There have been several pitches made in the last year or so to have both major leagues adopt the designated hitter rule. I would favor the leagues adopting the same policy toward the DH—that is, dropping it entirely.
In 1973, when the change was made in the American League, I was all for it. These days, I don’t like it at all.
There were three reasons that the DH appealed to me in 1973. First, I envisioned something that 42 years later seems laughable–that there would be lots more complete games by pitchers, since they would not have to leave games because they were lifted for a pinch hitter. That, I thought, was going to result in another idea that is laughable today—teams could get by with nine or even eight pitchers on the rosters. As Ralph Kramden used to say, har de har har. The second reason was sentimental. The DH rule would extend the careers of players I’d grown accustomed to admiring, such as Henry Aaron, Frank Robinson, Orlando Cepeda and Harmon Killebrew. The third reason was that I still had a fairly juvenile understanding of the game.
Like many young players, my view was that every batter should try to hit one over the fence, every pitcher should try to strike everybody out. every throw from the outfield should try to nail the runner at the most forward base etc. As people, particularly males, of that age are apt to do, I eschewed advice. Bunting, hitting to the opposite field, the hit and run etc. were all the tactics of feeble old sucks who were recognizing limitations that I was not ready to recognize. Damn it, if the guy can’t hit the ball get him out of there. After I was 14, my organized league baseball playing days were over and it subsequently took a long time, until even my slow pitch softball days were gone, for me to begin to see the light. I see it now, although I still cringe a little at the hit and run.
The idea in 1973, much like today with the “faster pace” idea, was to increase interest with young spectators by increasing the potential for scoring runs. Admittedly, 1968 was a freaky season with its low scores and the balance needed to be tipped after that, but I would argue that only casual fans are truly bored by low scores. It is the lack of appreciation for all of the things that are going on that causes boredom. Often the same “boredom” occurs with people watching futbol (soccer) until they learn to play it or somehow are able to learn what is actually going on. Conversely, many points are scored in an NBA basketball game, but that certainly doesn’t help make it interesting. So, for better or worse, run scoring in the American League did increase in 1973 and it was a bit of a kick to see aging stars hang on for a few seasons. The downside of DH took a while to get noticed. There was now a marked difference in the two major leagues and that made for interesting conversations.
What are the problems with designated hitters? Well, specialization is one thing when we are dealing with experienced, mature athletes at the top of their games. The well rounded player who can do more things is more fun to watch (and to be) however. After four decades plus of the DH, we not only have pitchers not developing their batting skills but we also have players not developing their fielding skills so that they can win a job playing every day rather than pinch hitting. Even if the DH is to survive, it should be permitted ONLY in the big leagues so that young players are not categorized early on as “DH” types and all players have incentive to work on all aspects of their game.
From a spectator’s point of view, I find that the American League has become the relatively “boring” league. There are pitchers like Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner who are better hitters than some of their non pitching teammates. On the other hand, I can’t think of a designated hitter other than David Ortiz that I enjoy watching, and if he had to play first base in order to play he would no doubt be a better first baseman.
Let’s have a campaign to eliminate the DH so we can have better, more rounded benches in all of baseball. Then we start whittling away at bloated bullpens.