The Designated Headache
Imagine if the fact that Sunday’s Super Bowl is being played in Indianapolis at an AFC stadium meant that both teams were allowed to use their placekickers. Imagine that the Patriots, as an AFC team, had been using a placekicker for field goals and extra points in all but their road games against NFC teams. Imagine that the opposite was true for the Giants–that they had barely used a placekicker all season, since NFC rules force them to go for two points after every touchdown, and that field goals weren’t allowed. That having a placekicker for the Super Bowl sorta leveled the playing field, but that their kicker’s lack of experience made it less than advantageous, and that the alternate rules forced them to alter a game plan that had successfully carried them to the Super Bowl in the first place. And while they could still go for two on every extra point play, it would mean that they’d sacrifice the ability to kick field goals.
Imagine Eastern Conference NBA teams could select one player to shoot all the team’s free throws–regardless of if he was on the floor during the foul–but that Western Conference players all had to shoot their own foul shots.
Imagine some professional
futbol soccer teams played with eleven men a side, while others played with twelve on the pitch field.
Of course those scenarios are ludicrous. Why would a sport’s governing body create such an inequality within their own game? Why would they introduce inconsistency into their own sport, and give half the teams a significant advantage over the others? Why would they think there’s nothing wrong with playing the same game by two separate sets of rules?
The Designated Hitter rule (rule 6.10 for those of you with a handy copy of the MLB rule book) creates a laughable inequality within the game. Introduced in the early 70’s, the idea for the DH was first suggested back in 1906 by legendary manager Connie Mack. It seems pitchers–with a few notable exceptions–have always been light hitters, and the DH was a way to cover up their ineffectiveness at the plate and put the best possible product on the field.
In the end, the DH rule creates far more problems than it solves. And the worst isn’t that it routinely pulls the best hitters from the NL into the AL. It isn’t that it creates two sets of rules for the game, or that it can drive a wedge between the pitching staff and the rest of their team. It’s not that it grants an unfair advantage for the AL in inter-league play and the World Series–even though it does.
No, the biggest problem regarding the Designated Hitter is that despite the poor logic behind it and the inequality it creates, the rule is likely never going away. More than two full generations of baseball fans have grown up with the DH rule in place–in fact, the rule is older than me by six years. Losing the DH now would be as jarring for AL fans as it would be for basketball fans if the NBA ditched the three-point line.
And let’s face it, the fans who benefit most from the DH rule are some of the most important to Bud Selig–and particularly the fans in the AL East. As Jedi pointed out yesterday, Selig’s move to expand the number of teams that reach playoffs is a direct concession to the AL East, as was his introduction of the Wild Card in the first place. Doing away with the DH would be a direct insult to the fans Selig values most.
So rather than wait for the end of Selig’s tenure (since it seems he–like Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Betty White–cannot be stopped) and a wave of common sense to wash over the MLB, let me suggest that the DH rule should be extended to (gulp) the NL as well. Because if everyone in charge is happy to overlook the unfair advantage it creates, there’s no point in accepting the disadvantage on principle. Holding out against the DH is making a point no one is listening to.