Abolish the Designated Hitter

When Tigers manager Jim Leyland spoke out against interleague play, he actually made a point that has been largely overlooked.

As reported in The Detroit News, Leyland said, “(interleague play) has worn off for me. It was a brilliant idea to start with, but it has run its course — I just don’t like it. First of all, at some point we have to get baseball back to the same set of rules. I don’t know why more people don’t talk about it. No other sport plays different rules (regarding the designated hitter) — I don’t care what they do. Whatever way they go is fine with me, but the rules should be the same.”

Leyland was blasting interleague play, but his real objection boiled down to not wanting to play several series under National League rules, without a designated hitter (DH). He said it was “ridiculous” and “totally unfair” for an American League team to play consecutive series in NL ball parks.

The culprit here is that the two leagues are playing under a different set of rules. AL pitchers are put at additional risk when they have to suddenly swing the bat and run the bases when playing on the road during the interleague schedule. They are not trained to take at-bats and exert themselves on the base paths. When forced to do so for the road games of interleague play, pitchers find themselves very vulnerable and susceptible to injury. But the AL is not alone in having difficulty adapting to different rules. NL teams also have a disadvantage because they don’t usually carry a natural DH and suddenly have to find one. NL teams don’t have a David Ortiz on their bench, because players like this are too valuable to have pinch hit once a week. In addition, they are too expensive to employ for such limited duties. So a player like this would always be found in the AL, where they have a chance to play every day.

Can you imagine one conference in the National Football League permitting a two-point conversion attempt following a touchdown and the other conference not allowing it? Or the American Conference requiring a receiver to have two feet in bounds for it to be a legitimate reception while the National Conference lets the receiver have a catch with only one foot in bounds? Or how about basketball having the Eastern Conference with the three-point shot while the Western Conference played under the old rules and didn’t have a three-point line?

What is “ridiculous” and “totally unfair” is that Major League Baseball is played under two sets of rules. That has been the case since 1973, when Ron Blomberg stepped in the box as the first DH in history. Abraham Lincoln once said that the Union could not continue to exist as half slave and half free, that it had to become all of one or all of the other. That must also be the case for baseball. There can be nothing more foolish than having the two leagues playing under a different set of rules.

The designated hitter distorts everything from batting averages to pitcher’s earned run averages. How can someone compare AL pitcher Andy Pettitte’s Hall of Fame credentials to an NL pitcher like John Smoltz, when Pettitte faced the DH for most of his career while Smoltz didn’t? A hitter in a DH lineup has more protection and pitchers have no natural breaks when facing such a lineup. The strategy of the game is completely different with a DH lineup than without one. Some may argue that this is the charm of the DH, that it gives the fans the opportunity to witness baseball played a different way with a different strategy. But having two sets of rules really means playing a totally different game. And this problem is exacerbated by interleague play and of course by the World Series.

Because baseball traditionally did not have a DH, and because there is more strategy involved in a league without a DH, the choice of which rules to play under should be clear. It is time to abolish the designated hitter so that Major League Baseball can be played under one set of rules.

Sources:

The Detroit News, May 17, 2011: http://detnews.com/article/20110517/SPORTS0104/105170439/Jim-Leyland-blasts-interleague-play–‘ËœIt-has-run-its-course’#ixzz1NhFX9P15