Monday, March 19, 2012

Why the designated hitter going to the NL is good for people who hate the DH

With the move of the Houston Astros to the American League in the 2013 season the major leagues will have an equal 15 teams, but because that's an odd number per league there'll need to be interleague games happening throughout the season; since the introduction of interleague play in 1997 those games have been scheduled in specific blocks in the middle of the season, with almost all teams in each league playing teams from the other league during the same period.

A recent article in Sports Illustrated postulated that this move toward uniformity in MLB and the constant interleague play eventually will bring about a change to the structure of one of the leagues: the adoption of the designated hitter in the National League.

Baseball purists will scoff, considering the DH to be an abomination to the game, but given that the American League has been operating with this one player who only hits and doesn't play defense since the '70s and in the National League most pitchers are fairly abysmal with a bat in their hands, there's little justification for arguing the game is still "pure" and at all close to the contest Doubleday* came up with.

I'm not saying I'm a fan of the designated hitter, but it certainly doesn't inhibit my ability to watch games and enjoy them. Of course, given that the DH has been in effect since I was 5 I have no active memories of the game when that wasn't part of it. I have to imagine that anyone who's still paying attention to Major League Baseball in 2012, with nearly four decades of the AL having someone else bat for the pitcher, has had to at least begrudgingly accept the DH. If the outrageous ticket prices haven't dissuaded one from going to the stadium to follow one's home team then I'm hard-pressed to imagine any objection to the DH is anything more than the joy of being outraged over a perceived travesty; we're never so happy as when we get to complain about something that's not how it used to be.

And when you get down to it, I suspect that's the real issue here: If the National League adopts the DH out of a sort of necessity to standardize the sport in an era where the teams under one set of rules play teams from the other set of rules all the time, those who don't like the DH fear they will have lost, but really they've won.

No, they didn't get their way (and have the AL abandon the DH) but they got something (in its own way) better: The freedom to lament the perceived death of their beloved sport without having to make any qualification about the NL; they'll have the entire MLB to complain about, presumably until they head off to that field of dreams. Even if they give up on pro baseball after such a change they can wax nostalgically about the good ol' days. You know, when a pitcher on an NL club came to bat in the middle innings and struck out swinging at a pitch way out of the strike zone. And then by the second time through the lineup he'd be pinch-hit for because the team was down—and probably because the middle reliever was due to come in anyway.

Baseball is a game of tradition, to be sure, and its finest tradition surely must be how we have well over a century of generation after generation of fans who look at the current game and think it a pale imitation of what was played when they were young.

Play ball!


When in the not-too-distant future Major League Soccer becomes more popular than Major League Baseball and MLB is vying with the NHL to still be considered the last of the "big four" sports, there'll be a much smaller group of people to whom these baseball complainers can vent their disappointment with the way NL clubs have a DH batting.

I'm not saying I'm looking forward to that day. Again, I grew up a baseball fan more so than any other sport. In high school my friends and I ditched on Opening Day for both the Dodgers and the Angels. However, I haven't been to a game in several years—despite having two teams representing the area where I have lived my entire life. And if I'm not supporting the sport, it's difficult to believe there's that many people who took my place in recent years.

But perhaps baseball being a niche sport may end up being the best thing for it. It can have as rules as inconsistent as it likes and its hardcore fans can enjoy or lament those to their hearts' content.


* The reference to Abner Doubleday I use merely as the commonly perceived creator of the American pastime, not as actual fact.

1 comment:

  1. The worst baseball game is still better than the best basketball game.


So, what do you think?