The designated hitter has been in the American League since 1973, and it probably won't be much longer before it's in the National League, too. Now that interleague play is an everyday thing, it's just not practical for MLB's two leagues to play by different sets of rules.
But having pitchers bat for themselves in National League games (and in games at National League parks) isn't just impractical in this day and age. It's also as dangerous as it's ever been.
Isn't that right, Ryan Vogelsong?
If you missed it, the San Francisco Giants veteran right-hander took a wild swing at an inside fastball from Washington Nationals reliever Craig Stammen on Monday night. Instead of hitting the bat, the pitch hit Vogelsong on his moneymaker.
Pain ensued. Lots of it. And eventually the word came down from the Giants: two broken bones and a dislocated joint in Vogelsong's pinkie finger. He's expected to be out four to six weeks.
That was the perfect word to describe the situation as it was unfolding on Monday night. It's always a bad time whenever a pitcher gets hurt doing something other than pitching, but Vogelsong's injury felt like a particularly hard punch to the gut, because he was in the middle of his best start all season. Through five innings, he had held the Nats scoreless on three hits and a walk.
It took about, oh, five seconds after Vogelsong's first grimace for the DH talk to start. Jason Collette of Baseball Prospectus hit the nail on the head in his response to CSN Bay Area's Joe Stiglich:
Here's where the argument begins, and there's no straddling the fence with this one. You either see the logic of having the DH in the National League, or your opinion is that it's one of the worst things to ever happen to baseball and that National League baseball is just fine as is, thank you very much.
Note the key words here: "logic" and "opinion."
Vogelsong's injury highlights one of the primary reasons the DH belongs in the National League. Do that, and National League pitchers—and, to a lesser extent, American League pitchers in NL parks—are kept much safer. If they were to be barred from hitting for themselves, they wouldn't be at risk of getting hurt swinging the bat, getting hit by a pitch or by running the bases.
Taking pitchers as far out of harm's way as possible makes more sense than ever now. Vogelsong is only making $5 million this year, but across the league we're seeing more and more pitchers sign on for $15 or $20 million per season. There's at least one general manager out there who's worried about how safe that money is when the pitcher in which it's invested is at bat.
Here's what Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin told ESPN's Jayson Stark last month:
Now, when we're starting to pay pitchers $20 million a year, don't we have to start thinking more about whether we want pitchers hitting? When you think about the competitiveness of a Zack Greinke or a [Clayton] Kershaw when he's hitting, there's a danger of those guys overdoing it in any at-bat and getting hurt. Think about the money factor. If Felix Hernandez were to get hurt, it would be devastating to Seattle -- to their season, to their franchise, to their fan base. A guy like that, he's a draw. When he pitches, people come to the park. I know I get nervous every time a pitcher squares around to bunt, even guys we're not paying $20 million.
Is it common for National League pitchers to get hurt doing something other than pitching?
No, not really. Examples come to mind, but it's not like there's an epidemic going on.
But there doesn't need to be one in this case. Pitchers are paid to pitch. If they're going to get hurt, it should be doing that. Even one injury to a pitcher at the plate or on the basepaths throughout the course of a season is one too many.
There are other reasons the DH should be in the National League, of course. The DH comes in handy when teams need to give aging position players a semi-easy day at the office. Or an aging player could become a full-time DH and prolong his career, which is very much intriguing now that we're being reminded in these post-Steroid Era times that baseball players don't age so well.
On top of all this, there's one other thing about the DH: watching DHs hit is more fun than watching pitchers hit. Goodness knows there have been some great ones over the years, from Don Baylor to Frank Thomas to Edgar Martinez to David Ortiz.
That's the argument for the DH in the National League in a nutshell. It has the power to protect pitchers, keep position players fresh and entertain fans.
The argument against the idea of the DH in the National League is becoming more like dogma with each passing day. Requiring pitchers to hit allows the Senior Circuit to stay in touch with the game's roots, and there's more strategy involved in ballgames when pitchers are hitting.
This would be the "real baseball" argument for the DH in the National League, and it's just not good enough.
The nostalgia aspect of the "real baseball" stance is little more than an appeal to tradition. Something along the lines of: "This is how baseball was intended to be played, so it's how it should still be played today, darn it."
Nonsense like this is why baseball has a well-deserved reputation for being overly attached to its roots. Times change, and baseball should change with them, rather than defending the honor of the good old days. If baseball must eventually evolve into Blernsball, so be it.
As for the strategic aspect of the real baseball argument, let's consider some quotes from a person who shall remain nameless for the moment.
"There is more of a chance to play little ball in the American League than there is in the National League," said Mr. Anonymous. "You can do it through your whole lineup."
Mr. Anonymous then added: "It's ironic. Everybody thinks [the American League] is the slow-pitch league."
These quotes came from a guy who, like virtually all National League fans, thought that less strategy was needed in American League games because of the DH. He got a chance to find out that this isn't necessarily true.
This guy would be none other than Mike Scioscia, who shared these thoughts with Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times last month.
Scioscia played his entire career in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers and then spent several of his post-playing years as a coach in the organization. He's been the manager of the Los Angeles Angels since 2000, and he apparently came to realize that National League strategy is nothing special. If anything, it's too predictable.
How do you feel about the DH in the National League after Ryan Vogelsong's injury?
Which is true. When a pitcher is at the plate and there is a runner (or runners) on base with less than two outs, it's no secret the pitcher is going to be bunting. If the eighth-place hitter comes to bat with a runner on base and two men out, the opposing pitcher can pitch around him so he can face his opposite number instead.
Et cetera, et cetera. What passes for strategy in the National League is closer to simple protocol. And protocol, by nature, is not interesting. It's boring.
It's only interesting if you're into that sort of thing, and that's the whole point here. The push for the DH in the National League exists because putting the DH in the Senior Circuit makes sense. The push back against the idea exists because of personal preference and...well, personal preference.
Again, the status quo isn't going to hold forever. To make sure the playing field is level now that MLB has two 15-team leagues, it's either going to be pitchers hitting in the American League or the DH in the National League.
There's only one logical choice to make, and we were reminded on Monday night that it can't be made soon enough.
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