In Defense of the Designated Hitter
Home Baseball
Written 24 August 1997
I was just reading an 11 August 1997 on-line column by a fellow named Andy Dolan (sadly as of July 2000 this column is no longer available) in which he argues to "Deep-Six the DH". He concludes his argument with one of the more asinine statements I've read on the matter:

Is it so much to ask that our baseball players actually play some baseball?

Dolan obviously is implying that designated hitters don't "play baseball". I don't see how anyone who even pays passing attention to a baseball game could possibly say this and actually mean it. Trying to hit a baseball in the Major Leagues is possibly the hardest endeavor of any sport; it may be among the hardest physical tasks humans have ever attempted. I have the utmost respect for guys like Harold Baines who bat .290 with power year-in and year-out, even if they don't play the field. There are hundreds of people who have played baseball all their lives who can't even approach what Baines accomplishes on his gimpy knees.

There are plenty of old, tired arguments in favor of eliminating the DH. Dolan focuses on the "DHes are slackers" approach. Other approaches include that having pitchers bat somehow lends "more strategy" to the game since the manager has to deal with pinch-hitters, double-switches, and the like.

There are plenty of old, tired arguments in favor of the DH, of course: Who wants to see pitchers bat and strike out three or four times a game? And some great hitters have continued to impress fans well past their fielding prime because they can still swing a bat, Baines, Molitor, and Eddie Murray being three obvious examples. (I will agree, though, that it's a little nobler to see guys like Baines in the DH slot because injury has rendered them incapable of playing the field, as opposed to guys like Chili Davis and the immortal Sam Horn who have the on-field agility of a Mack truck.)

I, myself, am in favor of the designated hitter. More precisely, I'm in favor of it as it is presently implemented. I like the DH rule because it makes the American and National leagues a little more different from each other, and because it's egalitarian.

If you think the DH rule is dumb, then go be a National League fan. Do you think pitchers like Orel Hershiser (who batted .370 in 1993) are getting the short end of the stick due to the DH? Hey, Orel signed with the Indians of his own free will; he could easily have stayed in the NL and kept batting! If you like double-switches and automatic-pinch-hits, then go watch the NL, although I personally don't see what all the fuss is about; there are enough good-field/no-hit guys in the AL to keep pinch hitters in business for years to come.

On the other hand, having the DH in the AL means guys like Molitor (who has been genuinely exciting over the last four years) can keep playing, keep hitting, and keep entertaining fans. And those of us who would rather not see Frank Castillo whiffing every third inning can follow the American League.

Plus, it adds an additional dimension to the World Series (and, now, to interleague games): Remember 1993, when everyone wondered where Cito Gaston would play Paul Molitor, due to Mollie's shoulder problems? The NL teams have to scrounge together a ninth regular player, and the AL teams have to figure out what to do without their DH. It adds a little more drama, it doesn't take any away.

My own opinion is that pitchers should pitch; that's 95% of what they do, and that's the way it should be. With a very few exceptions, I have no interest in seeing them (try to) hit.

But if you disagree, then I can recommend some nice NL franchises that might give you just what you're looking for.


hits since 24 August 2000.

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