Time for the NL to Adopt DH Rule

He made contact, which is more than most pitchers do!
The World Series is over–a feel-good story for Bostonians recovering from last year’s last-place finish under Bobby Valentine and the city’s even deeper anguish after the Marathon bombing in April. St. Louis fans are, of course, disappointed. Winners and losers aside, objectively speaking it wasn’t one of the better Fall Classics–too much sloppy play, a relatively non-competitive Cardinals’ team, and a woeful lack of hitting by either side. The Cardinals actually out-hit the Red Sox, though their just .224 to .211 margin isn’t exactly Paul Bunyan territory.

So let’s talk hitting. With then possible exception of watching Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma swing the lumber, is there anything more boring that watching pitchers flail away like a 4-year-old T-ball player? Pitchers went a combined 0-15 during the three games in Busch Stadium and it’s not that they were unlucky–they were as clueless as Ted Cruz when confronted by facts. The number one thing MLB could do to enhance its brand is tell the National League to get on board and adopt the Designated Hitter rule.

I can hear the self-styled “purists” screaming about tradition, strategy, and respect for the game. Poppycock! The DH isn’t exactly the flavor of the month–the American League has used it since 1973. Isn’t 40 years of “history” enough to prove that fans like it and that it’s good for the game? MLB attendance went up the first year the DH went into effect, but let’s look at the overall picture. In the 40 years the DH has been in effect total MLB attendance per decade has soared from 329 million in the 1970s to over 808 million in the first decade of the 21st century. Sure there are other factors: expansion, new ballparks, TV hype… but maybe the purists might wish to consider that the game itself has gotten more exciting. Maybe it’s like the 1996 Nike commercial after all, and most chicks (and guys) dig the long ball way more than they do a 2-1 game.

Hold the true-athletes-can-do-it-all appeals. The truth of the matter is that pitchers never could hit worth a damn. By average the only recent pitchers with plate success are Micah Owens (.316) and Rick Ankiel (.266). The problem is that Owens also happens to be a lousy pitcher and Ankiel long ago converted to being an outfielder–just like the best-hitting pitcher in MLB history, one George Herman “Babe” Ruth (.342). I guess you could argue that Carlos Zombrano (.238) is also a better hitter than Kozma, but the Big Z isn’t putting up enough K’s these days. Nor should you listen to the hype about all those great hitting pitchers from baseball's Golden Age. Bob Gibson? Are you impressed by his .206 lifetime average? Or Don Drysdale’s .186? I remember some of these Golden Age players and I have to tell you that the only thing scarier than a Sandy Koufax fastball was Koufax trying to hit a thrown pitch by someone else. It didn’t need to be fast. Or close to the plate for that matter.

When we get right down to it, none of the evocations of tradition make any sense. The game changes, end of story. Can we really compare Ty Cobb to Willie Mays to Mike Trout? Not really. Not unless we standardize the equipment, the angle of the mound, the size of the ballparks, etc. Ever wonder if Joe DiMaggio would have hit in 56 straight games or if Ted Williams would have averaged .406 in 1941 if fielders of their day wielded today’s gloves? (When I was a kid, the word “glove” was more descriptive than today’s mitts, which look more a jai alai cesta!) Would Bob Feller have pitched as well off a flat mound? Would Mickey Mantle have prolonged his career if he could have been a DH?

That last line is the crux of the matter. Who do you want to see hit, someone like Mantle or the Astros’ Brian Mohler, a pitcher with a .045 lifetime average? As great as he is on the mound, the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is a sissy with a stick at the plate (.078). Does it really make the game more strategic when everyone in the ballpark knows the outcome of a pitcher’s at bat? The NL needs to wise up and adopt the DH. It allows fans to see guys hit who might not otherwise be on the roster. Don’t believe me? In 2002 the Minnesota Twins released a player because a glove on his hand was uglier than a mule with a shaved butt. That’s right, I’m talking about 2013 World Series MVP David Ortiz. Would purists really rather see Clay Buchholtz swing for the fences?

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