The Designated Hitter is Ruining Baseball

Connie Mack came up with the original idea for a designated hitter in 1906

Since its introduction in 1936, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York has inducted 289 players.

Not one of them is a full-time designated hitter.

The Designated Hitter rule has been in the American League since 1973, the year after the AL-average slash line was .239/.306/.343.  Offense needed a boost, there is no way of questioning that.  However, despite the offensive support it has given the American League, the position has become a joke.  There are no longer full-time designated hitters such as Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz.  Instead, teams now use the DH as a place to put their tired players yet still get production out of them.

So how is the designated hitter rule ruining baseball?  Well, I will get in depth about it after the jump.

Since the introduction of the designated hitter rule in 1973, the American League has seen a huge offensive boost.  Since 1972, the runs/game in the American League has increased from 3.47 to 4.46, with its peak in 1996 where 5.39 runs were scored each game.  The runs per game total is coming down fast, though.  Since 2004, the run totals look like this:

2004 – 5.01
2005 – 4.76
2006 – 4.97
2007 – 4.9
2008 – 4.78
2009 – 4.82
2010 – 4.45
2011 – 4.46

The 0.55 runs/game drop very well could be better pitching in the AL but it could also be managers (and players) thinking that the DH is just a joke of a position.

So how does it ruin baseball?  Since baseball was created, there have always been nine defensive players on the field at any given time, and all of those who fielded would bat.  Baseball is a game of nines – nine players, nine innings, nine strikes for the immaculate inning.  While this may seem ironic coming from a person who believes in sabermetrics, the DH is ruining baseball because it makes it something it is not- a game of ten players.  Baseball is supposed to be comprised of a pitcher, a catcher, four infielders, and three outfielders.  Even Bob Costas would agree with that logic, according to an article he wrote in USA TODAY.

Some changes in baseball — such as interleague play on a limited basis, or a thoughtful realignment — make perfect sense. Others — artificial turf, wild-card teams in the playoffs — make sense only to the baseball-impaired. Then, there is the designated hitter. It’s an idea not without merit and one which used to make sense — for the American League, at least. In the early 1970s, baseball faced a crisis of popularity. The American League was especially hurting because of the disappearance of the Yankee dynasty and its slowness in signing black and Latin stars. That left the National League with a disproportionate number of the game’s best and most exciting players. In addition, offense was at its lowest point in generations. In 1968, the entire American League hit .230. Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 average. Some 20% of all games in the major leagues that year were shutouts. Clearly, something had to be done to juice the offense and to distinguish the American League from the National in an interesting way. The designated hitter was a logical response and it had some real benefits. It helped increase run production — the league batting average jumped from .239 in 1972 (pre-DH) to .259 in 1973 (first year of DH) — and it extended the careers of some popular players. Now, except for enabling veterans such as Minnesota’s Paul Molitor to continue playing, none of the other conditions apply any more. Everyone knows the offense has gone through the roof in every measurable way. If anything, the balance needs to be tipped back in the other direction. With its new ballparks and exciting young stars, the American League no longer needs gimmickry to distinguish itself from the senior circuit. The disadvantages that were always present with the DH now tip the balance the other way. One of those disadvantages was highlighted recently by the ugly beanball incidents at Yankee Stadium and in Kansas City. Almost to a man, baseball people believe these situations would occur less frequently if the pitcher had to bat and face the prospect of retaliation. More importantly, the loss of strategy and the over-emphasis on power at the expense of some of the game’s subtleties is simply too great a price to pay for the advantages of the DH. Beside, anyone who has so short an attention span and so little appreciation for baseball that he can’t bear to watch a pitcher bat is probably beyond hope, anyway. The fact is the National League plays a more interesting game. The American League should try it, too.

Basically, the designated hitter is like having Mark Price throw Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws or Craig Simpson taking Anze Kopitar’s penalty shots — it’s unfair to the opposing team.

Not only does the DH ruin the game by making baseball something that it is not, it makes the game easier for the manager.

Imagine Charlie Morton going 8 innings into a no-hitter and he’s up at the plate with 2 outs and the bases loaded. A manager in the National League has a difficult decision to make: do you take Morton out, assuming he’s not tired, to get a better chance at driving in a run, putting a lesser pitcher in for the 9th if nobody scores, or do you leave him in and let Morton try to drive the runner in from third? A manager in the American League doesn’t face this problem: he has a player who bats in place of the pitcher. Even if the #9 hitter on the team is an inferior hitter to a bench player, the manager will undoubtedly pinch hit for him because he has a lesser affect on the game than a pitcher who has a perfect game through 8 innings.

Another argument against the DH is that it ruins the integrity of the game. Not just by putting ten players in the lineup, but also by paying a man, who is already playing a game for a living, $13 million to play half of the game. If he played first base, then he would be out on the field in every inning instead of in the dugout eating hot dogs and drinking beer.

Sadly, the designated hitter is undoubtedly going to become a part of the National League in 2013 when there is more interleague play due to the Houston Astros moving to the American Leauge West.

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