Will the DH Come to the National League and Can This Be Stopped?

Art WellersdickContributor IINovember 28, 2012

The DH has been dead for several years, but no one has told it yet.
The DH has been dead for several years, but no one has told it yet.

The upcoming 2013 MLB season will mark a new era: Interleague baseball will be played somewhere in the league throughout the entire season. With this change, there will be more games each week featuring an NL team playing under AL rules in an AL ballpark. It's hardly an ominous sign of things to come in and of itself, but there are several sources within baseball that see this as a potential harbinger of doom for the traditionalist, NL style of baseball that condescendingly shuns the DH position—and rightly so.

Major League Baseball has been bashing its head against the wall in a futile fight for ratings that have competed with football for years now. Some of the wacky scheduling during the postseason this year and last was partially an attempt to match ratings with NFL games they were up against at the time. It's a losing cause and always will be.

Football happens once a week and baseball happens almost every day of the week. With football being that much more rare, and with each game being almost as important as any non-elimination game in baseball's postseason anyways, fans are going to watch the football game when it's on and catch all the other baseball games on non-football days. And that is if we are talking about someone who is a baseball fan to begin with.

Major League Baseball also knows that more and more casual fans are starting to follow the game, and with that comes fans less knowledgeable about some of the finer nuances of the game that are on display in the NL, given the presence of a pitcher in the lineup and the requisite changes in style this necessitates. The fact is that most casual fans, the ones MLB is trying to woo in the face of rising NFL competition during its postseason, better understand and therefore enjoy the game when it is simplified for them.

This is what the DH does: It is one less bunt attempt, one less embarrassingly apathetic at-bat from the likes of Josh Beckett or Barry Zito, it is one less walk to the 8-hitter with a runner on second and two outs, it is one less double-switch, and so on and so forth. Those aren't developments that casual fans want to see. They want to see more hitters swinging away.

Which is understandable; hitting is a huge part of the game and it's fun to watch for all fans, provided it's their team doing the hitting.

But it minimizes the allure of the grand ole game to reduce it down to something resembling a homogenized procession of hitters sent to the plate, like an assembly line of players sent to feast or famine against the opposing pitcher.

Whether one likes the particular style of play in the NL or not, the fact remains that it is a different style of play that needs to be preserved, not made to be extinct and enjoyed only in reflective moments during stories of yesteryear with our grandchildren about a world with hit-and-runs, suicide squeezes and the double steal on a full count with one out and runners on first and second.

There is no getting around the fact that the NL game features a much more varied, expansive display of the possible strategies employable in a major league game. That isn't to say that the AL is incapable of executing these same strategies and plays; they do so all the time, just not nearly to the extent that it occurs in the NL because of the DH (some teams never employ certain strategies and others do so infrequently at best). With a virtual automatic out always coming up in the NL, scoring opportunities are that much less frequent, and as a result, many more options are considered when trying to capitalize on those opportunities.

So, the real question here is how can those who enjoy watching this style of play create a voice large enough to impress upon MLB that many fans will forever miss an integral part of the game, a part for many that makes the game so special to them? While the popularity of the DH apparently seems to be growing, lovers of the NL-style game are hardly going extinct. Some of the most fervent, high attendance-rate teams are in the NL (Philly, San Francisco, St. Louis) and there is something to be said for the DH-less style in light of the results of the last three World Series and All-Star games.

I think one way that fans can show their solidarity for a game without the DH in one league is to boycott the interleague games in which NL teams are playing in AL ballparks. Boycotting any AL-only games in favor of an NL game, no matter how irrelevant the matchup may be at the time, is another avenue. Or perhaps a letter-writing campaign to that wet-brained geek, Bud Selig, demanding protection for the current system of rules in the NL.

Something must be done to stop this alleged eventuality, lest the game degenerate into a monotonous, over-glorified session of batting practice. Bud Selig is a salamander in desperate search of cover; let's make him and all of his shady, cash-mongering cronies nervous about running around changing all of these rules and upsetting the game.

The postseason this year was a bit of a joke in terms of the scheduling and format, and all to get more potential revenue from TV, and at the expense of the game to an extent. These whispers about going further and turning the wild-card play-in game into a three-game series will seriously erode whatever positive inroads have been made in the playoff format thus far. But that's neither here nor there. 

The point is that Selig has shown a tendency to tinker with baseball like a child on too much ADD medication engrossed by his Lego collection. He needs to be snapped out of whatever greed-fueled binge he's been on and brought back to the reality of the game, that is, what has worked for more than 130 years, and in a format largely unchanged over the last 100 years, does not necessarily respond well to sudden, wholesale changes that serve to eliminate an essential part of the game.

In many ways, the NL style of baseball is a link to the game's historic past when players were scant enough that everyone was expected to play somewhere in every game. When pitchers weren't pitching, they were elsewhere in the field, and were always expected to hit well.

Even in the years immediately preceding the advent of the DH, pitchers were much less hopeless at the plate than most appear nowadays. And why wouldn't they have more acumen since they were having to hit on days that they pitched their entire career anyways? The existence of the DH at lower levels of amateur baseball has served to produce entire swaths of entirely one-dimensional pitchers incapable of putting any sort of serious at-bats together against a quality pitcher in the major leagues. Even bunting ability isn't where it would be if all pitchers had to hit throughout their entire amateur career.

In the end, the DH has already served to undermine the game's finer aspects as it is. Allowing it to expand further and eliminate the style of baseball currently on display in the NL would do nothing but abolish one of the best aspects of the game, a part of the game that makes it appealing to some casual fans and virtually all purists. The encroachment of the DH into the NL game must be stopped.