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.

  • notcubbiewubbie

    not to mention that the dh cheapens the game; keeping washed up old guys who can’t play in the field playing longer. brutal. brutal . brutal. ps. also make the pitcher get in the box we don’t need an elongated putter in the national league; see how that worked out on the pga tour.

    • Mike

      @ notcubbiewubbie: I like your point, more or less. Guys who are more known for their hitting, and not-so-great defense get to hit DH in the AL. So, using the pro-DH argument against itself, I say, let the pitchers bat, even if they aren’t generally known for hitting well. Seems if DHs in one league can hit if they aren’t so good at fielding, why can’t pitchers bat? Keep the DH in the AL only.

  • Okie Cub

    Your journey to the dark side is now complete. Let’s put them in shorts and give them aluminum bats while we’re at it.

  • Mike

    There is no argument for the DH that doesn’t lead one to rationally ask why not just have an offensive 9 lineup and a defensive 9 lineup. Yeah, pitchers can’t hit. But there are plenty of guys who can’t hit, and plenty of guys who can’t field. What’s the rationale for only ONE DH other than neck vein bulging “TRADITION”?

    Alfonso Soriano, for example, is a classic case of a guy who would be in anyone’s offensive 9 setup if they didn’t care about where they would stick up in the field (last year’s improvements notwithstanding).

    • Kyle

      Slippery slope fallacy.

    • Patrick W.

      Sure there is. The pitcher is involved in every single pitch of the game. The pitcher, and the pitcher alone, touches the ball every single time it is officially in play. So, because the pitcher is already involved in a way that no other player is (remember the Catcher doesn’t touch a batted ball every time) it can be argued that reducing the role of the pitcher to just that defensive action is acceptable. That’s one of the arguments that was made when the DH was instituted 40 years ago. You might not like the argument, but it is a rational one.

      • Patrick W.

        Edit: One of the arguments made when the DH was instituted, to limit it to PITCHERS only.

  • George Altman

    Two words in favor of the DH – Dan Vogelbach

  • johnny kelroy

    I agree that the arguement of “Tradition” is getting old. But am I alone when I say that bringing the DH to the NL will decrease a lot of strategy. I love watching an NL gave over an AL game just because there is more strategy involved. Late in the game a pitcher may be dealing, but his spot may be up so it leaves the manager to decide if he keeps the pitcher in to keep in his arm in the game, or does he pinch hit, lose his pitcher and have to come up with someone else out of the pen.

    Situations like this are what I worry about losing. You simply do not see this type of strategy to this extreme in the AL. The AL is still Major League baseball, but in my mind as a fan, not nearly as entertaining to watch.

    • Spriggs

      I used to care very passionately about these kinds of issues. Now I just want the dang Cubs to win. That’s about all.

  • Mark Gruhlke

    I think pitchers need to hit in both leagues and here’s why: Baseball is not a game of athletes. It really is almost as mental as physical and there is probably no other sport that can say that besides maybe golf. At the end of the day your mind is as important as your body in the NL. If you throw in the DH in the NL then you take away the importance of managers. Ozzie Guillen is my example there. Baseball is supposed to be played by baseball players which just don’t seem to exist any more. Guys get payed millions to throw against one batter a game, or hit over 30 HR’s a year, or have a high fielding percentage. It’s very one dimensional. It’s about time to make baseball baseball again, and it starts by making baseball players baseball players again. If you can step onto the diamond you can step into the box.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      “It’s about time to make baseball baseball again, and it starts by making baseball players baseball players again.”

      Ah, the myth of the good old days that never were. Today’s baseball players are far superior athletes to the baseball players of yore. Remember, before Marvin Miler, baseball players were part-time athletes: they had to take jobs during the winter to survive. As Nolan Ryan noted in his HoF speech, it was only after salaries increased that baseball players became 12-month a year athletes.

      It was not long after that that 12-month training became the norm. Again, prior to the 1970’s, ballplayers played from March to October, and then stopped. The biggest point of Spring Training was to work the flab off of the players. Players soon learned that working out all year and hitting the weights did not decrease playing ability (as commonly believed: supposedly it left you worn out and the added muscle slowed down your swing and throwing arm!).

      Here is the thing: pitching and batting are two fundamentally different things. No pitcher is in MLB because he can hit: it’s irrelevant to the job description. THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE CASE.

      • hansman1982

        And the ones who can hit don’t pitch.

        A player batting and pitching in high school or in the minors or in college has as much importance in the DH discussion as a player playing baseball, football and basketball in high school.

        Remember, most of the guys who get drafted each year are athletic studs in their high school. Doesn’t mean you want your pitcher barreling into the catcher on a close play.

        • DocPeterWimsey

          Very true. But I think that there also is a belief that in “the good old days,” pitchers were just as apt to be doing barreling into catchers as position players. However, pitchers were bad hitters and bad base-runners decades before the DH appeared. Ted Williams always said that he never saw a pitcher who could actually hit. Now, Teddy’s standards for hitting were a little higher than most other people’s, but the general point stands: back in “the good old days,” pitchers were not good hitters.

  • Will

    This has been a no-brainer since 1989 and the bash bros… The one thing I’ve learned in my 31 years on this planet is that YOU MUST EMBRACE CHANGE to prosper. Long overdue. Much needed. Watch the NL light up like a Christmas tree when this goes into effect. The minute you realize the AL ain’t NEVER going back to batting pitchers is the same minute you become convinced there’s no other way but DH in the NL.

