Saturday, April 17, 2004
Time to Eliminate the DH by Jeff Herz
In honor of Paul Molitor’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, I would like to begin a grassroots movement to eliminate the designated hitter (DH) from organized baseball. I believe there are three compelling reasons to remove this blight on the game. The DH rule was implemented in order to increase offense, which is no longer necessary. The game is more strategic and fun to watch without the DH. The sport has evolved into one organization instead of two independent leagues.
The DH rule was implemented in order to increase offenseThe 1960’s were known as the decade of the pitchers. Gibson, Koufax, Drysdale, Ford, Bunning and Marichal all defined that decade. In 1969, MLB uniformly changed the rules, lowering the height of pitchers’ mounds in order to decrease the advantage of the pitcher and give batters a better opportunity to hit the ball. After a decade of station-to-station baseball, the American League was still looking for a way to bring more hitting to the game. So in 1973 they implemented the DH, allowing a designated hitter to hit for the pitcher, in an effort to increase offense. Evidence supports that this change both helped the hitter and hurt the pitcher, which is the intent of the rule. This effectively increased the run production in the AL compared to the NL, which is still the case today; however it had a negative effect in that it took a certain level of strategy away from AL managers.
For the past 25 years or so, the DH has effectively served its purpose bringing more offense to the game. Today, I don’t think anyone would argue that we need more offense. In fact, the way the game is played now is radically different than it was played even in the early ’90s. Offensive numbers are skyrocketing, pitchers are being shellacked left and right, and where there are multiple reasons for this phenomenon (expansion, shrinking strike zones, etc.), one glaring fact is that in half the games played pitchers don’t hit for themselves. They either have an over-the-hill slugger or a slow-footed youngster hitting the ball a mile rather than producing outs or sacrificing a runner to the next base. Eliminating the DH could once again help level the playing field between the pitcher and the batter.
The game is more strategic without the DHSince 1973 it does not take a brain surgeon (in spite of Tim McCarver’s book of the same name) to manage in the AL once the game starts. Once a lineup is set with a DH, all the manager needs to worry about is when to pull a pitcher and when there is a need for a pinch hitter or pinch runner. In the NL, these decisions are integrally linked together, and that component adds a significant strategic piece to the game that is lacking in the AL.
In spite of the fact that I root for an AL team, I honestly think the NL is a more interesting league to watch for the simple reason that there are more strategies involved. Having to decide when to pull a pitcher because he is coming up to bat, when to do a double switch, when to sit tight adds many more facets to the game. Watching the AL is entertaining if you like Earl Weaver’s strategy to sit back and wait for a three-run home run. Once the lineup is set at the beginning of an AL game, very rarely is there a change to the lineup made unless there is an injury, a defensive replacement late in the game or a situational hitter/pitcher match up.
Having a pitcher in the lineup alters how you plan your pitches up and down the lineup. Knowing that the pitcher is coming in the 9th spot, allows you to vary how you attack the 7th and 8th hitters in the lineup depending upon the situation and time of the game. I remember going to a Yankee game in the mid 1990’s when they were playing the Cleveland Indians and noting that the visitor had nine players batting over .300. There is no such thing as a sure out in that lineup; any single person can kill you. How boring.
The AL has also forgotten about the sacrifice and the stolen base. I am not going to attempt to pull a Bill James here and justify the value of either of these statistics, but the fact that they are underutilized and add a surprise element makes the game more enjoyable to watch from this fans’ perspective. Eliminating the DH will force managers to think more and make the game more interesting to the fans.
The sport has evolved into one organization instead of two independent leaguesFor almost a hundred years the two leagues acted as separately as they possibly could. There were interleague trades, there were interleague games in spring training, but once the season began, the leagues only met in the All-Star Game and the World Series. That all changed with the advent of interleague play a few years ago. It is time that they bring the rules into uniformity as well. In the past few years, the league presidents have been eliminated, umpires are now employed by MLB not by the leagues, and the All-Star game is now just a glorified superstar show case and home run hitting contest, which the current commissioner has made compelling by awarding the winner home field advantage in the World Series. MLB is attempting to regulate the game time, the strike zone, and overall conformity. AL vs. NL has essentially lost all its meaning in the past few years. So the last standing bastion between the leagues should also be eliminated immediately which translates to KO’ing the DH.
Argument against eliminating the DH
Some will argue that the players union will never allow some of their own to go unemployed. There is a simple way around this argument; increase the roster size from 25 to 26 or 27. This allows a team to keep a player who would have been the designated hitter on its roster. They can then be used as a pinch hitter or in the field if they are still capable. The union cannot complain about its highest paid players being forced to the unemployment lines since the teams are making provisions to keep them employed.
I know the economics of the game will never allow this change to happen, but I thought it would be fun to dream about baseball the way it is supposed to be played, with nine players on the lineup card.
Jeff Herz is a rabid baseball fan—and yes, Virginia, an unbridled Yankee fan to boot. He begrudgingly works in the interactive marketing advertising field in order to support his wife Nancy, his 2 1/2 year old son Jacob and his yet to be known unborn child due in August 2004. He has been writing for Zisk since its infancy though has not had the distinction of being published in every issue to date. He has recently brought his baseball card collection down from the attic and has become addicted to this hobby, so if you have any cards for trade or sale, feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.