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A Strange Argument Against the NL DH

I do not remember baseball before the DH. I was six years old when the designated hitter rule was implemented in the American league, and I have no memory at all of the discussion and fury that went with the rule change. The DH, for me, was just always there, like the sun or the Rolling Stones. But it’s more than that. Because I grew up in Cleveland and almost never saw National League baseball, I was only vaguely aware of pitchers hitting. When the World Series came around and pitchers hit, it felt almost exotic … like seeing barefoot kickers.

“Hmm,” I would think, “I wonder how this will turn out!”

It usually turned out with the pitcher striking out or bunting, of course, but as a full-blooded American Leaguer, the oddity of pitcher’s hitting was interesting enough in short spurts. And I guess this is the starting point: I grew up with pitcher’s hitting being the oddity, not the other way around. I kind of liked it for something different but make no mistake, for me and everyone I knew: Real baseball involved designated hitters.

Later, of course, I became much more aware of the game’s history, and I started to hear the arguments about why the designated hitter was an abomination and why National League baseball was purer, more strategic, baseball as God intended. I never really bought any of those arguments though. The strategy stuff always seemed like shaky logic to me. Yes, a manager has to double switch and make tricky decisions to avoid having their terrible-hitting pitchers come to the plate. But that’s not the sort of strategy that’s very interesting to me. It would be like, in football, being forced to play one person on the offensive line and defensive line who has never played football before. You would definitely need to employ intricate strategies to keep that person from messing up everything. But I don’t really want to see it.

Also, pitcher’s hitting means a lot more sacrifice bunting … and sacrifice bunting stinks. Last year there were 450 or so more sacrifice bunts in the National League than the American League. Pitchers hitting also means many more intentional walks. There were 350 more intentional walks in the NL. I don’t need to go over how much I despise the intentional walk. Blech.

The idea that baseball is “purer” with pitchers hitting is more gibberish to me. Pure baseball involves pitchers throwing underhand from a box 50 feet away from home plate, and the hitter saying “No, throw it a little higher.” The game is constantly evolving and, for my money, not fast enough. I thought Chris Rock’s epic takedown of baseball for alienating African Americans had numerous good points about the game’s stodginess and tendency to look backward.

Despite all of this, I still find myself oddly saddened by the new and increasing momentum to add DH in the National League. The momentum was sparked by the terrible news that St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright will miss the rest of the season because of a nasty achilles injury he suffered while running out a pop-up. In smaller letter news, Washington’s Max Scherzer also got hurt batting — he jammed his thumb, and he had his next start moved back. Both injuries were somewhat freak things, but with pitchers already getting hurt all the time, it’s sensible to ask whether or not pitchers should really be subjected to even a minor injury risk involving hitting and running.

The Wainwright injury, in particular, has given new weight to the argument that it’s time to add the DH to the National League. Throw in that Interleague Play is now year-round — making these DH rules seem capricious anyway — and tack on that run scoring is at 25-year lows, there’s definitely a new energy to the pro-DH arguments now. Theyareeverywhereandtheyareferocious. And for me, a lifelong DH guy, it’s pretty hard to make a compelling case for pitcher’s hitting based on the arguments that have been made.

But I can’t put away this feeling that we will be losing something if the National League starts using the DH. Maybe it’s something we already lost but … I still wonder.

Twenty or so years ago, I was somewhat against interleague play in baseball. Well, looking back, I see a column I wrote for The Cincinnati Post in 1996 under the headline, “Road to ruin: Interleague competition,” so I guess it was a little bit more against it than I remember.

“Understand,” I wrote, “this interleague play is a rotten, stupid, lousy idea. And this has nothing to do with the purity of the game … Would it be interesting to see the Indians and Reds play? Mets and Yankees? Cubs and White Sox? Sure. The first time. Maybe the second time. Then what? Then it will become another game.”

Here were are, 19 years later … and I would say that what I wrote then has turned out to be partly true. It is true that there is no mega buzz when the Royals and Cardinals or Cubs and White Sox or Yankees and Mets play … but, to be fair, those games are still a little bit special in their towns. Last year, when the Reds and Indians played, for instance, they drew about 20,00 or so per game in Cleveland (better than their typical Monday-Tuesday crowds). They drew 32,000 per game in Cincinnati (a little better than their typical Wednesday-Thursday crowds). I think my bigger point was on but let’s concede that some interleague games are slightly more interesting.

My concern about interleague play then was really bigger than that, even if I didn’t quite get it into words in 1996. I felt strongly that interleague player would fundamentally change the game from two distinct leagues into one mishmash of a league. And that HAS happened. And I think that has hurt the game.

The American and National Leagues used to be very different leagues. They, of course, began as rivals and competitors, with some very harsh feelings between them. Then there was an uneasy peace between them. But for more almost 100 years, they had different strategies. At times, they had different rules. More, they had different ways of playing baseball. It’s easy to forget that the American League began as a league to counter the stinginess and rough nature of the National League.

The National League was much faster to integrate, which led to it being more exciting league in the 1950s and into the ‘60s — the National League had Mays and Aaron and Clemente, Jackie and Frank Robinson, Gibson and Banks and Allen and Flood and Wills and so on. The American League, basically, had the Yankees.

Then, in the 1970s, the American League added the DH, and this led to seeing old hitting legends like Reggie Jackson and Harmon Killebrew and Yaz for a little longer, it led to the careers of Molitor and Baines and Frank Thomas and Big Papi and Edgar. When I was young, National League fans watched Craig Swan and Bob Shirley hit, and I watched Andre Thornton. I felt like I was getting the better of that deal.

Two distinct leagues added something to the game. Mystery. The All-Star game died when interleague play began … what was the point any more? The World Series got less interesting too. There was no mystery, no intrigue, no curiosity when the Kansas City Royals played the San Francisco Giants in the Series. Why would their be? They had played a three-game set in August.

I know most people don’t mourn this, and most people like interleague play (according to the polls I see) and maybe they’re right … but I liked having two leagues, completely separate, developing their own strategies and styles. That’s why I would love now to see a real World Series between the U.S. champion and the Japanese champion. That’s a clash of different ideas about the game. The World Series now is two teams from one league who happen to survive the playoff gauntlet.

Anyway, i have this dream — one I know will never come true — that baseball will realize the value of having different leagues with different philosophies about what baseball is all about. The last bastion of that is the DH. It’s the one thing that makes the National League and American League different.

And people feel strongly about it. Most of the National League fans I know don’t just like having pitchers hit, they love it. They love the rhythm of baseball with a pitcher hitting, how it breaks up the game, how it limits the chances a team has of scoring runs, how it demands that managers think ahead and make moves that they might not be entirely comfortable with making. Most of the National League fans I know have NO interest in just adding another pretty good hitter to the lineup rather than having the pitcher hit. Most of the National League fans I know despise the DH and view it as a crass 1970s gimmick that nobody ever bothered to stop, not unlike Billy Joel.*

*OK, no, stop, kidding, don’t send me those Billy Joel emails, I’m sorry, that was a cheap shot intended only for my pal Vac, who I am having a longstanding Billy Joel fight with. Billy Joel is not a gimmick, I’m sorry, really, I’m sorry.

That is to say, most National League fans I know are firmly opposed to the DH philosophically just as most American League fans I know think having pitchers hit is kind of dumb. Maybe young NL fans are different. Maybe the threat of injury is enough to change some minds. Maybe I just don’t know enough of those National League fans who crave the DH.

While people talk about the rightness of having baseball under one system, if I was commissioner, I would go in exactly the opposite direction. I’d try to eliminate Interleague play and make the two leagues 16 and 14 teams respectively (we can worry about the details later). I’d try, within reason (and with Player’s Association approval), to limit movement between the two leagues. I’d try to encourage the American and National League presidents to try different things to make their leagues fulfill the visions of their fans … maybe one league would experiment with ball-strike video technology, maybe one league would try a new extra-inning system, maybe one league would try innovative ways to speed up the game or discourage intentional walks or limit pitching changes or find ways to allow players to express their joy more. The game must respect and connect to its history. But it must evolve too.

In other words, I may not like pitcher’s hitting, I may not be willing to defend the logic of it, but I’d still like for pitchers to hit in the National League. I don’t have to like it. That’s a National League thing. And I am, from birth, an American League person.

