No debating the fact that DH isn't going away
Designated hitter more likely to be added to NL than removed from AL
Well, here's a topic that comes up once or twice or 3,000 times every year in Major League Baseball, and especially on the slowest of slow days in January:The designated hitter -- yay or nay? If you're like me, and you have a Twitter feed dominated by baseball banter, you saw it emerge as a trending topic this week. And if you're like me, and you tend to flip on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" program, you saw it examined at length again Thursday. And even if you're not all that plugged in to baseball from a social media or cable standpoint, you might have at least seen that recent Volkswagen commercial in which the guy buying a Passat and the salesman spend more time arguing about the DH than they do haggling over the price of the car. The DH discussion endures as much as any other major debate because:
A. It inspires passionate feelings on both sides of the equation
B. All those passionate exchanges have resulted in absolutely zero change to the respective rules of the American League and National League.
Oh, sure, maybe there was some slight chance of change in 1996, when MLB was preparing to initiate Interleague Play. At the time, there was thought that the AL might actually revert back to what had become known as the NL rules. But why in the world would the MLBPA sign off on any arrangement that would cause the elimination of 14 such prominent Major League jobs? It wasn't going to happen then, just as it's not going to happen now.That's the fundamental reason people need to understand that the DH, for better or worse, isn't going anywhere. And frankly, it's hilarious when people dismiss the DH as some sort of non-traditional travesty. In what other sport or business or endeavor is anything that's been around for 40 years considered novel or non-traditional? No, one thing needs to be understood: If baseball ever does go with the same set of rules for both leagues, the DH will be implemented in NL cities. That's the only way it's going to happen. And another thing needs to be understood: It might actually happen -- perhaps as soon as the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Once Interleague Play became a reality, baseball put itself on an irreversible course, a dulling of the distinction between the two leagues (one that ought to be acknowledged by the abolition of the silliness that is resetting a player's stats to zero when he is traded from one league to the other midseason ... but that's another topic for another time). As MLB embarks upon a 2013 season that will be the first to incorporate Interleague games into the schedule on a daily basis, that dulling of distinction has reached a new level, and having the two leagues play by two different sets of rules has completely ceased to make sense, if it ever made any sense at all. To argue, then, in favor of the so-called "traditional" NL rules is all well and good, as we're each, of course, entitled to our own opinions. Just understand that, ultimately, it will prove about as effective as arguing in favor of rotary phones, VCRs and, at some point, fax machines. The world keeps evolving, and baseball keeps evolving right along with it. I'm not saying it's always right, necessarily, but it is a reality. It would, then, seem healthy (though admittedly not easy) for the traditionalists to consider some factors that might help them embrace this reality. For one, consider the development of the modern pitcher. He is often identified for his raw pitching prowess at an early age, and, in lieu of a focus on all-around skills, he is taught to refine his command and/or light up a radar gun. The DH is an option for high school coaches and a requirement for NCAA coaches. And though some pitchers do hit at those levels, not all do. Those that reach the pros don't hit at all at the Rookie or Class A levels. They hit sporadically at the Double-A and Triple-A levels, and only then if they are, of course, affiliated with an NL club (so those groomed in NL systems but traded to AL teams have absolutely no prior professional hitting experience). Well, obviously, this has had a debilitating effect on the skill of pitchers at the plate. They are brutal. Last year, NL pitchers batted .129 with a .330 OPS. It has been 18 seasons since NL pitchers collectively hit even a notch above .150. This is entertainment? The common counter, of course, is that the pitcher's spot in the batting order brings more strategy to the game, and this is true. But if the strategizing forces quicker hooks for starters and more time-consuming pitching changes and intentional walks, it's fairly easy to argue that all this strategizing isn't nearly as stimulating as some claim. Listen, I love the old-school soul of the game, and I love the strategic elements of the sport. But watching a postseason game in which the team at the plate starts to mount a two-out rally, only to have it quelled by the No. 8 hitter getting intentionally walked to set up yet another strikeout or routine grounder off the bat of the pitcher is kind of a buzzkill, is it not? These days, a team has every rational and financial incentive to protect its pitchers, and that means more awkward plate appearances, more bats sitting on shoulders. Even mere practice is problematic, as the Pirates can attest after A.J. Burnett moved to the NL last year and promptly bunted a ball off his eye, fracturing his orbital bone. So while the purists have their point, that point has slowly been eroded by the winds of change. And while it is fair to bemoan the inclusion of Interleague Play in the season schedule, the moaning gets us nowhere. Because Interleague Play is viewed as a revenue-generator, and baseball is a business. So that's that. The DH is going nowhere; eventually, it will be everywhere. This evolution is natural, though it is, admittedly, a little sad. Because when the DH argument goes away, what will we talk about on slow news days in January?