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The Designated Hitter: a regrettable inevitability

I’m a National League guy and I’ve never been a big fan of the DH. It’s not a superiority thing or an elitist thing -- I know that pitchers can’t bat -- it’s just a familiarity thing in my case. I’ve watched tons more NL ball than AL ball in my lifetime, I just like it better, and you have as much a chance at talking me out of that position than you do talking the Pope out of Catholicism.

The Philadelphia Daily News’ Bill Conlin hates the DH too -- he hates just about everything -- but unlike me, he’s ready to surrender:

The American League went from All-Star Game whipping boy and an entity lacking the NL’s diversity and overall pizzazz to where it is today: dominant for the simple reason that nine hitters in a lineup are better than eight.

And where the disparity really kills the National League in the World Series and in the equally lamentable interleague play is in the No. 9 spot. With their DHs typically power bats of the Matsui, David Ortiz, Vlad Guerrero stripe, most teams configure their lineups to put speed and contact at No. 9. A second leadoff hitter, if you will . . .

. . . Once again, I call for the National League to restore the measure of competitive balance the DH rule has drained from the game since 1973. It’s not because I like it - although the National League sometimes reminds me of an auto industry where the automatic transmission was never invented.

I can’t argue with the underlying logic, and that’s saying something here because I can argue with just about everything Bill Conlin says. But he’s right: it’s not aesthetically pleasing to watch fat, old players who can’t play defense anymore, but there’s no escaping the fact that they’re more effective in the batter’s box than a pitcher. And while there are other things in play leading to the AL’s competitive advantages -- having two teams in the Yankees and Red Sox driving higher payrolls being chief among them -- the DH has contributed to that as well. George Will probably said it best in his book Men at Work:

“The best case for the DH is this: It represents that rarest of things, the triumph of evidence over ideology. The anti-DH ideology is that there should be no specialization in baseball, no division of labor: Everyone should play “the whole game.” That theory is obliterated by this fact: Specialization is a fact with or without the DH. Most pitchers only go through the motions at bat.”
I’m almost always going to go with evidence over ideology, but in this case I’ll make an exception. Personally I hope the NL holds out. Not everything has to be about offense and vive la difference, don’t you know.

But I understand if they cave one day. It may be better for Major League Baseball in the long run, even if it doesn’t make for better baseball form an aesthetic point of view.