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126 Responses to A Strange Argument Against the NL DH

  1. wogggs says:

    As a fellow American League fan, I agree that pitchers hitting is dumb. It makes me enjoy National League games less. The pitcher hitting kills rallys and leads to more intentional walks, etc… as you point out. While I, too, grew up after the DH (I was born in 1970), I did used to enjoy there being differences between the leagues and the exotic nature of National League ball. However, it seems that pitchers in the NL don’t even try to be decent hitters. Accordingly, the NL should get with the times and adopt the DH. Heck, it is an option in the AL. If managers/players/fans really want to see pitchers hitting, the NL teams can still write the pitcher’s name in 9th on the lineup card everyday.

    • Doug says:

      And having a DH makes me enjoy American League games less.

      It’s an aesthetic preference. There’s no right or wrong here.

      Also nothing annoys me more – well, that’s not true, but I do find the argument that the DH is right because people need to “get with the times” really annoying. What have the times got to do with it? Did some fundamental change in the nature of the game of baseball happen at some point? I enjoy watching what I enjoy, I don’t see what the times have got to do with that. I just don’t see any justification for talking about progress in this context, and the inevitability of it irks me.

      • Cookie Monster says:

        The change in the nature of the game is pitching being more specialized than ever. So, the batters work is harder than ever, thusly a player not using lots of time to improve his batting is at larger disadvantage now.

        By the way,one of my streams of income comes from the NL rule of pitchers having to bat. 🙂

    • sanford943 says:

      If managers/players/fans really want to see pitchers hitting, the NL teams can still write the pitcher’s name in 9th on the lineup card everyday. That would certainly not happen. What manager would put his team at a disadvantage.

      • wogggs says:

        I don’t think it would happen, either, for that very reason, what manager wants to disadvantage his team? However, that very argument shows why the NL should adopt the DH. Having the pitcher bat is a disadvantage, and, currently, NL teams using a DH a few times a year when they play in AL parks is also a disadvantage (the statistics on NL DHs are pretty awful). Hence, NL managers and owners should want the DH if their goal is to score more runs and be more competitive with AL teams.

        • Doug says:

          Having a pitcher bat isn’t a disadvantage as long as both teams have the pitcher bat. Using a DH to score more runs wouldn’t make any NL team more likely to win, because all NL teams would see a similar increase in runs scored; it’d just be a different run environment. It’s not like it would make the other 8 hitters better.

          The only time the DH provides an advantage to the AL is in interleague games played in AL stadiums, where they have a marginal advantage in roster construction that lets them take better advantage of the DH. But that’s about it, as far as I can see. And that’s pretty darn small. And even then it only really matters in the postseason – in the regular season, all NL teams face the same disadvantage in that (already small) set of interleague games, so it’s not like it’s going to give one NL team an advantage in the standings over the others. So really, the only time it matters is in the World Series. And the World Series is wacky enough that who knows WTF is going on (and I would also argue that most of the time if you’re good enough to make it to the WS you’re probably going to have some kind of talent on the bench that can take advantage of a DH, 2002 Giants notwithstanding). So this just looks like an incredibly marginal advantage, if any.

          • wogggs says:

            Having the DH at least effects the #8 hitter, because the pitcher cannot just pitch around him to get to the pitcher. Also, how many times does the 8 hitter come up with 2 outs and manage to get on base, and then we hear about how great that is because the pitcher doesn’t have to lead off the next inning? That happens all the time. In that example, the pitcher has the potential to wreck 2 innings, the one where the 8 hitter doesn’t get anything to hit, and the one where he leads off when the 8 hitter makes the third out of the inning.

            I still say, “Hey National Leaguers, adopt the DH, and then, if you love pitchers batting so much, go ahead and put ’em in the (batting) lineup, anyway.” No one would do that? Why? The pitcher is an inferior hitter and the goal is to win the game.

        • Brett Alan says:

          Also, if the manager comes out and does a ballet dance, that should count as 6 runs. I mean, clearly, if a manager doing a ballet dance would score 6 runs, then every team would do that, right? And, therefore, it MUST be a good idea, mustn’t it?

  2. malavya says:

    I was began as an American League in 1959 fan but came to love the more exciting National League game in the 1960s. As for the DH? I loved playing the game as a kid, and everyone got their turn to hit, like it or not. And many of my teammates were none too excited when it was my turn to hit. So, I identify with the pitchers who get their turn to hit. I get that the game has changed at the professional level, but I still like it to look like the game I learned to love and play as a kid. If Wainright hadn’t batted, I believe he would have gotten the same injury the next time he had to field his position.

    • wjones58 says:

      I agree. Also, Wainwright missed the 2011 season due to surgery to correct a pitching injury. It seems like pitchers get hurt an awful lot from pitching, so why don’t we replace them with pitching machines? That’s what I think of the injury-DH argument.

      • DJ MC says:

        That’s like asking why we should have seat belts and air bags in cars when people are going to get injured and die anyway. Unnecessary risk doesn’t make things better. And for players that are paid entirely based on their pitching ability (as opposed to position players who are paid for their offense and fielding–other than the DH, of course), batting is unnecessary risk.

  3. Bill James made a comment once that really changed the way I thought about this.

    The general argument is that the DH reduces strategy in baseball. But, he pointed out, strategy is not making a move, it’s the option whether to make a move. When there’s a runner on first in the bottom of the fourth of a 1-1 game, and one out, and your pitcher is up, you bunt. Period. When you’re down 4-2 in the top of the 7th and your pitcher is up with no outs, you pinch hit, and double switch.

    That’s not strategy. That’s predictability.

    He analyzed years of pinch hitting and sacrifice data and showed that of course, the NL teams were all very close to each other, year in, year out. A lack of variety, a lack of strategy. Whereas the AL teams were all over the map, some using those strategies a lot, some barely utilizing them. Showing that there was a definite battle of different philosophies at work.

    I’m sorry, but watching pitchers hit is an anachronistic idea left over from the time when we didn’t play night games and the players played in wool. It’s pathetic and makes NL games as interesting as watching carpet mildew for me. All IMHO, of course.

    • anon210 says:

      Really? The simple addition of pitcher hitting is enough to make a game that you otherwise presumably enjoy quite a bit “as interesting as watching carpet mildew”?

      This is just silly. You can have an aesthetic preference for one or the other, but don’t pretend that it changes the entire character of a game when you can often go 40 minutes at a stretch without seeing a pitcher dig in.

    • Matt D says:

      But the opposite is true on the defensive side. In the AL, if you don’t like the pitcher/batter matchup, change pitchers. It’s basically the same decision every time. In the NL, the manager has to consider when the pitcher bats next, should he double switch or try to push, etc.

  4. Jake says:

    It’s interesting that you posted the Chris Rock bit, because everything you wrote flies in the face of what he said. Baseball needs to go forward, not backward.

    • jposnanski says:

      I don’t think so. I would love to see baseball make lots of bold changes and go forward. And if National League fans would enjoy the game more with a hitter instead of a pitcher, I’d be all for that. Like I say, I’m a DH guy through and through. But I don’t think that’s how most NL fans feel. I also don’t think adding the DH to the National League is the sort of bold move that wins new fans anyway.

      • wogggs says:

        I should have added to my earlier comment (circle me first, by the way), that it won’t happen because of money. If the NL adds a DH that likely means increased payrolls for NL clubs, assuming the NL teams try and get someone good at that position, unlike what they seem to do now during interleague play. The owners will not want that, and won’t vote for it.

        By the way, Craig Calcaterra over at HardballTalk linked to an interesting article yesterday about why there is no DH in the NL. Here’s the link: Sorry, I guess you’ll have to cut and paste it…

  5. It was a bold decision to implement the DH. Very unusual for baseball. Interleague play wasn’t really that bold since every other sports league in the U.S. was already doing it. To me, it was kind of “duh. Fans want to see every team, not just the ones in their league”. But with TV such as it is, with a million games televised, I don’t know that it’s that big of a deal anymore. But, in the end, I’m ambivalent about both. I don’t go to games much anymore, so I don’t really care if they have interleague play, or not. I see every team on TV that I want to see. As for the DH, I was in an American League city at the time it was implemented, and it seemed pretty obvious. Pitchers can’t hit, and nobody likes watching them bunt or strikeout (the two most likely outcomes). But NL fans do like that stuff…. and the double switch…. and more bunting. So, I’ve become ambivalent about that too. NL fans want pitchers to hit? Fine. AL fans want the DH? fine. Neither interleague play, nor the DH has that much impact on how fans enjoy the game. Therefore, making the case for changing either is pretty difficult. Fans generally seem happy the way things are. Fans are much more concerned about pace of game and other matters.

