Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Keep the DH!

I don't think that the designated hitter is in any danger of being eliminated, as much antipathy as it (still) gets. But I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts on my changed views on the subject.

First of all, if the DH was good enough for Philadelphia baseball legend Connie Mack, it's good enough for me.

Second, as the above-referenced piece noted, with the consolidation of the umpiring crews and the elimination of the league offices, the DH is one of the few remaining differences between the leagues. This is especially true now that turf fields are on the way out-the NL, a few decades back, had the bulk of turf parks. Now, with Target Field, the new grass park in Minnesota, there are only two "non-grass" parks left-and they're both in the AL (Toronto and Tampa Bay).

I'm very much of the opinion that differences between the leagues that fan can talk about-and argue about-are good for the game. Now, it's true that sometimes the distinctions people assume are there, aren't-the AL may have the reputation as the "sluggers' league", but in 2009 the NL actually had fewer stolen bases than the AL-(1541-1429)-and that's with two more teams in the NL. Still, there are real differences between the circuits, otherwise the AL wouldn't be dominating interleague play, as it has in the last few years.

Putting all of that aside, I like the idea that AL pitchers have to face lineups with nine real hitters. It's a cliche', but nevertheless it's true, for me at least-watching a typically inept pitcher hit isn't much fun. Sure, I do enjoy those who can-Dontrelle Willis, say, or Mike Hampton.  But pitching is so demanding that few pitchers can maintain the hitting skills they likely had in high school and even college ball.

And the idea that there is "more strategy in the NL" is mostly untrue. Today, pitchers are pulled due to pitch counts (for the most part, a good idea, at least for younger pitchers, and for those with injury histories, which is pretty much everybody) or to get a setup man or closer into the game. It isn't due to needing to hit for the pitchers, for the most part. Note that each league had exactly 76 CG last year. And it's not as if the double-switch, when needed, should tax a capable manager's brain, though Charlie (I used to need a freakin') Manuel did struggle with it for a while.

All in all, I like the higher scoring game we see today. There is so much talent today (due to the money baseball can offer prospects who would otherwise play other sports professionally) that there is a nice balance of pitching, hitting, and fielding. We  haven't reached the excesses of scoring seen in the 30's, but happily we're a long way from the neo-deadball style of the late Sixties.

And a return to that level of scoring would be disastrous for the game's popularity.

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