  • Dougy D

    If the DH is in in the NL, I am out. The DH is as lame as not being able to hit a quarterback in football.

    • MichiganGoat

      Dougy you might want to pack your bags because it is happening, but seriously you give up on baseball over a DH? Seems a little hyper-reactive- right.

  • DCF

    It’s almost funny that the empty strategy-argument is used over and over and over even though Brett already anticipated it in his original post.

    The decision-making in NL Games vs. DH games is just different, not superior.
    There’s not one single manager in the history of the game that has proven to be a better strategizer regarding pitcher-hitting/double-switch/etc. decisions than everybody else.
    There’s not one single pitcher who has added any amount of significant value to his career by being a better hitter/bunter/sac bunter than Matt Garza or me.

    If the “strategy” had any importance at all on the outcome of games, there should some track record of it in the history of the games, shouldn’t it?
    Maybe some could go thorugh the Cubs last season and count the number of occasions where D.S. had to make a strategic decision and estimate the hnumber of times this decision was are hard one or meant anything at all anyway (i.e. in a game that was close to begin with).
    I doubt you are able to find more than a handful of situations.

  • Tom

    It’s time the N.L. to adopt the D.H.?
    LOL it’s time for you to lay down the crack pipe.

    • Brett

      Most sound response ever.

      • hansman1982

        No, no one should ever lay down the crack pipe. 97% of the time, when this happens it leads to over-paying for meh middle relievers (Grabow). Since , Brett you already have a super-middle reliever in yourself under site control for many years to come, hold on to that crack pipe.


    • Adventurecizin’ Justin

      Lay down the crackpipe, huh? Did you realize that after high school baseball, the DH is used most of the time for pitchers at the collegiate and minor league levels? Yet, we expect NL pitchers to suddenly dust off their bats and try to be efficient at the plate? That makes ZERO sense.

      So, if you think it is wise to keep the NL DH-free, you must change the DH rule at the collegiate and minor league levels.

      Pitchers have enough to worry about when it comes to shoulders and elbows. They shouldn’t worry about hitting and bunting, in my opinion. Especially if they are getting paid millions for their arms.

  • Windy City Misfit

    Where I come from… If we put 10 players on the roster… We let our women and children play and throw the ball underhanded… We also use a bigger ball…

    Not a traditionalist… Just a purest…

    • Myles – OV

      Where I come from, we played offense and defense. Also, we had to use only 5 players per team and the court (we called them courts back then) was made of wood. We could only find really big balls that bounced all the time. We couldn’t afford bats, so we just threw the ball at the fence, which was 10 feet high and had a big circle bolted up there. We also decided to shake things up by making home runs worth “the other team has the ball,” and when you had the ball you had to keep hitting the ground with it.

      Those were the good old days.

  • Galvan316

    Simple Question:

    How can the DH make the game more exciting, and more about the athletes on the game when in the last 10 years.

    The National League has had 6 World Series Winners?

    3 of which have been back to back to back.

    Seems to me that, the DH and the AL makes the game LESS exciting and less competitive when looking at the big picture and that is who hoists the World Series Trophy in October.

    • DocPeterWimsey

      The AL has been routinely kicking the NL’s butt in interleague play. The WS games do not count any more than those games do when it comes to testing the general statement: in a game between a team that usually has a DH and one that does not, the team with the DH has a better/even/worse chance of winning. We can emphatically reject even/worse in favor of better given interleague play (including the WS) over the last decade. The DH is not the only reason: but the huge difference in OPS provided by AL DH’s over NL DH’s has certainly contributed. (There have been seasons where AL pitchers outhit NL pitchers in interleague games, too: however, given the low frequency of success by pitchers, that’s just a chance thing.)

  • Aaron

    I’m not sure if anyone has brought this up, but I’ll post it anyway. Last offseason Ned Yost commented that one of the reasons the Brewers couldn’t match the Tigers’ offer on Prince Fielder was because they couldn’t justify the length. AL teams have a colossal advantage here with the DH. They can afford to sign the best hitters in baseball to the deals they demand because they can stick them at DH when they’re no longer viable fielders. Ultimately, I think this is one of the main factors that will expand the DH sooner rather than later.

  • Brittney

    I am a geek! I have always loved baseball because of the math, the stats, and I dislike watching AL games because there’s the DH. it takes away a certain aspect of the game for me. Yes the pitcher usually sucks but it forces critical thinking in the NL. It makes or every late game that’s close move to be very critical. I love that managers may have to use certain players at certain times. I wish the DH would be ditched! I will watch an NL game over an AL game any day!

  • the sandman

    Please-adopt the DH. Cubs have a perfect up-ad -coming kid whod fit there just swell. His name is Dan Vogelbach.

    • Internet Random

      “Please-adopt the DH.”

      Why do you hate baseball?

  • Pingback: Lukewarm Stove: Chatting About Soriano, Garza, Bourn, Jackson, Marmol, More | Bleacher Nation | Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Pingback: The DH Is D-U-M-B()

  • Pingback: League-Wide Offense is the Lowest It’s Been in Decades – Time for the DH in the NL? | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Pingback: New Commissioner Notes: Aging Fan Base, Draft, International Signings, DH, More | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Pingback: Get Ready for More National League Designated Hitter Talk | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Pingback: Kyle Hendricks Has Been Better Than it Looks and Other Bullets | Bleacher Nation | Unofficial Chicago Cubs News, Rumors, and Commentary()

  • Pingback: Don’t Buy Any Arguments That the Cubs Need to Be the Royals and Other Bullets()