  6. bullman says:

    Good post Joe.

    Taking the “pitchers are not good at hitting” argument to its extreme, why don’t baseball teams have a separate “fielding 9” and “batting 9?”

    Watching the beanball wars that the Royals are currently going through, I wonder if Ventura and others would be so courageous if they had to get in the batter’s box in the next inning?

    Agree with you, inter-league play has subtracted more than it has added.

    • Ed Baran says:

      This argument about platooning is my biggest argument against the DH. It just seems logically inconsistent that pitchers are treated so differently. Why stop with pitchers? If you allow that, why wouldn’t you also allow a DH for every great fielding shortstop who couldn’t reach the Mendoza line with an extension ladder? And why not also get a burner in centerfield, but have him be replaced at the plate with some slugger who barely knows which hand the glove belongs? if you argue for the DH, there is no reason to stop at just one, and the beauty of an all around player is gone–just like what happen in the NFL.

      • gray whale says:

        Well said

      • BIP says:

        The “slippery slope” argument is pretty weak. Why stop with pitchers? Because they’re the only players with unique responsibilities that require unique specialization and subject them to unique injury risks. The only non-pitcher position that is remotely analogous is the catcher–but there, we see teams make varying personnel decisions in terms of prioritizing their catchers’ receiving vs hitting abilities, and NL teams simply never do anything like that with their pitchers. If an NL team had a player like David Ortiz pitch in order to get his bat into the lineup, I’d be completely in favor of the NL ruleset.

        • Ed Baran says:

          If the pitcher’s role is that unique, why not eliminate the need to have a nine-man batting order and just have the position players bat? It’s not just the pitcher that is given unusual status, but the DH role itself. The DH role still seems like an anomaly that is inconsistent with the symmetry of the game.

          • MCD says:

            I agree with this 100%. The reason that don’t simply bypass the pitcher spot is because while people will always argue that they don’t want to see the ineptness of the pitcher, they want a gimmick to artificially bolster the offense. I could abide the pro-DH crow if they were just honest with themselves.

        • Yes. Especially since I’ve never heard a single reputable person ever suggest having a DH for a slick fielding shortstop. And the slippery slope doesn’t work since we’ve had the DH for 30+ years without any support for expanding the role beyond the pitcher. If there was a slippery slope, we’d already be debating the “next step” on that slope. We’re not. And there is really not any serious debate within baseball itself about adding the DH to the NL. Baseball changes so slowly, I’m not sure there is ever a slippery slope. If there is, somebody has coated it with copious amounts of pine tar.

          • Ed Baran says:

            I should have been more clear in my responses. I seriously don’t think there would be a slippery slope for reasons you and other have cited. My main issue is the logical consistency and cleanness of the rules. Sports (and perhaps much of life) are already littered with too many special case exemptions. From a logical consistency viewpoint, if you have one exception of replacing a weak hitter to improve the offense, there is no logical reason to stop at just one hitter. Not that reputable people would suggest that, but there is a logical argument to be made that a precedent had been set.

            I guess I should accept one more “special case” rule (after all, the NFL rule book is littered with them and survives quite well), but I’d rather not if I had a vote. The DH is as arbitrary to me as an eight-man batting order.

      • SteveD says:

        Sorry Ed, but that is a stupid argument. Pitchers dont play every game! UNDERSTAND? its the ONLY position in BB that doesnt have a ‘every day player’ WHY? because if you have the same pitcher for every game, his arm would be blown out by May 1st. Also do you think a hitting pitcher can win a batting title? answer is NO-WHY? because they only play 1 out of every 5 games and would never accumulate enough at bats to qualify for a title, do you think he plays enough to learn(get used to) the other pitchers he is batting against? NO, even every-day players say they need to see a pitchers STUFF a few games before they can adjust to him, do you think pitchers have that opportunity? certainly not!

        Hall of Fame Manager John McGraw suggested the DH way back in 1920!!! now think about that for a while!

  7. Edwin says:

    Watching Bartolo Colón bat has to rank at the very top of the unintentional comedy scale by an order of magnitude.

  8. if they were going to pull the league as it exists back into two separate entities….then, yes, fine….keep the NL DHless….a quaint throwback to an earlier time, when each league was its own thing, there were no new (and even newer)(and even more newer) levels of playoffs, and….sure. let’s go traditional.

    or, we can join the rest of the world where the DH is just about universal, and we can keep baseball moving forward…something the one league’s well undertaken a long time ago…

    • Doug says:

      I don’t give a toss about the rest of the world. I enjoy baseball more without a designated hitter. Therefore, I’d like the NL to continue having pitchers hit. And I don’t see why I should give a toss about the rest of the world, and I don’t see any reason why the DH being more recent makes it intrinsically better, and I don’t see how that’s an argument for adopting it.

      • The argument is that it adds offense (measurable runs/game increase in the AL), eliminates a few frustrating pitcher at bats from the game, and therefore makes the game more enjoyable. And, in the AL, it’s worked well, kept some fielding challenged and aging sluggers in the game, and everyone seems pretty happy with it. The NL, for whatever reason, is change averse and doesn’t want it. That’s fine, but the argument isn’t about the DH being a recent addition. The argument is that it’s accomplished what it was supposed to accomplish in adding offense into the game.

        • Doug says:

          Well, there’s a couple different things I’m really responding to.

          First, there’s the argument about the DH being more enjoyable. But it’s not more enjoyable, to me – and I don’t really see any reason we should expect it to be more enjoyable to everyone. In the same way that different people will like and dislike the same movie, I don’t see why we’d expect all people to like the same style of baseball. And your comment itself assumes that people all like the same thing – the DH results in more offense and fewer pitcher at-bats; offense is intrinsically enjoyable and pitcher at-bats are intrinsically frustrating; therefore, the DH is better. But those are presumptions, not facts, and the argument doesn’t really hold if you don’t think that more offense is intrinsically more entertaining or pitcher at-bats are intrinsically frustrating. And I don’t think that.

          Second, there’s the argument – or, I’m not sure it’s a conscious argument, but there is a way of talking about the DH that has to do with its recentness. You can see it in the way people talk about how the NL “has to get with the times”, how baseball has to “keep moving forward”, and all these kinds of things. There’s this presumption that what’s newer is better, or that the DH is somehow on the right side of history. Well, I don’t see any reason it should matter whether or not it’s more recent, and I don’t particularly care whether or not it’s on the right side of history, or see why I should care about that. I like baseball more without the DH than with it. I don’t think getting rid of it would be a good change. If it were an inevitable change, it still wouldn’t be something that I would be happy about. That’s my whole point; it comes down to different styles of the game, none of which are intrinsically “correct” or “right”. And that’s why talking about it in terms of the inevitable superior evolution of baseball bothers me – because it doesn’t even bother to make an argument, it just invisibly assumes one style is better and goes from there. And I disagree.

          • I’m going to disagree. A good majority of fans DO want more offense and find increased offense more enjoyable. There’s a lot of hand wringing going on about the lack of runs these days. Maybe you don’t care, but many fans do care. The DH is a proven way to increase offense. You may not like the side effects that everyone always mentions. But, it’s not a presumption that fans want more offense, and it’s not a presumption that the DH provides that increased offense.

        • Gesge says:

          It always blows my mind how people can write “the DH allows old fat broken-down players who can’t take the field anymore continue to play”, and believe that it is actually an argument in favor of the DH.

          • I pretty much agree, since the DH is all about adding offense. That’s the whole point. If the old fat guys can still hit 25 HRs & drive in runs, then it does help. But, to your point, it’s not because they’re old and fat & we like them. It’s because some old fat guys can still hit & create runs, but can no longer field a position…. and some full time DHs never could field a position.

