Thursday, July 10, 2008

DH Dominance?

With the coming All Star Game it seems like a good time to talk about the biggest problem in baseball. In my opinion, this is not steroids, its the lack of a standard set of rules. Steroids are bad and all but MLB seems to be trying to come up with a solution to that problem. However, other than casual fans and the occasional sports writer, I rarely here people talking about the inconsistencies among not only the different leagues but even within the same division.

Is there any other sport where the fields of play are different sizes? No. A long fly ball at some parks is a home run at others. This is not fair. I know that both teams are playing at the same park so technically they are each hitting the ball the same distance. But really, that's like each basketball court having a different three point arc and free throw line. It's not just about players stats. A player knows how far and hard he has to hit it in his stadium to get a particular hit. That gets thrown out of whack when he goes to another park. There should be a standard. There should be continuity. A home run in one park should be a home run in every other park. The fields should be the same size and the walls should be the same height. (Yes, I think there's a problem with the Green Monster, but I'm not going into that now.)

Besides the total lack of conformity in the fields of play, the rules are different in the National League to the American League. The most hotly contested is the existence of the Designated Hitter in the AL. Now, either way I'd like to see both leagues play by the same rules, whether it means the DH or the pitcher batting. But being a huge AL fan, I'm going to argue for the DH.

The DH makes baseball more fun to watch. The average fan likes higher scoring games. Yes it's possible that there is slightly more strategy when watching NL games and when to switch pitchers, but overall the casual fan doesn't really care about that too much. Mostly people want to see high scores with lots of hitting. And making a pitcher bat is like giving the other team an out. Why have nine batters in the line up if you are only going to have 8 actually hit.

The DH also extends careers of players. Older or injured players can become a DH and stay in baseball longer. This means your favorite players can stick around for a few more seasons. Also a player with a minor injury could still be a DH and not have to go on the DL and still be able to contribute to the team while resting up a little. Plus, this can help avoid having that idiot outfielder you have mostly for his bat, he can just be DH and you're team will get better and fans get to watch better baseball.

I think the most potent argument against the DH is that the pitcher plays in the field, why shouldn't he have to bat. But when you think about it the pitcher is a special position. He can't play every day, or maybe a closer can pitch one inning a day, but even that would be stressful on his arm. And the pitchers are even relegated to a different part of the field away from the other players. Everyone else sits in the dugout. The pitchers stay in the bullpen until called in. That, and there really is very little expectation for a pitcher to be a good hitter. So why bother.

The other frequently thrown around argument is that having the pitcher prevents the pitcher from hitting batters because he has to bat as well and face the other pitcher. Was there a wave of mean spirited pitchers in the NL or something? In general pitchers try to throw strikes. And pitchers don't try to hit batters. No one really wants to injure the other players, and no one wants to walk. Also, if there really is this type of retribution, shouldn't the pitchers be worried about their teammates. A pitcher is not going to do well without his fielders behind him. So I think this argument is a little bogus.

There are some other arguments against the DH but most of them are not even worth mentioning. Or at least not worth addressing. But if you feel that I'm missing anything big, I'd like to hear about it.

Overall, I think the DH makes the game more interesting and exciting to watch for most people. Like I said before, I'd be happy with either set of rules as long as they are the same for both leagues. I just personally think that the AL has the better rules. And since recently the AL has been kicking the NL's butt, maybe the baseball should just adopt the rules of the dominant league so that the NL can compete. But I think we can all agree, the fields should be the same size.


Josh Nadas said...

You make a convincing argument, but what about Babe Ruth, one of the greatest hitters ever, he was a pitcher. If we only used the AL rules, the players that shine on offense and defense would be overshadowed by the DH.

I suppose I just prefer the NL rules.

Paul said...

Josh - the Babe truly was a great hitter, but didn't achieve true greatness as a hitter until he gave up pitching. More like Rick Ankiel than Carlos Zambrano (and no, I'm not comparing either of those two to the Babe - you know what I mean by this).

But Meghan, I have to disagree with your field-size assessment. Growing up playing the game, no two fields are ever the same size. I think part of the beauty of the game is that we can have fields as diverse as your lovely Camden Yards and, yes, the Green Monster at Fenway. Just because no other sport does it that way doesn't mean it's wrong. As you pointed out, there is no one game that's affected by the sizes because both teams are always playing by the same rules at the same time. The parks are part of what makes baseball unique. I'm just hoping against hope that when the new Yankee Stadium opens, the monuments are once again in the field of play.