tclakin

Listen up, Allan: It’s Time for the DH To Go

In Uncategorized on July 17, 2009 at 12:29 pm
Make yourself useful, Allan.

Don't just sit there, make yourself useful.

The American League won again on Tuesday night, running their unbeaten All-Star streak to 13 years.

And exactly zero people were surprised.

AL dominance cannot be overstated. The National League has been called Quadruple A – one step above the minor leagues – and it is generally accepted as an inferior league. NL lineups are considered infintely easier to deal with, and pitchers routinely improve when they move from the AL to the NL. It is common knowledge at this point in the baseball world that the American League is simply the stronger of the two.

The question then becomes, why?

The answer, of course, is the designated hitter.

Game Six certainly isn’t breaking any new ground here – it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that a specialized hitter is going to be more productive at the plate than an out-of-practice pitcher, and the argument against the DH has been around for years. But, with the recent convergence of several factors – money, performance-enhancing drugs, and game length – it’s become clear that the DH experiment has run its course.

I don’t think anyone would contest the fact that baseball has been on a bit of a skid lately, facing bad press and declining viewership. As I see it, there are three main reasons for this downturn – financial and talent disparity, the steroid scandal, and insanely long games – and each could be significantly eradicated by simply getting rid of the designated hitter.

Large Father is your typical DH

Large Father is your typical DH

Think about it – two of the biggest money teams in Major League Baseball – the Red Sox and Yankees – consistently sit atop the American League. They throw handfuls of dollars at big time DH’s who in turn help propel them deep into the playoffs year after year, while NL teams must make do with pitchers who may or may not have any skill at the plate. The DH is statistically one of the highest paid positions in the game – remove it, and you’re left with a more level playing field, not to mention, more equality from a talent standpoint. Of course, the big money teams will still gobble up the best free agents and a DH-less MLB wouldn’t have a huge effect on payroll parity, but it would make a dent, for sure. The talent question, however, is where the biggest difference would be made.

There is no disputing the fact that a lineup featuring David Ortiz is stronger than one featuring John Smoltz. So, how is the National League supposed to compete with its bullying big brother when it must face that contrast every day, albeit on a much larger scale? The NL simply cannot match up, so why not get rid of the DH and let AL pitchers take their hacks? They are, after all, baseball players, and baseball is not a one-dimensional game.

Jose loved being a DH with those Hulk Hogan arms

Jose loved being a DH with those Hulk Hogan arms

Speaking of baseball players, without the DH there’s also no place for 270-pound behemoths whose only discernable skill is golf-swinging a thrown baseball over a fence. Doesn’t that align pretty clearly with those most likely to engage in steroid use, especially with all the testing MLB has in place now? Would it be fair to categorize designated hitters – huge, often-aging sluggers earning millions of dollars through brute strength – as an at-risk population? I think so. Can someone tell me why, since the performance-enhancing drug issue is certainly the most obvious black eye on the face of baseball today, there is still an official baseball position that involves players who do nothing but grab the lumber and hack? Guys who have literally zero incentive to work themselves into any kind of limber, cardiovascular shape because, after all, they don’t step foot on grass? Why isn’t anyone else talking about this? As far as I’m concerned, it’s rather obvious that eliminating the designated hitter would simultaneously rid the game of considerable pressure to use performance-enhancing drugs.

Other than the steroid scandal, perhaps the largest issue facing today’s MLB is the outrageous, and steadily increasing, length of its games. Three hours is about average and four hour affairs are routine. Couple that with the fact that baseball isn’t the most action-packed of games anyway – filled with downtime and stretches of, let’s be frank, standing around – and you have a recipe for spectator disaster, especially with regard to our patience-deprived younger generation. Unfortunately, in order to grow and sustain a professional sports league, you need kids. You need their eyes, their interest, and the contents of their piggy banks. But today’s kids have grown up with cell phones and the Internet, their lives fueled by constantly available streams of information. America’s attention span is growing shorter and shorter, while baseball games are only getting longer. It’s not a sound business model. Games start later to pacify corporate executives, yet as a result their sons and daughters are in bed long before playoff games are even decided. Baseball is becoming increasingly Your Grandfather’s Game. Perhaps that is why Bud Selig seems to have directed his attentions worldwide, concerned more with his beloved World Baseball Classic than with the fact that American kids no longer care about the World Series.

But there’s a simple solution for all this:

Get rid of the DH. Seriously.

The great (and fat) Cecil Fielder

The great (and fat) Cecil Fielder

If pitchers were forced to hit, there would be fewer runs scored, fewer pitchers used and games would speed by faster than they currently do in the AL. The long ball would be replaced by small ball, and strategy would come back into an American League game sorely lacking in managerial twists and turns. Frankly, with no DH, everything about the American League would be better. Headhunting pitchers would be forced to face the music with a bat in their hand, managers would have to consider the value of leaving a good starter in versus yanking him for a pinch hitter, and fans would get to see guys like Josh Beckett – by all accounts a solid hitter – stand in there and take his swings. Plus, eliminating the DH would purify a game that’s meant to be played on both sides of the diamond. No DH means no DT’s (Designated Throwers, because really, isn’t that exactly what AL pitchers are?). Without the DH, we’d no longer be visually offended by guys so fat and round that their only real value outside of the batter’s box comes from playing Santa Claus at the team Christmas party. Without the DH, baseball would be a better game.

I certainly wouldn’t be sad to see it go.

What do you think?

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