      • puckpaul11 says:

        agree with Doug completely here. also, if you have a pitcher that can hit, its an advantage. like Jacob DeGrom, or Tom Seaver in his day, or Rick Wise…i think the 9 players should play, not 10. if you want to change something, i would expand the rosters, since with all of the relief pitchers you need with the pitch counts watched so carefully, teams should have more substitutes available. i have never liked the American League game, always been an NL fan. i love the tradition too. DH isn’t progress, its a modern gimmick to me.

  9. NevadaMark says:

    Someone with a better memory than I (I was 14 when the DH came to the AL) can correct me if I’m wrong but I recall no fury and precious little discussion about the DH. Maybe a few letters to the editior of the Sporting News and Baseball Digest. I recall no arguments on tv or radio. It is my memory that back then the owners just announced their rules and everyone said ok, no debate or anything.

    Of course, my memory may be completely wrong. Any other Brilliant Readers remember that time?

    • Yes, I think it was rolled out as an experiment. If it worked, the NL would also adopt it. So, I think most were open to seeing how it went. But then, it worked. And the NL still didn’t adopt it. Both sides went to their corners and dug trenches around their ideology. That ideology didn’t exist before, because pitchers hit in both leagues & it just was the way it was. You had no choice but to work around the pitcher’s spot in the order. That was the strategy. But, even though I don’t care that much either way, the NL ideology is really post DH and nonsensical. It’s really built around the desire for no change. Ultra-traditionalism couched in a love of baseball strategy. Which, as has been pointed out, is no strategy at all since every team treats every situation on whether to bunt, double switch or pinch hit pretty much the same. It’s paint by numbers strategy & is not exciting at all. Hit and run or stealing at the top of the order can be exciting. The pitcher bunting with one on and one out is not exciting. And many pitchers are unable to do even that. The pitcher striking out, almost intentionally so as not to have to run the bases, is also not exciting.

      • Easy to say that the NL is based around a “desire for no change” and “ultra-tradionalism”, when they are the only ones currently being asked to change. Nobody is asking the AL to change. If they were being asked to give up the DH, I’m sure there would be plenty of AL fans complaining. Watching some an extra hitter who has no other responsibilities on the field other than hitting isn’t exciting.

    • EnzoHernandez11 says:

      I’m about your age, so my memory of that era might not be much better, but I seem to recall the DH as kind of desperation move. Yaz had won the AL batting title in 1968 with barely a .300 average, Baltimore couldn’t sell out Memorial Stadium for the 1971 World Series, the NFL was ascendant, and we were in one of those “is baseball dying?” phases that come along every twenty years or so. In addition, there was an exaggerated sense that the AL had fallen far behind the National League, fed in part by the NL’s amazing string of All-Star victories (which, oddly enough, would continue for another decade even after the DH was established). And bellweather is right, too: the move was presented as experimental, and I think many people initially regarded it as a temporary gimmick. In any event, as bellweather notes, it didn’t generate nearly the controversy at the time that it does today, probably less than when the NBA introduced the three-point basket a few years later.

    • Squawks McGrew says:

      Same memory and I was 13 at the time. Seemed most of the debate was focused on whether baseball was dying and this was needed to entice fans. Felt more like experiment than permanent fixture. And being in a NL city, I got the impression that the “inferior” AL was making the move because it needed the excitement. So the DH wasn’t worth talking about.

  10. MikeN says:

    >450 or so more sacrifice bunts in the National League

    That’s it? That’s less than one every five games.

  11. MikeN says:

    The whole idea of separate leagues, reminds me of the old GM, where each division would have its own engineers and designers.

  12. Triston says:

    That’s what I’ve always thought about the NL not having a DH- it’s really the only thing keeping the leagues different. Interleague play started when I was about… six? So I don’t remember it not being around.

    But even as a kid, a large part of what drew me to baseball was its history, it’s… Oldness, and its quirks, which included having two clearly different leagues. I never got how adding a DH is “moving forward”; it’s just conforming. Same with the fact that not using a DH is the old way being a reason to change. So it’s old. So what? It’s not science, it’s not civil rights, it’s a game.

  13. Randy says:

    Hey Joe,

    I’m a national league fan from birth and one argument against the DH that I have not seen yet, but is compelling to me is that in the National League, the bench gets some much more use due to the pitcher hitting. I understand arguments against the strategic part of the game in the National League, but this is more about being a fan. Bench players are often some of the most fun players to root for. They are often young rookies, journey men, or scrappy vets. I am a Dodgers fan and I have many fond memories of Lenny Harris, Dave Hansen, Manny Mota, Mickey Hatcher, all players that would have possibly rotted on the bench in the American League. There is little reason to use bench players in the American League if managers are happy with the starters. Admittedly I don’t watch hardly any American League games, but my sample size of one includes a player on the Dodgers that was traded to Oakland (Antonio Perez). He had some good at-bats for the Dodgers. I was excited to see what he could do, but he barely played for Oakland. They could just carry him on the roster and never feel compelled to play him. I don’t think that happens in the National League. Maybe this isn’t true but I would guess that fans of the National League get to know your bench players more intimately and that is fun to me.

    I would be interested in seeing if you could put together some sort of analysis that looks at how bench players are used in the two leagues to see if there is any evidence for my assumptions regarding bench player playing time and fan notoriety. Would Lenny Harris have been such an amazing pinch hitter if he has been in the American League?

    • It’s a good question. I suspect that teams would tend to either platoon with their bench players and I’m wondering if AL teams carry an extra pitcher since they don’t need to pinch hit as often. That would seem like a logical adjustment.

      • Randy says:

        An iteresting idea that would never be adopted might be to let the opposing team pick DH and the DH has to have at least 2 plate appearances or something like that. Teams could instead opt to bat the pitcher if they prefer so that it might make sense to have good hitting pitchers still get at-bats. It would preserve some of the strategy and feel of the national league game but get the pitchers out of hitting.

      • NevadaMark says:

        They absolutely carry an extra pitcher. No question about it. Whether that is optimal roster construction, I have no idea. Earl Weaver did NOT carry extra pitchers after the DH was established. He seemed to do ok.

    • Brent says:

      Actually, some teams came up with really fun, much more interesting strategies in the AL with the DH. Like the A’s carrying three all glove no hit 2nd basemen and pinch hitting for them when they came to the plate. Or Earl Weaver pinch hitting for Belanger in the 5th inning if the Orioles were behind and letting him stay in the game when the Orioles were ahead.

      Those kind of interesting strategies were the direct result of having a DH and being able to do something different with your extra players, as opposed to just holding them back to pinch hit in the late innings for your pitcher.

      And of course, 13 man pitching staffs have put an end to those kind of ideas, in either league.

  14. Mike Bissell says:

    To me, the essence of the game is that there are two facets to each players ability: offense and defense. A manager has to deal with that fact in most all game decisions. Pinch hitting for your pitcher is not any different a decision to make than making a late inning defensive switch. Watching a NL game, (if I’m not familiar with the team) I can guess where a team is in their lineup just by the way they play each situation. I never have any idea where an AL team is in their lineup.

  15. BJ says:

    For me, as a Yankee fan, the single biggest reason for the DH is Chien Ming Wang. He was developing into a wonderful pitcher until he was injured on the basepaths 🙁

  16. onychomys says:

    Although most pitchers are terrible at batting, the Rockies have started hitting the pitcher 8th when going against left handed opponents. This is apparently something they learned from Tampa, where Joe Maddon did it for several years (a Cubs-Rockies game earlier this year had both teams hitting the pitching spot 8th!). If they continue with this for a while, it makes me wonder if they’ll start putting a little more emphasis on pitchers batting in the minors. All of these guys were both amazing pitchers and amazing batters at the high school level, so the talent is in there somewhere.

    • NevadaMark says:

      Do any pitchers bat in the minors? I saw the Mets farm team play last week and both teams used the DH.

      • Brent says:

        I thought I have read that the only league (from high school on up) that doesn’t use the DH nowadays is the NL.

