time to get all the normal pitching reps and conditioning. I see them out there pretty bored most of the time on their off days.

      I know close to zero about the work they put in though.

      • DocPeterWimsey

        No organization can teach position players how to hit: some might be better at refining the talent that they acquire than others, but that is the difference between being a gifted piano tuner and a gifted piano maker.

        Now, nearly all position players are signed because they can hit: very few guys are signed because they are great fielders, and the ones that are rarely make MLB. The fact that most of them cannot pitch for a lick is not an issue. Pitchers are signed because they can pitch. The fact that they are “stud” athletes in high school doesn’t matter one whit: a lot of “studs” on the football, basketball, soccer, etc. teams aren’t playing baseball at all because they cannot hit or pitch, and no amount of teaching is going to change that.

        • Cubbie Blues

          It would also hurt their handicap.

  • JB88

    From a numbers’ standpoint, if MLB adds a DH to the National League, I’d also like to see a corresponding expansion of the ML roster to 26 or 27. If some argue about denuding of strategy by adding a DH, you’d certainly add in a new level of strategy by adding a couple new roster spots …

    • hansman1982

      That’s just it though, there is no change in the amount of strategy needed to manage a game. It just shifts where you have to apply that strategy. If anything the amount of strategy increases because the game no longer “tells” the manager when to hook a starter.

      • Edwin

        Plus it allows more strategy/flexability in signing FA’s and putting a team together, and more strategy for putting a lineup together.

    • Brett

      Players Association would sure love it.

  • Nick Nesler

    I believe that the change to the DH is coming. However I think Selig is callin it quits after 2014 and I don’t think he wants to be the one to change the game that drastically.

  • THEOlogical

    I believe another good reason to have the NL adopt the DH, is because it will make the IL games seem less glaring. If we all play by the same rules, it will basically be like the NFL or NBA, where we wouldn’t even notice it. The games would just become the norm and you won’t have to blow the whole IL out of proportion. I wasn’t in favor of it, but yeah, I fastforward when a pitcher comes to the plate. B-O-R-I-N-G

  • Alex

    “Chicks dig the long ball.”
    ~Greg Maddux

  • Jim Gillmeister

    No to the DH in the NL. IMHO, the most enjoyable baseball game is a tense 2-1, 3-2, even 4-3 game played in 2hr 30min. I will occasionally watch an AL game, and they never seem to last less than 3:30. When Fisk was catching for the White Sox, the games would be 4 hours long. There may have been a lot of runs scored, but the games were painful, as exciting as watching paint dry.

  • preacherman86

    This argument is a brutal one personally to get involved in. In hardly any sport can a be good at one single facet of the game and be an elite player. In football you could argue offense/defense I suppose, but even defending in the NFL takes a multitude of abilities including intelligence, speed, size, technique, etc. If it was just speed Devin Hester would be the number one receiver in football after all. Or he would have stuck as a DB, but the technique wasn’t there for him. Anyway, bottom line, baseball is different, it is absolutely a sport that expects excellence in only a single facet of the game to be elite. Prince Fielder for example, horrible fielder, great hitter. Mike Piazza, hall of fame candidate was just a horrendous catcher. Or the AL MVP and triple crown winner. If that guy didn’t hit, he wouldn’t play third for a single team in the MLB. Just facing reality, though I love to see the mental side of the game come in to play from a managers perspective, it is a sport that expects excellence in one facet, and for pitchers it is pitching. I HATE the DH personally and wish it would have never become a part of the game, but now that it is here, it conforms very readily to the game we love. And as competition becomes more fierce and technical training so important in sports, it has become nearly impossible for a guy to train to become an elite pitcher and still have time to learn to hit as well.
    P.S. if the NL were to go to a DH rule, now would not be a horrible time for the Cubs as in the next 2-3 years we could have a huge bat that carries with it a horrible glove (Dan Vogelbach) that would nice to have a place for!

  • WGNstatic

    I too have reluctantly become a proponent of bringing the DH to the NL. For me, the switch came last off season as I watched the Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols free agent sweepstakes unfold.

