Opening day of Major League Baseball season is upon us and its infamous Designated Hitter rule continues to get attention and consideration each year, especially by the baseball fans. Do you keep it? Do you eliminate it? Do you make it universal? These are questions that will continue to be mulled over and argued until someone with authority makes a decision as to the future of it.
The Designated Hitter (DH) rule was adopted in 1973 by the American League of Major League Baseball. It states that a player that does not play a position in the particular game, fills in the batting order for the pitcher, and only for the pitcher. Typically, the pitcher is understood to be the player less likely to get a hit as a batsman and therefore, this rule has allowed teams to beef-up their offensive power by placing a good hitter in the DH spot. Consequently, there’s not much “small ball” anymore, but more big hitters swinging for the fences.
The DH rule is widely used in most baseball organizations around the globe by high school, college and professional leagues. The most noted exceptions are Little League, American Legion Baseball, Japanese high school baseball, Nippon Professional Baseball’s Central League and Major League Baseball’s National League.
The major discussions revolve around MLB’s National League. Before interleague play was so prominent, the only time this rule had much effect on games was during the World Series, during which the DH rule would be applied when games were played in American League ball parks and not applied when the games moved to National League parks.
But now, since the National League and the American League play each other’s teams throughout the year, the DH rule is in effect on and off as teams play interleague games frequently through the season. To me, this cannot be a good long-term remedy and the game itself is taking a negative hit from it.
Being a traditional baseball purist, I am not a supporter of the DH rule. I see it as a rule that was added to increase the offensive output of the game; more power in the line-up, more home runs and runs scored. But, taking the pitcher out of the batting order takes away from the great strategy and managerial skills of the game. Namely, do you let your pitcher go to the plate in the sixth inning with a runner in scoring position if he is pitching a great game and the score is only a one run deficit? With the DH rule in place, a manager does not have to make those kinds of critical decisions. He will have a proven hitter in that batting slot.
My idea of the best way to use the DH rule, as it stands today, would be to concentrate on the fan. The fans in National League cities do not have the DH rule. When American League teams play there, use the DH rule so your fans can see the game with it in place. And vice-versa, when National League teams are in American League parks, eliminate the DH rule for fan appreciation. But…it is not really about the fans, is it? And it’s not for the preserving of the strategy of the game. It is certainly for the entertainment and increase in run production to put more fan’s fannies in the seats and more airtime sponsorships. I get it. It’s always about the dollars. And that’s OK, but let’s make some sensible changes so we can be consistent.
I have noticed, as I watch the spring training games this year, that all of those games have been played with the DH rule in place, no matter which League has the home team. Maybe the National League is seriously considering incorporating the Designated Hitter Rule. It would make sense to go ahead and get it done.
Sadly for us traditionalists, the rule is here to stay. But the in-consistence in the game needs to be settled. Currently, American League pitchers are forced into plate appearances as batters, while in National League parks and it is not a pretty sight. They are normally easy outs.
So, I say, come on National League! For the good of the game and for the fan, get it done! Go ahead and incorporate the DH and let’s see some Home Run Derby!