    • I’ve never understood the pitcher batting 8th idea. The Braves did it some last year and it drove me batty. I know they think that the pitcher will make an out, and then you have, in effect, two leadoff hitters. But I don’t see the logic in that. If you’re batting a decent hitter, that could qualify to be called a second leadoff hitter at #9, then you are taking away at bats from that player, over the course of the season, and adding at bats to the pitcher’s spot. Over the course of the year, that could be 16-20 at bats that the pitchers spot gets over the supposed second leadoff hitter. That translates into 4-6 hits lost, which could mean the difference in a game or two. In a close pennant race, it could cost a team dearly. To me, it’s complete nonsense. I don’t see the plus side of the equation that would offset the extra loss, or two, that it might cause.

      • Anon says:

        The idea of hitting the pitcher 8th has been studied and generally it does make sense however the difference between hitting the pitcher 8th vs. 9th is like a couple runs per year, ie, hitting the pitcher 8th is beneficial to the tune of a couple runs a year for precisely the reasons given – it is a “second leadoff hitter’ who can jump start the offense each time the lineup rolls around (which, remember, happens 3-4 times per game typically). Not week, not month, per year. IOW, it really makes very little difference.

        Not that that fact prevents the massive gnashing of teeth that goes on over it.

  17. Karen says:

    Long time Astros fan here…and I still cringe that they were forced to switch leagues when Drayton McLane sold the club a few years ago. If Selig wanted to make the leagues even, why didn’t he just switch the Brewers back to the AL?

    Anyway, that’s slightly off point. I’m also a Red Sox fan (living in New England for 6+ years will do that to a person). I know the DH extended Yaz’s career. I also know that it’s extended Ortiz’s career. But when I was in high school, I had to write a position paper for English class, and I argued that the DH was a bad idea (this was back in the mid-1970s). I still hold that viewpoint, even though both teams I follow are now AL teams and have the DH. The DH eliminates some strategy and negates the idea that baseball players need to run, hit, throw, and field to be complete players. Now if managers were allowed to use the DH for any position and not just pitcher…I probably would be more inclined to support it, because there are some pitchers who hit better than position players.

    By the way, pitchers CAN hit; the problem is that the DH is used in high school, in college, in the minors, etc., and pitchers don’t learn HOW to hit. Bob Gibson could hit. Carlos Zambrano could hit. Dontrelle Willis could hit. Rick Ankiel’s ability to hit made the transition from pitcher to outfielder a lot easier after he injured his arm. If pitchers learned to hit, then they could. But they aren’t trained to hit, so they usually aren’t successful at it.

    One final point: 100 years ago, a young Red Sox pitcher batted .315 with 10 doubles, 1 triple, and 4 home runs while winning 18 games with a 2.44 ERA and leading the Red Sox to a World Series win over the Phillies. If the DH had existed in the AL 100 years ago, Babe Ruth probably wouldn’t have been switched to the outfield to take advantage of his bat.

    • invitro says:

      Well, Bud believed Milwaukee is an NL city because of the Braves, so he told the Astros to suck it, and hardly anyone cared or protested. Which, as a former Astros die-hard fan, is a shame.

    • Bryan Knight says:

      You’re right about the DH being used in HS/College/MiLB stunts the growth of pitchers being able to hit….some of them can, and others would be better at it in MLB if they got to “ease their way up” and bat against college/A/AA/AAA pitchers along the way without having to take the giant leap from taking their last at-bat in high school to the next at bat 5 years later against a major leaguer….but….there are also those who couldn’t hit a lick even in high school who get to the majors based on their pitching arm alone. It’s really the one position where one tool is enough to get to the big leagues, and I’m guessing that the majority of them wouldn’t be good hitters by the time they got to the major leagues, even if they did have to hit at the lower levels. Every 5th outfielder on the roster, or backup shortstop that you hate to see hit was once a good hitter somewhere along the way until they stepped up to a league where the pitchers were just better than them….maybe that didn’t happen until AAA or the majors, but they were a good hitter at one time, somewhere along the way. That’s not necessarily the case with pitchers. They were signed only due to their ability to throw a ball 90+ MPH at a young age, but the hitting ability like the 99% of us that never play MLB, never had the potential to be playable in the majors. That one tool will take them all the way, no matter what…So I think if you abolished the DH at all levels, you may see a slight uptick in the pitchers’ hitting stats, but overall they would still be pretty awful on the whole.

      • KHAZAD says:

        Karen & Brent – There are often people who state the opinion that pitchers would be better hitters if the DH was not used at lower levels, however, they don’t do any research and the statement is wrong. Pitchers have ALWAYS been poor hitters. There are 1794 pitchers with at least 100 career PAs, with 75% of their PAs as a pitcher. 64.3% of those pitchers were worse than the worst non pitcher in history ever to get as many 500 PAs in their entire career.

        The lowest OPS+ for a non pitcher with 5000 PAs is Neifi Perez at 64, and 96.4% of all pitchers ever to log 100 PAs failed to match him. That includes Gibson and Zambrano, by the way.

        Of those 1794 pitchers, only 4 were average hitters, with recent pitcher Micah Owings the greatest hitting pitcher ever who stayed a pitcher. It didn’t help him keep his spot when his pitching went south, because pitchers ARE treated as specialists. The fact that he was an above average hitter did nothing to help him keep his job.

        Also, Babe Ruth, like any other hitters of his time who were good enough hitting to play every day, stopped pitching when the team decided he was a good enough hitter to play every day. Because pitching is treated as a specialty, and they wanted the player to either concentrate on offense OR pitching.

    • Brent says:

      And to show how stupid his manager was, in 1918 when Babe Ruth pitched in the WS, he (the guy led the league in lots of offensive categories) batted 9th. when he played the outfield, he batted 3rd (or 4th)

  18. john4psu says:

    I do remember when the designated hitter was instituted and I thought this will be a good thing to see old stars hang around and play longer. Almost as if they and perhaps we can hang on to our youth and our idols just a little longer. As I grew older, I realized how truly ridiculous it is for a sport to have different rules. In football, does the AFC have different rules from the NFC?

    Strategy is a vital part of baseball and the designated hitter has lessened that. There is a classic, timeless beauty in watching a 2-1 pitching duel more so than a 6-4 game. I’ve not come across any statistical data but one would think there are less brawls in the National League as pitchers eventually have to bat and face their mound opponent should they of hit a foe with a pitch earlier in a game. One would believe that makes the National League somewhat self policing.

    Are pitchers baseball players or just specialists? How many times did Greg Maddux and Jim Kaat make a fine fielding play to help his team defensively? Sometimes, a kicker has to help his team and make a tackle. Like a real football player. Pitchers should bat and run to first base and around the bases. Like a true baseball player.

    • If you think there are no beanball wars in the NL, then you don’t follow the NL. The last two nights of the Braves/Nationals featured two plays that ended up in retaliatory hit batsmen. In both cases, that ended it, and there was no thought that the pitcher would be thrown at. The only time pitchers get thrown at is if they started the whole thing, which is usually not the case. Beanballs are born out of the unwritten rules about running the bases a certain way, not showing up the other team, etc., etc. ad nauseum.

  19. Carl says:

    I miss the different ways the umpires stood behind home plate. When that went waay, it really hurt the differences between the leagues. The American League way was much, much, much better.

  20. Having an automatic out in the lineup makes the game worse in so many ways. Not just the added bunts and intentional walks. If there are two outs, and a runner on third, with the bottom of the order coming up, I’ve seen pitchers work around both the 7th and 8th place hitters to get to the opposing pitcher. The other night, the 7th place hitter led off with a triple. Automatic run, right? Wrong. The 8th place hitter popped up, and that was essentially the end of the inning, because the pitcher batting was an easy K, so the leadoff hitter needed a hit to drive him in, which he didn’t get. In the NL, rallies die when they get to the 9 spot, while if a pitcher leads off an inning, basically the offense is working with two outs to score a run. There is nothing interesting in watching a hitter bat who has no chance to get a hit.

    • john4psu says:

      If he’s holding a bat, he’s capable of getting a hit. Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale come to mind as decent hitters. It behooves the pitcher to work at hitting. It may win him a few games along the way.