    The reality is, those players offer more value to an AL team than an NL team because of the possibility that they may, over the life of their contract, become better suited to spending at least some time at DH than all their time at 1B.

    Sure, it stinks. Sure, with a DH Babe Ruth might very well have been a good but not great starting pitcher. But the reality is that pitchers are being asked to do something in the NL that they may not have done since High School, if then.

  • Cubbie in NC

    I am a NL guy, and not because of tradition.

    Strategy wise in the AL you pitch your pitcher until you decide that they are no longer effective or reach their pitch count. In the NL you have to weigh not only how is your guy pitching, but also how is the other guy pitching? Could this be our last good chance to get runs? More options in the NL that could impact the game.

    Bench wise in the AL your bench players do not need to be nearly as versatile, and you do not need to use the bench as much. I also think that it is harder to develop young players and get them into games. Would I rather see the 9 best hitters. Or do I want to see more than 9 guys play in a game that have different specialties?

    If you are a pitcher that can hit, you are giving your team an advantage. To me by not letting a pitcher hit, you are giving an advantage to the players that are less athletic as their lack of ability does not cost their team.

    I am not buying the giving a job to 15 skilled players thing. They are skilled in one thing and I think it is debatable if I want to see a guy hit that is either going to hit it out or strike out vs. watching the infield have to move and decide coverages, and see more movement on the base paths.

    The last thing to me is strategy wise. In the NL you have to think about your line up and who is going to get pitched around, and when you have to be more aggressive. In the AL other than the superstars, they just pitch the same way, and hit the same way regardless of the situation. You don’t have #7 or #8 hitters trying to figure out if they can take a walk, or they need to get a hit because of who is hitting behind them. You are not making as many decisions as to if you want to walk or pitch around someone in the AL.

    I think the Red Sox not being able to have Ortiz in the line up, or having him at first, is just as big of a disadvantage as the NL teams face when they have to put a 4th outfielder in the line up.

    The DH argument is similar to me as the NFL making the rules that we have today that favor passing over all else to create more points. I think that it can be argued that the current NFL is not a better game than it was in the past before it was determined that there needed to be more points scored and QB’s protected at all costs.

  • Cizzle

    My problem with the DH is that it essentially shrinks the roster. Since pitchers don’t bat, there are less pinch hit ABs. NL Teams probably use 2 more players per game (positional or pitchers) than an AL team does and I like that. The DH essentially encourages teams to have less depth – spend lots on the starters and nothing on the bench players who never play. I like to look at the box score and see half the starters subbed out for guys making 1/5th of the starter, it makes for a more rounded game IMO.

    • AB

      Personally, I like to see the best 9 players on a scorecard.

      Nothing like going to a Cubs game circa 2005 and getting a bunch of Todd Hollandsworth, Neifi Perez, Jerry Hairston, and Ramon Martinez late game substitutions and pinch hitting appearances

      Simply thrilling!!!!

      • Cizzle

        Well I don’t really like seeing a fat overweight former first baseman, who can’t play defense or run the bases anymore, trot 90 feet out of the dugout and back 3 times a game. And while the real athletes are out on the field, he’s stuffing his face with chew in the dugout for 3 hours. Just a matter of preference I guess.

  • Xavier

    Then Vogelbach will be the cubs DH

  • Dr Rich

    hate the DH…
    and dont tell me attendance rose because the DH…

    oh I was going to go to the game today, but I hate it when that pitcher bats..
    oh wait, someone else will bat for the pitcher..c’mon kids, put on your Sunday’s best, we are going to the game.

    • Mick

      You don’t think attendance rose because of the DH? Then why did baseball boom in popularity and attendence rise during the steroid years? Great pitching? It was because of great offense. Replace a pitcher batting with a DH and you get better offense. Thus, you have greater popularity and in turn better attendence.

      • Edwin

        Also, just because there is a rise in general overall offense doesn’t mean that there aren’t still great pitching performances. Pitchers in the AL still throw no hitters, perfect games, shut-outs, even going up againts the DH.

