Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Keep The DH Status Quo

Who DOESN'T enjoy watching Bartolo Colon bat?

It's late January, when thoughts of baseball distract me from the horrors of winter's depths.  It's only 21 days until pitchers and catchers report, so I figure I can start to get excited.  I've also been thinking a lot about the game of baseball in the larger sense, and wondering what new commissioner Manfred will do to make his mark.

Recently he hinted that the National League might adopt the designated hitter, perhaps as soon as 2017.  This must've just been a trial balloon, because he quickly pulled back after getting feedback.  I am glad he did, and I hope that the DH never comes to the National League.  I like the National League style of baseball more than that of the American League, and the inefficiency of the pitcher batting has a lot to do with that.  It forces certain strategic difficulties on managers that add a level of interest to the game.  Teams have to fight a little harder for runs, and that fight for runs is the best tension there is in baseball.  I also hate specialization in sports, which is one of the many things that sucks about pro football, which is so specialized that there are players whose sole purpose it is to snap the ball on kicks and punts.  Without the DH, all of the players must both bat and field a position.  There is a symmetry to that that I like.

Of course, there are plenty of good arguments to be made for the DH.  Who wants to see pitchers hit?  Who wants pitchers to get injured running the bases?  Offense is down, doesn't it need a boost? The DH has also become the standard at other levels of baseball, turning the once odd innovation of the 1970s into the new norm.  When teams play in the World Series, the inconsistency on the DH between the leagues can create problems when teams have to either bench top hitters or try to scrounge up a bench player adequate to a task the team never had to deal with during the season.

And you know what?  Those arguments are perfectly valid.  That's why, unlike some purists over the years, I have no problem with the DH in the American League.  While I prefer baseball without the DH, one thing I truly love about baseball is the distinctions between the two leagues.  These have been worn down by interleague play, and that's a bad thing.  It's an advantage baseball has over, say, football, where there is no real difference between the AFC and NFC.  It's great to see two different styles of play, rather than one.  Variety is the spice of life, after all.

Baseball is an idiosyncratic game, and should cling to those idiosyncracies.  There is no set stadium dimension, which means we have the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium and the massive green monster at Fenway.  Different umpires call the strike zone differently.  The two leagues play the game differently.  We live in a society that's been systematized to the breaking point, baseball's resistance to those forces ought to be preserved.

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