      • 2 pitchers 50 years ago come to mind as being decent hitters. Is that a worthwhile ratio of entertainment to futility? Is the one time in ten that a groundball from a pitcher’s bat finds a hole worth all the other feeble hacks? Wouldn’t you rather watch David Ortiz at the plate every single time over some overmatched hurler?

      • It’s a nice benefit. But Sandy Koufax was a terrible hitter (.097/.145/.116) and that didn’t seem to hurt him much. Nobody even talks about it. Teams don’t turn away good pitchers because they can’t hit. It’s not an expectation.

      • KHAZAD says:

        I get tired of the fallacy that certain pitchers were good hitters. Bob Gibson’s lifetime OPS+ was 50, Drysdale’s was 45. Don got 1309 major league PA’s. There are 2928 non pitchers that got at least that many PA’s and 2923 were better hitters than Drysdale. There were 2728 players who got as many PA’s as Bob Gibson, and 2720 were better hitters than he was.

  21. HarryDangler says:

    I grew up on NL baseball, and was 12 when the DH was implemented. It was considered gimmicky and Finleyesque, in the same category as designated runners and orange baseballs, ideas they were also looking into. They also considered decreasing the number of strikes and balls required for Walks and Strikeouts to 3 and 2. But the DH stuck. Whatever. I can take it or leave it at this point.

    But, to paraphrase Joe: I never argue with people who tell me that they don’t like to see pitchers hit. I get it, because they can’t hit. But sometimes they can, and that’s what makes it great.

    • invitro says:

      The walk/strikeout reduction to 3/2 is a great idea. And there are good points to the orange baseball.

      • Andrew says:

        Is there really an argument AGAINST reducing balls and strikes? Speeds up the game, probably extends the careers of pitchers at least a little, encourages aggressiveness by pitcher and batter alike. I’d prefer that to 7-inning games.

  22. edfromyumaaz says:

    I thought you stated most of the anti DH rules well. The poster who talked about using the bench was correct as well, but for me there is also a rhythm to having the pitcher hit in the early innings, and it keeps the game moving. AL lineups seem endlessly repetitive and I usually have no idea if the #3 hitter or the #8 hitter is at bat. Plus pitchers are a good reminder of how really HARD it is to hit a baseball. AL lineups seem endlessly repetitive and I usually have no idea if the #3 hitter or the #8 hitter who is at bad

  23. VTmike says:

    I don’t like the idea that you have a batter who never has to play the field, especially when you can stick him in the middle of your lineup. That feels like gaming the system. Compromise #1: the DH hits for the pitcher, but for defense, he can’t sit out more than 1 inning in a row. Most likely he’d end up platooning with 1B or RF, but he’d have to prove himself in the field a little bit. Compromise #2: DH bats for the pitcher, but it is fixed as the #9 spot in the lineup. If you can’t play the field, then you get fewer at-bats than everyone who does.

    • Gesge says:

      Have the DH be more literally tied to the pitcher. That is, when your starting pitcher has to leave the game, David Ortiz has to leave with him. Then you have to pinch-hit every time the reliever’s spot comes up, as in the NL.

  24. prophet says:

    I don’t want different rules between the two leagues. That quickly leads to not playing the same game (e.g. wood v. metal bats). Different strategies, sure, but you don’t need different rules for that. You just need smart people willing to fail while they hash out which things are worth doing and which things are not.

    I do want to see these people do the things that they do better than anyone else in the world. That doesn’t include pitchers hitting. Thus, I would love for the DH to take over the NL and have the rules be the same throughout baseball (or as close as we can come).

  25. Johnson City says:

    Here’s the strategy part that I like in the National League: the pitcher’s in a little bit of trouble in the 5th or 6th, but he is coming up next inning . . . do you leave him in & hope he gets through the inning, or do you pull him now?
    As Madison Bumgarner said: “There’s so much more that goes into it in the National League than, ‘let ’em pitch until they can’t get outs anymore.'”

    That’s the key difference. It’s not the strategy on offense (sure, pitchers bunting in certain circumstances is almost automatic, etc.), it’s the strategy on defense.

    • The really tough choice whether to pull a pitcher in a close game does come up sometimes. But really not that often these days because most teams don’t really expect their pitchers to go more than 5-6 innings. If it’s 2-1 in the 5th or 6th, there are runners on base, and the manager was planning on going to the pen anyway, then he goes to the pinch hitter…. and that’s most of the time. If his bullpen is worn down, then he lets the pitcher hit. It’s not really a gut wrenching decision & usually has more to do with how the manager is managing his pitching staff then any real strategy. When you get into the playoffs, and long term pitch count and bullpen management goes out the window, it probably comes into play slightly more often.

  26. Dan W. says:

    Joe, if we take baseball back to how it was in the 1970s does that mean we can bring back disco demolition and 10 cent beer night? Oddly, both of these were AL team promotions and both occurred after the AL adopted the DH. That said I totally agree that MLB had more intrigue when the AL and NL were run as separate leagues. But what is done is done and I don’t see Humpty Dumpty being put back together again.

    I am instinctively an AL fan but I enjoy how the game is played in both leagues. Although what with both leagues embracing one-inning and even one-batter relief specialists I believe the NL argument of the “double-switch” has lost merit. AL managers are working their bench now as much as any NL manager ever did. If folks really wanted to return baseball to the way it was then it ought to limit pitching changes. How would fans feel if teams were limited to no more than 3 pitchers for an entire game?

    • I think the better rule change ideas have been around limiting the number of pitchers in an inning. If you take out a pitcher, then the replacement pitcher has to pitch the rest of the inning. That removes a lot of the righty/lefty matchup pitchers, generating more offense, and moves the game along.

  27. Grover Jones says:

    I think there are some good ideas mentioned above that should be discussed more:

    –making the DH bat 9th
    –not replacing the pitcher in the lineup (only 8 men bat)

    I’m a NL guy, but still think these should be discussed.

  28. Brent says:

    Carrying 13 pitchers (and thus only 4 “extra” players or 3 in the AL, one of whom is your backup catcher who isn’t going to play except if the starter gets hurt, meaning most teams are carrying one backup infielder and 2 backup outfielders) eliminates strategy a hell of a lot more than the DH does.

  29. Devin Clancy says:

    I just wish we could stop hearing about how there would be less head hunting if pitchers batted. Last time I actually ran the numbers it was clear that pitchers almost NEVER get hit by pitches and the AL and NL both had roughly similar rates of hit bastmen.

    • I don’t know the numbers, but I agree. The players that get thrown at are the ones that spike other players, show boat on HR trots, over celebrate, spew comments about the other team into the media, etc. I think teams shy away from hitting other team’s pitchers because the other team will retaliate in kind. And keeping pitchers healthy is far more important than making a point with the other team’s pitcher. Personally, my attitude runs towards the “if you don’t like what the other team is doing, win the game. If you’re not winning, then get better.” That’s the best revenge.

  30. MCD says:

    Its time to adopt the DH for both leagues. and please, lets add the courtesy runner for catchers while we are at it.

  31. Andy says:

    As a Clevelander I was raised on the DH and prefer the DH but for anyone that thinks we should eliminate pitchers from hitting entirely I just have two words for you- Bartolo Colon!

  32. Sid Mickel says:

    Hi Joe,

    I am a big fan and love your work. Still, as a long time baseball fan I totally disagree with your argument about the DH being a good thing. You said it yourself, national league manager’s do have more strategy to deploy. Just because you don’t think the strategy is important means nothing at all to the fact that it is additional strategic moves by a national league manager.

    The fact Wainwright and Scherzer were injured is lousy but too damned bad. Are you proposing a rules change every time a pitcher gets hurt. So for example, hitters can no longer hit up the middle in fear of hitting the pitcher. Yes, that is extreme but an exact answer to your point.

    I am typically a person who “embraces change”, but with baseball, change should come after year’s and I mean year’s of consideration.

    The National League does indeed play real baseball and the American League plays a watered down version. That is a simple fact and I leave to everyone individually to consider which they approve of more.

    Again, love your work and wish you the best!