  • Carew

    Please put in the DH! Watching pitchers bat (example: Garza) is just painful.
    Just think, if the NL had a DH, Sori could be that guy and then we just go for the LF of choice

  • kranzman54

    The direction baseball is moving in, it is just a matter fo time before DH is active for all. Look at the insertion of a “Game 7” wildcard playoff. No purist liked it, but the thought was better ratings. They already hae the purist hooked (I doubt many people will just quit watching baseball if they insert a DH). Baseball is now trying to appeal more to the masses, just a matter of time.

    • Mick

      Or what about instant replay? No purist wanted it in the first place but now it’s being expanded. The game has grown up, it’s time for the NL to adapt.

  • Kyle

    DH makes for better games.

    I’m fascinated by NL pitchers who add to their value with their bat. Guys like Travis Wood can pick up half a win a year.

    Either way, just make the same rule in both leagues and I’m happy.

  • cubsin

    What is the actual difference in game times? I suspect it’s longer in the AL, but probably only by 10 or 15 minutes (time for one more $8 beer, and another commercial!).

    Most baseball purists like pitchers duels, but most casual fans like offense, and there are a lot more of them.

    • Cubbie Blues

      Actually wouldn’t there be less commercials since the pitchers would stay in longer? Or, on average do they have the same amount of pitching changes just at different intervals?

    • BD

      The only time I watch games with the DH is usually in the playoffs, and those games drag on FOREVER. But it’s in both leagues- neither is more noticeable than the other.

  • Jim

    If tradition is not a good reason for continuing to play without the DH in the National League, then why are the Cubs still playing in Wrigley Field? Tradition seems to be the main reason most fans say Wrigley still exists. And if the Cubs ever leave Wrigley, many fans say they are done with the Cubs. Many on this board seem to agree that Wrigley is one of the reasons some free agents don’t want to come to Chicago (ie: small clubhouse, poor batting facilities, etc.) So if tradition is a good reason for keeping an old, out-of-date ballpark (which I love) why can’t it be just as good for keeping the DH rule out of the National League.?

  • The Other Matt

    So why don’t we just make games 8 innings long and have 8 batters in the lineup? No DH, no pitcher batting? That would solve the problem of games being too long also.

    But to be honest, I prefer the pitcher hitting for the additional strategy that’s needed. And I think the AL should do away with the DH so that everyone plays by the same rules.

    • Brett

      I’d actually gladly support shorter games (and a shorter season, too), but I think I’m in the minority on that one. And I also know neither will ever, ever happen.

      • Cubbie Blues

        I would whole heartily agree with shortening the season where the game isn’t effected by snow on either end of the season.

  • Carne Harris

    I don’t think the main argument against the DH in the NL is tradition. I don’t even think it’s the main argument I’ve heard. The main argument I’ve heard, and the one I agree with, is strategy. Not having a DH makes for a more strategic game. Pitchers will strategize with the 7 and 8 hitters knowing they have that pitcher spot coming up, batters try to work walks to get bunted over or actively try NOT to walk, depending on the situation. Pitchers bunt to manufacture runs, managers try to fool managers into burning a pinch hitter, all kinds of chewy loogy goodness. Makes for a much more enjoyable game .

    • Beer Baron

      My main argument against the DH is that right now when you see Matt Garza standing on deck its a great time to head off to the men’s room and beat the crowds without any fear of missing anything of value. That automatic out is critical when you have a full bladder.

      • The Other Matt

        Unless that one out of twenty chance happens when he gets a hit. Or the one in a hundred time when he homers. That’s pretty awesome! Some of my favorite Cubs highlights of all time are pitchers going deep (Kerry Wood anyone)?

      • Carne Harris

        Like picking the bad song at a concert.

    • Brett

      It’s been my experience that the folks espousing the “strategy” argument (and I’m not talking about you – I’m talking about talking heads I’ve read) are really just using that as the best justification they can throw out there for their real reason: they just like the way things are because they do. I think you (someone who genuinely likes that particular part of the strategy) are in the honorable minority of the anti-DH folks.

