Cheap Seats

Baseball will ruin the game if it adds the DH to the National League

By adding the designated hitter to the NL, Major League Baseball is ruining the game in order to cater to casual fans and their endless desire to make a little bit more money.

Regardless of whether the sudden addition of the designated hitter to the National League would give the St. Louis Cardinals a little bit of relief from the fact that they currently have two or three players who would be much more useful if they didn’t have to play in the field, I remain 100 percent opposed to the proposal.

How arrogant can the commissioner and the current group of MLB owners be to think that they know better than the people who were caretakers of the American Game for more than the past 100 years? I don’t believe for one second that the changes to the game currently under consideration have anything to do with trying to make the game better. Like everything else, it’s a thinly veiled effort to try to make even more money.

Tony La Russa, one of the deans of today’s game, said when he came to the Cardinals after a career in the American League managing the Chicago White Sox and Oakland Athletics that he never realized their was much of a difference between what he was used to and the traditional form of the game in the National League. That is, until he managed in the Senior Circuit and realized how much more strategy there is in that style.

Hearing American League fans say they don’t like the National League style is like listening to my 11-year-old kid he doesn’t like tacos. He’s never tried a taco. He’s never even thought about trying a taco. But it’s different than what he is used to and, solely because of that, he’s decided he doesn’t like tacos even though he’s never even tried them. And because he doesn’t want a taco, no one else better order a taco, because if you do, he’s going to whine and moan about how horrible tacos are that no one else should eat a taco, either.

The designated hitter was conceived and eventually adopted in the American League as a publicity stunt. Coming out of an era when pitchers dominated the game like never before, owners believed offense sold tickets and they found a way to add another slugger into their lineups in place of their weakest hitter. Removing the pitcher from the equation fundamentally changes the way the game is played. But does it really help the offense?

Consider that Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan are battling it out in a scoreless game in the seventh inning of a game in the mid 1970s. Tom Terrific is due to bat against the Ryan Express. Ryan has about 15 strikeouts and he’s only allowed one base runner, the sixth-place hitter led off the inning by hitting a ground ball with eyes between the shortstop and third baseman to get aboard and then went to second when the seventh place hitter in the batting order grounded a ball behind him to the second baseman. Ryan’s manager decides to take advantage of the fact that the pitcher is coming up by intentionally walking the eighth-place batsman. Seaver, doing his part, is twirling a two-hitter. Is there anything that could inject more offense into the game at that point than having your best pinch hitter to come off the bench, removing the dominant Seaver from the game?

Otherwise, you’ve got the ninth-place batter up there, who is going to be the worst hitter in the order, just like the pitcher would have been before him. Seaver’s still in the game and the tie might never be broken.

You aren’t often going to see the likes of Seaver and Ryan. But each team’s five starters are going to be the best hurlers on the team with the exception of maybe the closer. So if you get those guys out of the game sooner, offense is going to be better.

Starting pitchers usually bat a maximum of twice in a game before they’re pinch hit and the lineup is manipulated to create the best offense possible while trying to maintain a high level of defensive organization. In American League baseball, you just go through the lineup over and over and over again. The offense stays the same, the defense stays the same and pinch hitters are seldom much of a factor.

New rule for relief pitchers will hurt the game

They’ll be even less of a factor if the latest half-baked idea, forcing relief pitchers to face at least three batters, is added to the rule book at the same time as the scourge of the designated hitter. The effort to strangle every bit of strategy out of the game is discouraging and unsettling.

I wonder if, in an era when MLB owners are pulling out all the stops to try to drive down players salaries, the idea of eliminating the vast majority of bullpen maneuvering is designed to decrease the value of relievers. I can’t imagine a lefty specialist will have much value if you bring him in and the opposing manager pinch hits with a righty and you’re stuck with a bad match up for the next three hitters.

While the offensive output in American League games is almost imperceptibly more than the National League, one thing that is often noticeably different is starting pitchers’ earned run averages because they go longer in games without their batting being factored into how long they remain in contests. That, too, gives owners a chance to say they hurlers should be paid less because their statistics are poorer.

I’m not going to sit here and claim that I’ll never go to another Cardinals game again if the National League adopts the designated hitter. But I will say with 100 percent sincerity that it breaks my heard the powers that be are ruining the game I love. I enjoy sitting in the stands and trying to think along with the managers. That’s the fun of it. I went to the Home Run Derby in 2009 when it was at Busch Stadium and I sat through about three hitters when I suddenly realized that I was only watching glorified batting practice, and it was the most boring thing in the world.

You’re making a horrible mistake, baseball leaders, by changing something that has stood the test of time to cater to the whims of casual fans who aren’t the core of your audience. But I guess it belongs to you, so it’s up to you if you want to ruin it.