Is It Time For The National League To Embrace The DH?
This season marks the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter. Since 1973, fans in American League ballparks have been spared the “strategy” and simplicity involved when the pitcher bats ninth, and fat, tobacco-spewing, professional clubbers have been able to extend their careers by producing as the DH.
Many purists are so disdainful of the DH spot that they refuse to watch A.L. games. On the other hand, many casual baseball fans are so turned off by the idea of a hapless pitcher striking out or bunting with alarming consistency that they will immediately tune out from a nationally televised game in an N.L park.
Debates about the game’s minutiae are part of what makes baseball great. However, with the Astros moving to the A.L. West this year, there are now 15 teams in each league, and the only way to schedule inter-league play under such circumstances is to have at least one series between American and National League teams nearly every day throughout the season.
Inter-league play is not a side show that distracts fans during from the dog days of summer anymore. It’s no longer a novelty occurrence when you get to witness A.L. pitchers that haven’t swung a bat with regularity since high school look absolutely lost against their Major League counterparts. It’s a regular part of the big league schedule, and therefore, it’s only a matter of time before the two leagues have to reach a reconciliation regarding all rules.
Given the popularity of offense in today’s game (chick’s do dig the long ball), it seems highly unlikely that the A.L. would abandon the DH spot. Therefore, it seems to not be a question of if, but when the National League will jump on board with the idea of a designated hitter.
“I think that time is coming,” Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said this week. “Now I don’t know when that time is. It might be five years from now. It might be 10 years from now. But my gut feeling is … that if you ever got everybody in one room and said you’ve all got to stay in the room until you make a decision one way or the other, eventually they’d come out and say it’s time to have the DH in both leagues.”
For some American League clubs, consistent inter-league play has provided the impetus for pitchers to spend extended time practicing bunting and making contact during spring training. The Royals have two series in National League parks in April alone, and Ned Yost spoke about the need to prepare his team for inter-league play in the early going. “When I first came over to Kansas City, we had problems with [pitchers not being ready to hit]” he said, “Luke Hochevar hurt his elbow swinging. So I wanted to really take our time, use the whole two months to work into it.”
Clearly A.L. teams are starting to disrupt their normal routine in order to prepare for these situations, and N.L. teams will have to make some adjustments as well. Yet these early disruptions may not create as much of an impact as some late-season scenarios.
Inter-league games will continue into September, so for the first time, teams in tight divisional races will have to deal with different rules as they look to earn a playoff spot. When an American League team goes on the road and has to bat one of their hapless pitchers in a key situation, controversy will almost assuredly arise.
For now, these are the rules, and it makes sense that the home-team sets the parameters, but at some point there may be a rallying cry to unify the rules in both leagues. Which way the rules committee deliberates is yet to be seen, yet one thing is for sure, eventually, something’s gotta give.