Few topics about MLB evoke as much angst and disagreement as the designated hitter rule. People that love progress and change, lineup on the “yay” side of the fence, while staunch traditionalists fume at very thought that the National and American Leagues could exist with such a major rules difference. Yet, for all the discussion, no changes have been enacted since the DH became the law of the land in the AL in 1973, 45 years ago.
American League owners, following the lead of the Oakland A’s maverick owner, Charles Finley, set tradition aside and changed baseball forever by an 8-4 vote prior to the 1973 season. Following that, on April 6, 1973, Ron Blomberg of the Yankees faced Red Sox pitcher Luis Tiant and became the very first DH.
Since that time, most baseball leagues at almost all levels have adopted the DH rule. Interestingly though, is the fact that in Little League Baseball, if the local league chooses, they may employ the DH, but not necessarily for the pitcher. In these “supposed learning” leagues, the manager can use the DH to bat for the worst hitter on the team. I think that stinks. How do slower developing kids ever learn to hit?
Not as open to change as their American League counterparts, the National League owners remain steadfast in their stance in opposing the adoption of the DH. Today, many fans under 35 or so, do not even remember not having this dichotomy in the lineup rules.
People hardly talk about it anymore. The discrepancy has become the new normal for MLB. Even in interleague play, when American League teams are the home teams, National League teams even use the DH.
I assumed that by having an additional batter in the lineup, replacing an almost sure-out pitcher, that there would be a big variance between AL and NL batting and pitching stats. Here is what I found this week.
- Team batting averages: AL 6 teams > .250, NL 5 teams > .250
- Team home runs: AL 6 teams > 100, NL 1 team > 100
- Team runs: AL 4 teams > 380, NL 0 teams > 380
- Team ERA: AL 6 teams < 4.00, NL 8 teams < 4.00
- Team strike outs: AL 5 teams >700, NL 2 teams >700
Hmmm. These numbers are not what I expected at all. I was looking for a broader gap than we see in team batting averages and ERAs. Six teams batting over 250 for the AL is not significantly better than having five teams over .250 in the National League. The American League teams, despite having the DH, actually are winning over the NL in team strike outs with five teams having in excess of 700 Ks, while the NL has only two.
Team ERAs are a tad better in the DHless NL, but not that substantially. There are, as logic would lead us to believe, more home runs and runs being scored in the AL than in the NL.
The NL has flirted with adopting the DH rule for a long time, but after one voting defeat, almost 40 years ago, it has not been brought up for a vote again. There have been recent rumblings of it being adopted in the National League, but nothing of substance has come of it.
Quite frankly, to my way of thinking, I kind of prefer the old way, with no DH. But then of course, I am an old fart of 68 and major changes in the way a game is played generally annoy me. However, after 45 years of watching one league play with it and the other without it, I think that MLB should poll the fans and see what we think. If we collectively like the DH, adopt it. On the other hand, if we the fans say nay, eliminate it completely.
Quite frankly, I think people have gotten so used to the way that the DH is utilized today that nothing will be done. The only way I see it changing now is as a demand by the players’ union as part of a new CBA down the road. One thing that having the DH rule does is providing jobs to older players who can no longer play defensively. Also, it significantly changes the way a manager runs his team strategy wise in the AL as compared to the NL.
Where do you stand on this issue?
- Leave rule as it is.
- Adopt the rule in both leagues.
- Get rid of the DH entirely.
Speak out and let me know what you think. Where do you stand?
Good luck! Have fun!