    Sid Mickle

    • Everybody says they like change. But, I am in charge of change in my job. Let me tell you, very, very few people really embrace any change. Change in theory is fine to most people. Change that impacts me, however, is bad. That’s pretty apparent in your comments. You say you like change. “But don’t change my baseball by adding a DH”. In fact, to get change from anyone requires a lot of thoughtful steps. I’m almost amazed today that baseball was ever able to get the DH in even one league. The culture is extremely change resistant. Heck, baseball didn’t even start testing for steroids until 10 years ago. Every other sports league on the planet had been doing it for at least 10-20 years before baseball. Until it got embarrassing, baseball did nothing.

  33. EnzoHernandez11 says:

    I went to my first MLB game in 1967, in Anaheim. Then the Padres came to San Diego and I didn’t see an American League game again until 1980. At my first AL game in over a decade, the DH felt kind of new and exotic–I couldn’t wait to finally see one in person (even though it was, you know, just another guy hitting). But around the fifth inning or so, after a beer or two, as I realized that pitcher’s spot was never coming up, I looked around at the Anaheim Stadium crowd and thought to myself, “How do these people figure out when to go to the restroom?”

  34. Nick La Pietra says:

    It is funny. I tried not to comment on this but for some reason it kept drawing me back.

    I like watching baseball but am not a zealot. I like the personal an human side of it. That is probably why I come to this blog so much. I like reading about the human/personal aspect. I usually skim through the articles utilizing the ridiculous metrics like WAR and blah blah until my eyes glaze over and I give up. That stuff means nothing to me, especially if I need a super computer to try and figure out what the heck folks are saying.

    I like watching baseball for the uncertainty. I like it to be an imperfect game. I like it to have a broken rhythm. If it gets too long or boring, I can leave. In addition, for full honesty, I don’t like replay, I don’t like the challenge, I don’t like the strike zone stuff shown on TV to see if the pitch was a ball or a strike. It is all bull to me, liking giving everyone a trophy so they don’t get their feelings hurt. Life is imperfect people! Humans are imperfect! Why shouldn’t our games be imperfect?

    I love it when a pitcher comes up with a clutch hit, or even a home run. My son and I were at an Orioles game a year or two ago and saw one of their veteran pitchers hit the first home run of his career. It was exciting, a novelty my son and I still discuss.

    I look at it this way. If I want to watch something predictable with a steady rhythm, then I can watch a fan blade rotate.

    My two cents.

  35. Joe, Great article. I’m from Milwaukee and have been going to games since 1973. When the Brewers went to the National League in 1998, I was vehemently opposed to it. Who wants to see the pitcher hit? Now, 17 years later, I can’t stand the DH. I can’t imagine going backwards. When I was a kid in the 70s, it was great to see careers of greats like Aaron and Killebrew and Billy Williams and Frank Robinson extended a bit. But now? Is it really better to see David DeJesus, Adam LInd and Alberto Callapso hit? (Those were the guys who were listed as the regular DH’s for the Rays, Jays and A’s last year per Baseball Reference). Is that really going to make that much difference in the game??

  36. Richard says:

    When I first spotted the title of this essay, I was already mentally planning my comment as to how the DH was the only way to tell the leagues apart. Thanks, Joe, for saying it better than I ever could.

    The only tweak I would add if I were Commissioner would be that in any and all interleague games (regular season, All Star Game, and World Series), the DH would be used according to the rules of the league of the VISITING team. A DH in Coors Field! Pitchers trying to bang one off Fenway’s Green Monster! Wouldn’t that be cool?

  37. Chris M says:

    I’m an NL fan who grew up in New York and now lives about halfway between DC and Baltimore, so I’ve had easy access to both leagues my entire life, and to me there’s no question that NL baseball is better. I absolutely, positively despise the DH.

    That being said, if you offered me a trade of NL DH for the elimination of inter league play, I’d sign up for it yesterday.

  38. nfieldr says:

    Amen Brother! Preach it!

  39. Dave B says:

    I’ve never understood the hatred so many have for the DH. I feel pretty much as Joe does. Watching pitchers try to hit is just painful. Then again, I don’t understand why some people only watch one league and not the other. Anyway, I guess it’s nice that there’s one league for the DH fans and one for the DH haters, so that everybody can be reasonably happy.

  40. Kris says:

    I’m wondering why they just don’t let the DH be used in inter-league play in NL parks, conversely, pitchers bat in AL parks for inter-league play. As to moving Houston, the Rangers were lonely. I’m amazed that KC and St. Louis are not in the same division.

  41. Matt D says:

    The DH is coming to the NL. It’s inevitable: the hitters like it because it lengthens their careers, the owners like it because it increases offense. And last I checked there wasn’t a pitcher’s union.

    I don’t like the DH. Aside from the purist argument that baseball players swing bats and wear gloves because that’s what baseball players do, I like the interplay between defensive strategy and offensive strategy. I like that the decision to take a pitcher out depends on when he bats.

    So I’d be in favor of a compromise: the NL gets the DH, but the DH leaves the game when the starting pitcher does. It maintains the strategic interplay between offense and defense, and those DH enthusiasts would still get what they want–to rarely watch a pitcher bat.

  42. Gene says:

    I’m an NL fan and I’d just as soon keep the DH out of the league. At the same time, I’m not going to give up baseball if it does happen so I’m maddeningly wishy-washy about this, I suppose.

    My gripe about this is related to Joe’s statement that Wainwright’s injury “has given new weight to the argument that it’s time to add the DH to the National League.” Waino’s injury has given the argument no new weight whatsoever. Any athlete can pop an Achilles at any time, and Waino’s could have, and probably would have, snapped 2 innings later while he fielded a ground ball. And Scherzer could have jammed a thumb fielding a grounder as well. If you’re going to use an injured-pitcher argument, find a better example: a pitcher who’s injured trying to break up a DP, for instance.

  43. wjones58 says:

    I am 100% in agreement of Joe’s argument about not homogenizing the leagues, and I share his love of what he also admits is most likely a lost cause. Why can’t the two leagues be different? Why do we have to strive to be like the other homogenized leagues, just because? I see no advantage in it from a fan’s perspective. I like that the AL has the DH. I like that the NL allows pitchers to hit. After so many years, I would think the NL would have been more aggressive in not only continuing to develop their pitchers as batsmen, but also to do a more aggressive job of acquiring AL pitchers who like/have ability to hit. But one thing I have a question about, that I don’t think anyone had brought up. I believe that due to two things……the reduced need for back-up players to pinch-hit, and the bigger offense that the DH brings…..we have seen a drastic change in rosters, slowly going fron a 15-10 roster to a 13-12, or in some cases a 12-13 roster. While that makes sense (theoretically, because I HATE IT!) in the AL, the NL has also gone gradually to that type of roster, due to the long-ball era, and helped by new hitter friendly parks like Coors, Great American, BOB, Citizens, etc. This has changed the way the National League game has traditionally been played, as keeping a third catcher, or a ‘professional pinch-hitter’, or a speedy runner or defensive whiz has been phased out because we have to have so many damn pitchers on the roster. I hate draconian rules like limiting how many pitchers you could have on a roster, but I decry this, and think it is a much bigger issue than whether both leagues have a DH or not. And on the general agreement I have with Joe on this issue, I too think the interleague play has watered down how special the All-Star and World Series are….just like the other sports.

  44. Mark Daniel says:

    The problem with the interleague, as I see it, is that we don’t get enough experience seeing the stars of the league. For example, as a Tigers fan I only get to see Mike Trout maybe 6 or 7 times a year, and half of those games are road games that start at 10pm. I would think MLB would want all fans of that league to be exposed to the great players as much as possible. Instead, I get to see the Indians, Twins, White Sox and Royals over and over and over. I’d much rather see all of the league’s talent at a reasonable level, rather than just during a smattering of games.

    • Dan W. says:

      Mark, I full-heartedly agree with your complaint. If wildcards are based on overall league record then the schedules across the league ought to be more fairly balanced.

  45. Nick says:

    What strikes me in this debate is the complete ignorance of the AL side. They refuse to admit that there can be some positives to the NL’s “No DH” rule. This to me means that they have not thought through the entire argument. If you haven’t taken the time to think about both sides of an issue, and weigh the pros and cons, then your argument holds no meaning to me. You haven’t thought about it as much as I have.

    Additionally, Wainwright running out a popup should have no place in this discussion. It’s a freak injury, but it could have happened any time. It could have occurred during the countless hours he spends running to stay in shape. People get injured, it happens. It’s dishonest to blame his injury on pitcher’s hitting.