      • Carne Harris

        I hope that’s not the case. I think it was a couple of our announcers (though I can’t remember which incarnation) that put me onto looking for those things and talked about how we lose that with the DH. Like to think a lot of people think that way.

        I wonder if with the increase in AL vs. NL regular season games if NL teams will start reserving a roster spot for more of a best-hitter-available type. If so, that would even out the inequality somewhat.

  • DCF

    I have to agree with Brett.
    TRADITION is basically the only reason against the DH.
    The “strategy” allegedly involved with pitcher batting is complete nonsense.
    Does anybody seriously believe Joe Giradi has less to think and strategize about in a game than an NL manager?
    Of course pitcher hitting requires other decisions in some situations than in the AL, but it’s not at all superior strategizing because of that. AL teams just face different decisions.
    Besides that, these decisions make up only a tiny fraction of the game anyway. Tiny enough, that there’s no way to prove if any NL manager makes better decisions in these cases than flipping coin would do.

  • Dan

    As a matter of fact the DH does ruin the national past time. Instead of the NL adopting the DH, we should be talking aboutthe AL droping the DH. Sure, you would have guys like David Ortiz, and Vlad G retiring early, but i feel that if you can’t play D or be able to at the minimum come off the bench then RETIRE. the DH is the wort rule in the history of the game. The game is ment to consist of 9 players who all play in the field. Not 10 Where 1 just walks up to the plate 4 to 5 tmes a game, and walks back into the dugout and spits seeds! 9 people on the line up card, 9 in the field period. That is how the game should be played PERIOD. AL drop the DH and get back to playing the real game the way it should be played. I know it will never happen and the NL adopting the DH before the AL drops the DH which is sad. I am just voicing my opinion. The game isnt what it was in its glory days. and im only 27 so i grew up with the DH and i hate it! i wonder what the game will be in the next 50-100 years…….maybe they will be playing baseketball by then.

  • MichiganGoat

    Yes to the DH, it’s happening and it should have happened when they started interleague play. I think the strategy arguement is overstated is really more academic than actually based on results, it will make the NL a better league and sometimes traditions have to change. Get use to it everybody because it happening and I hope it happens in 2014.

    • hansman1982

      They will tie the DH to less restrictive amatuer spending or a more punitive salary cap.

    • ETS

      how is it overstated??

      Pretend you’re batting and your starter (who is having a great game pitching wise) is due up. There a man on second. Do you pinch hit?

      An NL manager has to answer this. An AL manager doesn’t understand the question.

      That’s not “academic” that’s a real situation that some various of happens in almost every game.

      To entertain the thought of the DH in the NL is awful. I’m actually rather disappointed in Brett on this one. SMH

      • ETS

        variation of* (ugh why did we lose our edit button?)

      • hansman1982

        If it is the bottom of the 6th or later and your bullpen isn’t crap – yes you pinch hit, unless your starter is doing amazing AND you have 0 or 1 out where you can sac bunt.

        Take the flip side, you are in the AL and in the other dugout. Do you bring in a reliever to get the out or do you hope your starter can keep chugging along?

        Or maybe we should ban relievers, I mean pitchers used to pitch the whole game and they used to pitch 50 games a year! If you want to be a starting pitcher in this league you have to be able to pitch 9+ innings at a time.

        • ETS

          Is this an argument for the DH? Because I’m not following it if it is.

          As for your bullpen being amazing or crap or whatever – sometimes bullpens are taxed or injured – either way having to make the decision is the point.

          • hansman1982

            It very much is, inherent to many NL manager’s philosophy is that after a certain point in the game you pinch hit for the pitcher. In the AL the game doesn’t dictate that.

            When the pitcher is due up to bat dictates MUCH of the strategy for usage in the NL.

  • WI Jeff

    Most if not all programs in high school and college play with the DH which makes their games flow better. These programs also adjust the length of certain games like 7 inning double headers and 9 inning final of a three game series. I for one like to see more scoring. Let’s even out both leagues and go with the DH in the NL for a better fan experience. It will allow some bopper to prolong their careers.