clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Stop trying to mess up the National League, Designated Hitters!

New, 7 comments

The fact that pitchers can't hit is actually the best reason there is to keep the DH out of the National League.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Thanks a ton, John Mozeliak.

The Cardinals' GM made comments this week that there was "more momentum" toward bringing the DH to the National League. This was just the invitation that everyone needed to break out their bad pro-DH or anti-DH takes. My friend, Craig Calcaterra, thinks the fight is already over on Hardball Talk:

"Of course, as we have discussed here at length, the DH is the better option now. No matter how much you like tradition, how much you argue that it's better for "tactics" and "strategy" and no matter how happy it makes you when a pitcher does manage to hit a home run, on the whole pitchers can't hit a lick and the risks to NL pitchers while batting, however small, are not worth the benefits. If they were, teams would teach their minor league pitchers to hit and would expect more than three feeble swings and a quick walk back to the dugout. They don't, however, which clearly reveals that, in reality, NL teams have zero interest in their pitchers hitting."

Craig continues to argue that those who prefer to have pitchers hitting are almost universally making "an argument from tradition." I'd challenge that slightly. It's more an argument of what people are used to watching. My former colleague and always heterosexual-lifemate Bill Parker did some work earlier this week at our original blog, The Platoon Advantage, taking a survey of baseball fans to dig into why people felt so strongly about the DH the ways they do. His findings, actually, shouldn't surprise you. Bill found that roughly 60 percent of fans whose favorite team plays in the American League think that the NL should adopt the DH. On the other side, 65 percent of fans of National League clubs want to stay DH-free. This was a decidedly unscientific Twitter poll, of course, but it jives with what I think a lot of us would have predicted if pressed.

If there's a silver lining in Bill's poll for the pro-DH crowd, it's this: While NL fans would initially be resistant to a change, they'd eventually get over it, much like the AL crowd has done over the last forty-three years. Also, very few fans would actually walk away from the game because they suddenly didn't get to see Bartolo Colon hit twice a week. The pro-DH crowd has a point that there's a non-zero risk of pitchers getting injured while hitting and running the bases, and I have to concede that pitchers, as a group, are awful hitters. I can't argue with any of that.

I'm still not convinced, however, that the National League needs the DH. For one thing, as I've said before, variety is an inherent good. The difference between the leagues is one of the ways that the game is kept interesting. We, as fans and as a baseball industrial complex, are greatly improved when there are many different ways to construct a roster and build a winning baseball team. And when every team is employing an extra sluggardly slugger, that's just boring.

Baseball is supposed to delight us. The best part about pitchers hitting isn't watching them fail time and again. It's the  the unexpected moment of joy when he succeeds! Like kids on Christmas morning, finding out that Santa has left us a bike or a new puppy, our eyes get wild and we scream and squeal with joy when Bartolo hits a double or Madison Bumgarner mashes a homer. It's something we never could have expected, and it's so wonderful. Baseball needs more of those moments, not fewer. For as much as we love to analyze and predict and project how players will do, it's the game's unpredictability on any single given play, and how it manages to eternally surprise us, that brings us back to it again and again.

And, because of that, I'll happily take 503 pitchers striking out and one home run over David Ortiz's 503 career homers, even if I am fighting a losing battle. Leave the DH as it is, and leave the NL alone.