  46. Sween says:

    For me, being from birth a NL fan, the way the game evolved as baseball makes the difference in the NL versus AL rules. The point being that every player in the field hits. Each has to be able to do both. Other sports have developed differently. Football has an offense and a defense and only rarely does someone do both. Basketball is the opposite. Every player has to be able to play both offense and defense to a good enough skill level that the coach will leave them in the game.

    Baseball, like basketball, balances the player’s strengths on both offense and defense in order for the coach to play them. If you are capable of doing both or of doing one or the other well enough, you get to play. If not, you sit.

    To me, the only way the DH makes sense is if baseball becomes football and you have a defensive team and an offensive team. Otherwise, if you play in the field, you have to hit.

  47. DJ MC says:

    One thing to mention, which a couple other commenters brought up but I didn’t see anyone really discuss, is that there aren’t two leagues anymore. There are two conferences, the American and National. The organizations are combined under MLB. The umpires are combined under MLB. The “league presidents” are entirely ceremonial, and have been for 15-plus years. The DH is literally the only thing that remains as a difference.

    Some people may want to cling to that difference, but I don’t. I want MLB, to put it crudely, to crap or get off of the pot. Separate the leagues, so that they are nominally independent organizations under the umbrella of Major League Baseball. Or don’t, and add the DH to the NL so that every US professional baseball league is playing under the same rules. Sitting in this limbo is just ridiculous.

  48. Johnny B says:

    Game designers will tell you that a game is a series of interesting decisions. To me the logic against the DH is simple: It creates fewer interesting decisions. In the AL, the decision to leave a pitcher in or take him out comes down to: 1) what’s his pitch count? 2) is he gassed, or 3) do I like the matchup? In the NL, you have all of those considerations, plus a few more: 4) is he due to bat in the next inning? 5) if i double-switch with him, do I like the matchup that I’m likely to get with the pinch-hitter? 6) if I double-switch, do I like the tradeoff between the starting position player I’m going to pull and the pinch-hitter/defensive replacement that’s coming into the game? 7) if I leave the pitcher in the game, what chance do I have that he will do something productive with his at-bat? (There *are* some good-hitting pitchers in the NL; and ironically, Adam Wainwright is one of them.) 8) if the starter is still effective in the latter innings and I pull him in favor of a pinch-hitter in a crucial situation, do I prefer the matchups with my bullpen, or would I be better off with the starter? Etc.

    Add in the fact that the pitcher hitting has actually caused innovative new strategies such as the double-switch and batting your weakest hitter 8th rather than 9th.

    And then, I admit it, there is a strong aesthetic element. I feel bad for AL fans who never have the blood-in-the-water sensation of seeing the opposing team walk the pitcher to lead off an inning. I absolutely love seeing a team send its best-hitting pitcher up to bat in an extra-inning game because they are out of position players (and I once saw an NL team win a game under these circumstances when the NL pinch-pitcher was issued a bases-loaded WALK with 2 outs in the 10th inning … unforgettable). And then there is the concept of the well-rounded ballplayer. Some pitchers in the NL do more to help themselves win games by being proficient at offensive skills, whether it’s just making contact, laying down a sac bunt, or running the bases.

    Getting back to the original idea … a game is a series of interesting decisions. This means in any great game, there are tradeoffs. There are powerful pieces and not-so-powerful pieces. If we optimized the value of every property on the Monopoly board, there would be more money but it would be boring. If pawns were as powerful as queens, there would be more blood on the chess board, but it would be boring. If golfers didn’t have to master all phases of the game and could just focus on one, they would hit gargantuan drives, but it would be boring. To me it’s the same with baseball. The pitcher is a weak point in the lineup (though not all pitchers are equal). But the fact that this weak point exists makes for a more interesting game. The pitcher’s unique skill and value as a defensive player – by far the most important defensive player on the team – has to be balanced against his relative weakness as an offensive player, especially at critical moments. I think the DH eliminates some of those considerations and makes for duller game.

  49. Doodles says:

    I agree 100%. I am a lifelong AL fan, yankee variety. But i mourn the loss of distinct leagues, the debasing of the ASG, hate interleague play, and applaud the NL for sticking to tradition. No dh!

  50. jalabar says:

    I began as an AL fan, in the DC area with the last Sens leaving when I was 6. I was an Orioles’ fan thus grew up with the DH. The Angelos virus and the coming of the Nats brought a change in allegiance in the mid-2000s, and I am now a staunch NL guy. But having been an AL guy, I have no issues with the DH and would be fine with having it in both leagues.

  51. Josh says:

    Wild idea that wont happen because it loses MLB jobs, but:

    What if there was no DH, no pitcher hitting, and the line-up was just 8 batters?

  52. I’m an NL guy and I used to be anti-DH. But I realized something: Usually what makes a sport less fair makes it more fun. For example, playoffs. The fairest thing to do would be to abolish playoffs and to declare the team with the best record champion. But that’s no fun. So we have a playoff system which is basically a crap shoot but that makes it even more fun (see: first round of NBA playoffs). So yes, the DH doesn’t help the aesthetic of the game, but you can’t argue that it’ll make it less fun which is what the sport is all about.

    • Matt D says:

      Well, I’m an anti-DH guy and I *will* argue that the DH makes the game less fun (for me). I like how the decision to take out a pitcher depends on who’s coming up to bat. It creates a tradeoff between defensive strategy and offensive strategy that adds to my enjoyment of the game.

  53. Tom W says:

    Here’s my biggest issue with all of this “pitchers never bat” issue. Most of the pitchers (especially starting pitchers) I’ve seen are spectacular athletes. They were the best athlete in little league, in middle school, and in high school. They became successful as pitchers because they were simply able to do things with their bodies that us mere mortals could not. Granted, they don’t study or practice hitting with the same tenacity as a position player does, but why isn’t that a part of the culture? Every pitcher (even the DH-league pitchers) know that they’ll have to take their at-bats throughout the course of a season. Why are they not put into a program to study batting and improve at it from spring training until the World Series? If Justin Verlander (or any other AL starting pitcher) is that tenacious of a competitor on the mound, why isn’t he putting that same level of tenacity into batting, practicing hitting so he is, at least, a competent bunter when he comes up in inter-league or in the World Series? Verlander is being paid $28 million this year; he can’t spend 30 minutes a day in the batting cage getting better at this elemental part of the game?

  54. Spencer says:

    I don’t care either way. Neither side has a very compelling argument. It’s just two different ways of doing things. I think it’s ridiculous to see the two sides debating something so arbitrary and subjective.

    Given that I’m inclined to agree with Joe. Keep the nl dh free in order to maintain separation between leagues.

    • john4psu says:

      Joe, if the Negro League had the DH, Earl Wilson, the hard swinging pitcher, might not of made your book.

  55. spook1320 says:

    Unify baseball. End the DH divide. Restore the integrity of baseball’s championship, while respecting both AL & NL fans’ priorities in a win-win rule.

    • W.J. says:

      The DH is a joke. The fans in the National League NEVER deserted our league, like AL dabs did! There are already too many 2 tool players in baseball. What a friggin’ joke!

  56. W.J. says:

    The DH is lame. The ONLY reason it was implemented is because AL fans DESERTED their league, and their owners were desperate to bring them back. Thus, the circus atmosphere that was needed was brought in. The DH. Any other reason given is pure baloney. Back in the 60’s, early 70’s, you could shoot off a cannon in most AL parks, and not hurt anyone.

  57. Trey says:

    They should get rid of the DH. The fear of pitchers getting hurt is a ridiculous argument. Everyone can get hurt while hitting, but more pitchers get hurt pitching than they do hitting. John Smoltz tore his arm pitching multiple times, but never had a hitting mishap. Greg Maddux broke his hand while trying to dive for a ball in foul territory, but never got hurt batting. This whole getting while batting is a ridiculous argument.

    • Patrick says:

      Of course more pitchers get hurt while pitching. They pitch more than they hit. The argument for getting hurt while batting is that it’s an *additional* injury risk, one that is incurred while deriving almost no benefit to the team, because pitchers are terrible at hitting.

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