I should begin by admitting that I have spent most of my life up until fairly recently adamantly opposed to the presence of the designated hitter ever coming to the National League. I prided myself in the way I loved the purity of the game and didn’t want it sullied by a half player, as I once viewed the DH. However, as opinions tend to do when you are willing, mine has changed. I’ll explain first where my long standing opposition came from, and then I’ll elaborate on why I have let go of that view.
I touch on it in my bio found below, but I grew up a Cubs fan because of accessibility. I lived in a very small farm town in Michigan, and WGN was one of the few channels I got. Naturally, that meant my growing up years were spent watching the Cubs and their National League counterparts. To me, pitchers batting was just the way it was. I’m not sure when I first became aware of the DH, but I suspect either a box score or a baseball card featuring Eddie Murray that did it. My initial reaction was simply that as a Cubs and National League fan, I saw no reason for their to be an extra position where the player didn’t even play defense. In time, my opposition to the DH came down to two things:
I put the word in quotes now, because as I will explain later, this idea of being a purist to the game is one that doesn’t work very well upon close examination. However, for now, I’ll stick to what made sense to me for a long time. In my mind, pitchers had been a part of the batting order for the first century or so that the game was played, so therefore that was the right way to play the game. Let the pitchers hit. I enjoyed the strategy of pinch hitting and pitching changes in the late innings of games. I just made sense to me that all players should both play defense and take their turns at the plate.
A DH isn’t a full player
By this I usually meant that they were one dimensional, or they didn’t do the full job that I felt a baseball player should. If you can’t play defense or have become old enough that you no longer can, you should retire. The time has come to make your graceful exit. It isn’t right that one player on the roster can spend so much of his time sitting in the dugout when the rest are focusing on both hitting and playing in the field.
To be honest, this is really the extent that my thinking regarding the DH ever went. I’d like to be able to say that I gave it all greater thought than this, but I really didn’t. So what changed? The more baseball I watched, and the more I read about the history of the game, the more I realized that my reasons for opposing the DH just weren’t strong enough. What, then, is to be gained by embracing the DH in the National League?
Baseball “purity” revisited
This idea has become glaringly hogwash the further I have read about the history of the game. Really, to fixate on one aspect of the game and declare that a part of the pure version of baseball is pretty silly. Baseball is pretty dramatically different from what it was not that long ago, but especially what it was at its origins. If we subscribe to the notion of true purity based on the earliest versions of the game, no one would wear gloves, catchers wouldn’t wear masks, pitchers would pitch nearly every game (which makes me wonder, are we being overly soft with our pitchers now? But that’s another topic.), managers would often play as well, only one or two game balls were used, etc. Really, the game has been constantly changing ever since its origins, and the fact that the two leagues have had such a distinct difference between them for this long is pretty strange. No other professional league in the United States features such a huge difference within itself, like what we see with the DH in the American League and the absence of the DH in the National League.
“A DH isn’t a full player”
You don’t have to look very hard to see that there are several other types of players on the roster who the same could be said for. Take the relief pitcher, for instance. How often do they ever bat? What of the specialists who come in just to face one batter? They never hit. It’s extraordinarily rare. I could go on, but the point is, this idea that a DH is playing just half the game doesn’t hold up very well when you look around the roster. Even the so-called “full” players can spend ample time while on defense doing very little. Watch a single game during the regular season and you’ll see plenty of innings where all or most of the players on defense do almost nothing. Is standing in the field doing nothing somehow better than sitting in the dugout or taking practice swings in the clubhouse? I’m not trying to devalue the other position players, but really, the DH does just as much work as most of the guys on the team.
Interleague play has practically brought the DH to the National League anyway
This could ultimately be the strongest reason for embracing the DH. Especially lately, with interleague action taking place all the time. National League teams are using the DH during those games so regularly anyway, that a switch to a full time DH wouldn’t be a major change anymore. The ship has already kind of sailed.
It creates greater opportunity for National League teams
Watch Dan Vogelbach highlights for a minute. He can absolutely rake, and he’s already absolutely destroying the ball so far in AA Tennessee. The trouble is, his body type doesn’t hold up to being able to play first base long term, and he’s going to be perpetually blocked by Anthony Rizzo anyway. So what to do with him? Trade someone who could potentially provide ample offense in coming years simply because you can’t find a spot for him on defense? Imagine the possibilities if the Cubs could use a DH full time, and make Vogelbach that DH as early as 2016. I don’t expect the rule to change by then, but Vogelbach could be ready by then, so the problem is there.
Not only that, but I do believe that it has an effect on free agency. Many hitters know that they can still be productive at the plate in their waning years, provided that they can focus on just hitting. Maybe it’s a reach, but I think Alex Rodriguez is poised for a solid year at the plate in 2015, and largely because he’ll DH most of the season.
Pitchers are just awful hitters
Admit it, no one really ever wants to watch them at the plate do they? Just stop making us watch things like this anymore. Please. That, and the frustration that comes from seeing your pitcher taken out of a game before he needs to be because his spot in the order is coming up and a pinch hitter is needed in the last third of a game I’d gladly be rid of. Finally, it means more runs will be scored, and for the average fan, that’s always a good thing.
With this, I’ve embraced what seems like the inevitably of the DH in the National League. I just hope it comes sooner rather than later.