Should the NL Adopt a DH?


Thanks for reading.

Just kidding. You came all the way here, I won’t turn you away with only 4 words. Unless you’re pro-DH, in which case you can go back to your David Ortiz shrine and I’ll flag you down when my divisional predictions are out.

When Commissioner Manfred was appointed before the 2015 season, I was largely skeptical about some of the things he wanted to bring to baseball; pitch clocks, playoff expansion, a franchise on the moon, and only Red Vines in the clubhouse, just to name a few, none of which I favor.

The most recent development was whether or not the NL should adopt the designated hitter. The winds of change were rustling the trees and momentum of the idea picked up some steam. However, at the most recent owner’s meeting, the NL executives largely shot down the idea, and Commissioner Manfred said that things will stay the same for a while (at least until the Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December). So even though we already know the answer, I want to lay out for you why the NL should not adopt the DH. In addition to my own post, you can read a similar point of view with this link.

First, let me say that I am indifferent about the DH in the AL, as it stands now. I won’t stand from the top of a mountain, accosting its blasphemous intentions and that John McGraw is rolling over in his grave or anything like that. It is what it is. Rooting for the Tigers, all I’ve ever known was the DH, and (looking around nervously as I’m about to say this): I enjoy interleague play.

*checks surroundings for baseball purists*

With that out of the way, let’s proceed.

A Little Difference is Refreshing
Think about baseball compared to the four major sports. Other sports are homogeneous across conference lines. Put differently, the only difference between teams is their geography. In the NFL, there is no difference between the NFC and AFC other than the letters in the acronym. In the NHL and NBA, the game is played the same regardless of it being on the east or the west coast. But the change in strategy across league lines sets baseball apart from other major sports. Half the league plays the game according to one set of rules while the other half plays according to another. There’s an added nuance of mystique to the other half, like when you were walking to the bathroom in school and you see your friend in another classroom. You wonder how that teacher teaches, how your friend likes it, and whether you would like it more than your current teacher. The difference keeps me curious. That’s important to me.

The Stratigy is To Much for Me
Oneof my best friends is one the biggest Cubs fans you will ever meet. Talking baseball with him has made me a smarter baseball fan (yes, I know how to spell strategy) largely because his fandom was groomed within the parameters of the NL managerial style. Let me throw a classic managerial conundrum here.

You’re an AL manager and your team is down 2-1 in the bottom of the 7th inning. Your starting pitcher is throwing a gem despite being on the losing side. The heart of your order has pushed across a run and the 7 and 8 hitters continue the rally with back to back hits. There are runners on second and third with 2 outs and the 9-hole up. What do you do?
Uhh…let the guy hit and get on with the inning?
Right. Easy choice because you don’t have to worry about double switches and bench players and remaining bullpen arms. Now consider this:
You’re an NL manager and your team is down 2-1 in the bottom of the 7th inning. Your starting pitcher is throwing a gem despite being on the losing side. The heart of your order has pushed across a run and the 7 and 8 hitters continue the rally with back to back hits. There are runners on second and third with 2 outs and the pitcher up. What do you do?
Well, that depends. On a lot of things. Is the opposing starting pitcher still in the game? Knowing I’ll have to trade this great start for a shot of offense, who can pinch hit for me and who will I pitch in the top of the next inning? Does that choice change whether the runs score or not?
I love these tough decisions. And what I love even more is that I’m not the one that has to make them. NL managers are forced to answer all of those questions and more multiple times in a game in order to piece together a true team win. If a pitcher is throwing a gem but finds himself on the losing end, of course you’d remove him for some offense, because you have no choice. Not having a DH breeds the smartest form of baseball; it creates a true chess match between managers as opposed to the AL, where the players just pick up the bishops and rooks and just beat each other senselessly for nine innings.

Oh Yeah. We’re Getting Existential
Hitting is a beautiful skill but it shouldn’t also be a player’s only skill. Pitchers are an argument in the opposite direction, but a good pitcher is much harder to find than a good hitter. There’s a hidden level of beauty to a player who plays both sides of the ball well. It escapes the roots of the old time baseball, of the pitchers who would throw 40 innings a week and still hit, and an added layer of respect for a stu who can drop jaws on both sides of the ball. With really hardcore baseball fans, each DH is met with a precursor of “Yeah, but…” stipulation when discussing their legacy. “David Ortiz is great, yeah, but…” For guys like Mike Schmidt or Brooks Robinson, the fact that they were both excellent hitters and brick wall defenders makes them some of the best, if not the best two, third baseman in the world. Comparing to the other major sports, again, baseball is the only sport that asks (or should ask) its players to be excellent on either side of the ball. No one plays offense and defense in football, and hockey and basketball players play defense because it’s part of their nonstop action game style, not because it’s necessarily required of them. To be great on one side in baseball is one thing, but to be great on both sides in baseball is nearly unheard of.

If the AL abolishes the DH entirely, I’ll be happy, but I won’t go out of my way to picket or boycott baseball until it happens. I’m happy with the way things are, and I’m even happier that the NL owners decided not to change it.

And now – thanks for reading.

Header photo courtesy of Rob Stark on Twitter. 

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