To Keep or Get Rid of the DH: The Future of the Designated Hitter in MLB

Monday May 16, 2011

MLB reports:  Growing up in an American League city (Toronto), my entire baseball life has existed with the designated hitter in baseball.  Aside from the occasional national league games on television, I always accepted and loved the DH.  Dave Parker was one of my favorite players and he epitomized everything good about the DH.  A great hitter with a sweet home run stroke, I would have likely not been able to watch Dave Parker for most of the tail end of his career if not for the designated hitter.  Parker, slowed by age, weight gain and lack of mobility saw his time in the outfield end fortunately by 1989 when he left the Reds and the National League forever and joined Oakland.  I always thought of the DH as giving the American League the advantage of an additional strong bat in the lineup, with the National League being less exciting being based on pitching, defense and weak pitchers hitting.  But as I grew in age, my opinion of the DH began to shift and I started to appreciate traditional baseball in its purest form.

If you give me today the choice of an American League or National League game, 9 out of 10 times I will choose the NL game.  When you account for the game having a pitcher bat, the dynamics of the game itself changes drastically.  The National League has more in-game moves by its manager, including pinch-hitting and double switches.  The best example I give of a typical NL game scenario is going into the 7th inning of a game, with a 1-run differential, 1-2 base runners on and the pitcher coming up to bat.  These types of scenarios and successful choices make or break NL managers.  By leaving a pitcher in to bat, the manager risks a likely out and the loss of an opportunity at scoring a crucial run.  But by pinch-hitting for the pitcher, the manager is forced to sometimes take out a pitcher who is pitching well and leaving the bullpen to possibly blow the game.  The game within the game is truly found in the National League.  But if the NL is so great and pitchers should be hitting, why is the DH still around?  For many reasons I will show and which likely means the DH is not going anywhere for a long time still.

Many modern baseball experts advocate the DH as saving wear and tear on pitchers, who as inexperienced hitters run the risk of injuries by batting and running the bases.  A classic example is Chien-Ming Wang, who injured his foot in Houston during  running the bases and later proceeded to hurt his shoulder and never recover.  It was argued that if Wang was  not forced to bat in the NL during inter-league play, he would have never been injured.  Further,  aside from a few exceptions such as Carlos Zambrano and Micah Owings, pitchers usually cannot hit their weight.  In many cases, pitchers are literally automatic outs.  To create excitement for fans and better offensive baseball, the DH was born in the AL in 1973 and has lasted ever since.  The DH also allows older hitters to keep playing even when their defensive games have abandoned them (see Guerrero, Matsui and Ortiz today).  Finally, the DH allows positional players the occasional rest by not having to play in the field but still keeps their bats in the lineup for their respective teams.

The bottom line on the DH comes down to tradition vs. convenience in my estimation.  I know in my brain that having a DH works best for the players, from the health and productivity of both pitchers and hitters.  For example, none of us would want to watch Adam Dunn in the outfield anymore and having the DH in Chicago allows his superior bat to continue cranking home runs while not hurting his team defensively.  But in my heart, I yearn for a Dodgers/Giants rivalry, where during a 2-1 game lineup changes run rampant in the later innings.  That is the way baseball was truly meant to be played.  I am not a full basebal purist, as I do advocate for an expanded playoffs and complete re-alignment in baseball.  But when it comes to the designated hitter, my hope is that one day it is abolished completely and we can go back to “real” baseball.

If we lived in a baseball world with no DH, pitchers would just have to take more BP and if truth be known, many of them would love hitting and value the chance at getting their swings in.  If you ask me truthfully though, I can’t see the American League getting rid of the DH and to go further, I actually can see the National League adopting the DH one day as well.  As we grow and move forward in time, most traditions tend to fall by the side for improvements.  In this case, this will be one of the instances where I hope that is not the case.  Some traditions need to remain intact.  I certainly hope the game of baseball as it is played in the National League continues until the end of time.

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Posted on May 16, 2011, in The Rest: Everything Baseball and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. I grew up watching the Cleveland Indians. There has always been a DH in my life as a baseball fan. But, I do enjoy watching a pitcher hit, when he has too. There has been some good hitting pitchers over the years. I also love the moves in the NL when the manager has to decide if he wants to take the pitcher out for a pinch hitter or leave him in. I do have to agree that the DH has saved a few players like Hafner, Ortiz and Parker, but I feel that a game without a DH would be a better game. Would love to see it removed and see more pitchers having to pick up a bat.

  2. Thank you so much for this article. I am doing a report in ELA on whether to keep or get rid of the designated hitter. This article was really helpful.


  3. You know you really dont lose a player as all teams have a 25 man roster. You just add a bench player. Most NL teams do have an older player that is basically a pinch hitter, and prepares for his 1 at bat late in the game for the pitcher (e.g. Phillies Jim Thome) . But it does add to strategy, as when the other manager expects that Thome might be coming in to pinch hit, he goes to his bull pen and brings in a lefty, now the Phillies may use someone else instead of Thome. Or say the pitcher is coming to bat 3rd in the next inning, Now Charlie Manuel may do a double switch bring in a releiver and put Thome in at 1st batting in the pitchers spot and the new pitcher batting in the 1st basemens spot. So much more strategy than in the AL.

  4. As much as I like the Yankees I still prefer to watch the National league style to baseball. It seems American league style the coach can buy his pitcher some time on the mound. National league coach has to consider his pitcher. “Do we let him bat to pitch one more inning, or do we put in a pinch hitter and try to bring in a run”.

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