Bunting, Bean Balls, and The Kid: Why the Designated Hitter Needs to Go
What if the NBA’s Eastern Conference disqualified players after their fifth personal foul, while the Western Conference stuck with the traditional six?
Or if the NFL’s AFC used spot of the foul for pass interference penalties, while the NFC went with 15 yards and an automatic first down.
How about if the NHL’s Eastern Conference used the five minute four-on-four followed by a shootout method to settle overtime, while the Western Conference played five-on-five until someone scored?
And imagine if the method used was determined by the conference the home team played for.
MLB’s American League using a designated hitter, while the National League sends their pitchers to the plate?
Quite simply, the designated hitter needs to go.
Exhibit A: The Loss of Strategy
Perhaps the biggest argument against the designated hitter is that it has eliminated a great deal of strategy from the game.
For one, it eliminates the double switch altogether, one of baseball’s greatest strategic maneuvers.
Furthermore, the designated hitter has severely limited the use and importance of pinch hitting. By filling the pitcher’s position in the batting order with a bat for hire, the need and use of the pinch hitter is limited.
This eliminates a great deal of strategy from the game. Managers no longer need to choose between pinch hitting for the pitcher in a big spot and getting to run their starter out for another inning or two.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the designated hitter nearly eliminates the art of bunting from the game. Teams in the American League rarely use the bunt, primarily because their pitchers don’t come to the plate with the possibility of moving a runner over.
The near extinction of the bunt, and addition of the prototypical all bat, no wheels designated hitter has also eliminated the need for speed in American League.
Instead of playing small ball; stealing bases, bunting men over, going from first to third, etc, the American League sits back and waits for the big blast.
Chicks might dig the long ball, but American League baseball simply lacks the speed, strategy, and excitement of National League baseball, and the designated hitter is to blame.
Exhibit B: The World Series Debacle
The National League faces a massive disadvantage under the current system that requires them to play a designated hitter when playing in an American League park.
It’s simple. The majority of American League teams employ a highly paid bat for hire to act as their designated hitter, while National League clubs have no use for an all hit, no field slugger to sit on their bench.
This disadvantage is no more evident than come World Series time. The National League clubs are forced to play a player who spent the majority of the season on the bench (Matt Stairs for the Phillies in 2009), while the American League clubs are able to start a player who has been in the lineup for most of the season (World Series MVP Hideki Matsui for the Yankees in 2009).
Don’t even try to retort with the thought that the National League gets their due when the American League’s pitchers need to come to the plate when the Series moves to the National League park.
It’s not the same. Perhaps there is some advantage for the National League pitchers who have accumulated at bats throughout the season, but the fact is that pitchers don’t hit enough to have the same type of impact that a designated hitter does.
Exhibit C: The Bean Ball
So imagine you’re a pitcher in the American League. Big Papi steps to the plate. Two innings earlier, Papi mashed a 400 foot long ball off you and lingered in the batter’s box to admire his handiwork.
Do you bean him?
Why not? Sure, there will be retaliation. Maybe the next time your team’s slugger comes to the plate he’ll take one in the back, but it’s not like you have to step into the batter’s box.
Now imagine you’re a National League pitcher and you’re in the same scenario. Do you bean the guy?
Well, you’ll certainly think twice. How hard does the other team’s pitcher throw? Will I get another at bat before I leave the game? Do I really want to take a fastball off my back?
The designated hitter rules prevents American League pitchers from having to face the music, and facing retaliation for their own brush back and bean ball actions.
Therefore, American League pitchers are more likely and willing to throw at opposing hitters, an action that often leads to the ugly brawls that have become too common in the league.
Plus, if you’re man enough to throw a five ounce sphere at another man’s head, you should be man enough to face a five ounce sphere aimed at your own head.
Exhibit D: It’s No Longer Necessary
In the early 1970s, scoring was down throughout the league, and league officials worried that the game wasn’t appealing enough to their offense seeking fan base.
So, the designated hitter rule was implemented in 1973 as a means to increase offensive output during a time when pitcher’s ruled.
Pitchers no longer rule.
In the five seasons prior to the implementation of the designated hitter rule, teams score an average of 3.9 runs per game.
In the last five seasons, National League clubs, without the use of the designated hitter, have averaged 4.8 runs per game!
For the record, scoring in the American League has been over 5.0 runs per team per game since 1999.
Offensive output is at historically high levels. There is no longer a need to nurture offensive output. There is no longer a need for the designated hitter.
Exhibit E: The Curious Case of Ken Griffey Jr.
Do we really want to remember some of the greatest players to ever play the game as old men struggling to be productive even while only playing one-half of a game they once ruled?
The designated hitter rule has unnecessarily extended the career of too many of our heroes, and left us repressing our last memories of them for memories of their time on top.
Do we really want our last memory of the great Ken Griffey Jr. to be of a 40-year-old man napping in the clubhouse?
Hey Yankees fans, do you really want to see Derek Jeter hit .253 as a 42-year old designated hitter?
When you are no longer able to take the field, even as a first basemen, it’s time to hang up the spikes.
After all, when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.
Hey designated hitter, it’s time to go.
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