As soon as some of my longtime baseball buddies read the following paragraph, I’m sure they will demand I immediately take a drug test.
It’s time for the National League to adopt the designated hitter.
While I enjoy seeing a mammoth home run as much as the next guy, as my planned column for next week will attest, I have an affinity for small ball. Bunting, hitting behind the runner, stealing bases, and the much talked-about double switch, have long made my heart beat faster. Three things that bring me much joy about the game of baseball is studying its history, crunching the numbers (stats, stats, stats), and the strategy.
When the American League went to the designated hitter in 1972 I was just fine with it. After all, I was (and am) a Braves fan and the AL was the “other league,” which in my mind was aptly nicknamed the “Junior Circuit.”
But I have long held that National League baseball was for the purist and was “real” baseball and shouldn’t be tinkered with.
The COVID-19 Pandemic has helped to change my opinion. After watching last year’s shortened season, I could see the value in all 30 Major League Baseball teams playing by the same rules.
There are several things the DH provides that is positive. To me the chief reason for the change is the safety of what appears to be already fragile pitchers. At the rate top-line pitchers get injured or have their careers shortened due to the stress put on their bodies as they attempt to hurl the ball to the plate at crazy velocities and with great strain on their shoulders and elbows, it seems foolish to send them up to plate or have them run the bases.
Pitchers are a hot commodity, even those who are slightly above average. Don’t believe it? Just check out the free-agent signings every year. Those dudes make some serious cash. Especially the left-handed ones.
Protecting the pitcher in today’s game is a must.
It also provides more offense to the game, which is something advocates of the DH have screamed about for years. There are those who say having the DH across the board will bring life to the game. The game is plenty alive, just look at the non-COVID attendance numbers and see for yourself.
Football, basketball, and soccer advocates will say that Major League Baseball is the third most popular sport in the United States at best and maybe even fourth or fifth. The numbers, both in attendance and television contacts, just don’t prove that theory out.
The game is healthy.
The DH also keeps atrocious hitters, which quite frankly most pitchers are, from coming to the plate every three innings or so. Who wants to see that? There are exceptions to the rule but they are just that, exceptions.
A plus, at least from my point of view, is that it extends the career of some outstanding hitters. Getting a chance to see some of the games best sluggers a couple more years should be a major consideration in making the change.
However, the DH is about where I stop. I’m not interested in seeing defensive specialists in the field who don’t have to hit, or designated runners, as the late great Charlie O. Finley tried to get instituted in the 1970s.
I’m also not a big fan of the “shifts” you see teams employ defensively against a majority of the hitters these days. But forcing teams to play defense in a traditional manner by making rules is about as easily accomplished as regulating morality. It sounds nice, but its just not that easy.
While I frowned on seven-inning games as part of a doubleheader to begin with, I can actually see the benefit to that. It goes back to the general idea of easing the burden on the pitchers a little bit.
One new rule that has to go is placing a runner on second base to begin the inning once a game enters the 10th inning. Don’t like it a bit.
I understand the concept, but don’t like the look or the feel of what it does to the game. If we just have to go that direction then make it begin in the 12th inning.
In fact — and here’s where some who know me would once again demand my afore-mentioned drug test — I would rather just play 12 innings straight up and if it ends in a tie then let it be a tie than to put the runner on second. It’s just not baseball.
So, there you have it. Even a traditionalist can change his mind when it comes to some things, but chasing the next fad, or trying to add bells and whistles to what is truly an intellectual game just to speed it up is not acceptable.
Not then. Not now. Not ever.
Austin Bishop, AKA The Old Sports Dude, has been covering high school, college, amateur and professional sports since 1975. He will be retiring from the journalism business at the conclusion of 2021. He is currently pastor of Great Commission Assembly of God in Philadelphia, Miss. He may be contacted by email at [email protected].