Why does MLB Insist on Taking the Path of Least Resistance?

FlagBaseballI took the time to read and follow someone else’s blog (Beyond the Score Card) where I read an article about the inevitability of the National League adopting the designated hitter (DH).  With the new alignment (Houston Astros switching from NL Central to AL West) fostering two fifteen-club leagues, there is guaranteed to be one interleague game played whenever MLB is playing a full schedule.  Logic would dictate the need for both leagues to play by the same rules.  Since 1973, the American League has fostered a DH while the National League continues to have the pitchers hit.  Prior to 1973, pitchers hit in both leagues.  Before 1997, there was no interleague play—all teams played 162 games in their own league on the road to the World Series.

You may have figured out by now there are two methods of standardization.  One way is for the NL to adopt the DH and the other way is to have the AL abolish it.  The former is the path of least resistance because the Players Association strongly supports the DH, at least in the AL, because, as a union, they are obligated to protect jobs, and many AL teams sign aging veterans who can no longer run fast on the bases or hustle in the field, but can still hit home runs, thus prolonging their careers.  The latter method will require bargaining with the Players Asso. and the younger generation of fans has no appreciation for strategy and wants more offense.  And Commissioner Selig or his successor will pull the trigger and make the change if the powers that be in the sports television business request it.  Once the NL gets the DH, there is no turning back—that is the way baseball will be played until the coming of Christ or any messiah you believe in, because there will be no one left alive that remembers baseball before the DH.  But there is a window of opportunity open right now and therefore, I want to present my case for traditional baseball with pitchers in the batting order and no DH.

  • There are a lot more NL games played in less than three hours time than in the AL.  This is because, with the possible exception of bringing the closer in, in the top of the ninth inning, pitching changes are made on the mound and the incoming pitcher tosses eight warm-ups in a time out.  In the NL, many pitchers are lifted for a pinch hitter to get that extra run in and the new pitcher comes in when the inning changes sides and warms up while the infielders and outfielders are throwing the ball around for 2 minutes and 10 seconds.
  • Our national pastime is two events in one: it is a sport for athletes with talent in the respective areas, and it is a thinking man’s game of strategy.  Both of those things together distinguish it from all other sports and games Americans play and watch for entertainment and give it the dubious honor of being America’s national pastime.  In the NL, a manager may have to make a critical decision: you may be down by just one run and with the exception of that one run, your pitcher is pitching a good game.  You can let him bat and make the best of it or pinch hit and increase your chances of scoring that tying or go-ahead run, requiring a pitching change next inning regardless of your pitcher’s performance.  AL buffs claim in the DH game, the managers are off the hook making such a decision and can never be second guessed.  What the heck is a big league manager being paid to do?
  • The DH means more offense and more runs scored.  That is what the younger fan is looking for.  I can tell you from experience, to really appreciate baseball for what it is, you have to armchair manage a game and have fun with strategy.  Make decisions like double switch, double steal, hit and run, sacrifice bunt and suicide squeeze.  I guess I am a relic from before computer games when one of my favorite activities when I was not doing something active outdoors was to play Strat-O-Matic or Sports Illustrated All Time All Star Baseball and manage a team of cardboard cards with their records and playing abilities standardized to yield results according the roll of the dice.  I was pretty good, albeit managing cardboard cards that play predictably according to the roll of the dice does not in any qualify me to manage a team of humans who are not always perfect.  I still believe you cannot call yourself a real fan until you armchair manage a game and the same opportunities do not exist in a DH game.
  • NL pitchers do no throw at batter’s head anywhere near as often as AL pitchers do.  Makes sense because if you are pitching, you will think twice about throwing at a head if the other team can potentially retaliate when it is your turn to bat.  In the AL where you don’t bat, you get away with it scott-free.  The best example is Pedro Martinez: look how many heads he hunted when he was with the Red Sox compared to when he pitched for the Mets.
  • Pitchers, especially fastball pitchers do not burn themselves out in the NL the way they do in the AL.  With a DH you face nine bonafide hitters and get no breaks from throwing your 90 MPH plus.  In the NL you can throw a fastball in the eighties when you are pitching to the opposing pitcher sparing the arm.  The Founding Fathers of baseball had a reason why they did not propose a DH at the turn of the twentieth century.
  • I see absolutely no connection between television ratings and the DH.  Every year the announce the ratings for the World Series circa November 1 and they are always either a record low or not anywhere where MLB would like to see them.  Explain to me why World Series ratings were better back in the days when the DH didn’t exist and the games were played at one o’clock in the afternoon.

The AL owners have already intimated they would consider sacrificing the DH if in return they could have an expansion of the roster so they can carry twelve pitchers to accommodate the way the game is played today.  Currently, MLB rosters are 25 players wide except in September.  To expand to 27 is the equivalent of 2.4 expansion teams which would further dilute the talent pool but if they would compromise on 26, it wouldn’t be so bad because the twenty-sixth man would most-likely be the twelfth pitcher.  Let’s do right by the game of baseball while we still have a chance; abolish the DH, and play baseball the way God intended it to be played!

P.S. The Great Babe Ruth began his career as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in 1914.  If they had the DH in 1914, Babe Ruth never would have picked up a bat!

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