Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sympathy for the Designated Hitter

"Please allow me to introduce myself. I'm a man of wealth and taste." -- the Rolling Stones

OK, so my favorite athlete of all time, occasional designated hitter Reggie Jackson, wasn't actually the Devil, contrary to the opinions of many Red Sox and Mets fans, but I don't give a damn what they think.

Reggie was, however, and remains, a man of wealth and taste -- and there's not many people who peaked in popularity in the 1970s about whom it can be said they were people of taste.

The designated hitter, or "DH," has been used in the American League since 1973, and hated by the National League and its fans ever since. DH-haters have come up with many reasons why they hate it.

These people are morons.

They may be pretty smart when it comes to other subjects, but when it comes to the DH, they are freakin' morons.

Let me explain it, and preface it by saying that, yes, I am a Yankee Fan, and therefore I prefer the American League. However, when you consider that more of the teams that I don't like (due to various tussles with the Yankees) are in the American League, I might actually be more disposed to listen to the National League's arguments.

I have listened. I have considered. I have rejected. I came, I saw, and now I shall conquer. To wit:

On the ridiculous "strategy" argument: "Managing in the American League is much more difficult for that reason. In the National League, my situation is dictated for me. If I'm behind in the game, I've got to pinch-hit. I've got to take my pitcher out. In the American League, you have to zero in. You have to know exactly when to take them out of there. In the National League, that's done for you." -- Jim Leyland, current manager of the Detroit Tigers. One of only 4 managers to win Pennants in both leagues.

Not to mention, that prior to 1990 or so, when managers messed things up by making umpteen pitching changes in a game (a.k.a. the Great LaRussification), the DH thus allowed more pitchers to pitch complete games, thus saving your bullpen.

On the "pitchers can throw at guys without fear" argument: "The DH took away the fear of retribution by a pitcher who knowingly threw at a hitter, and allowed the umpire to control the game, instead of the 'unwritten rule' in baseball that left it up to the players to decide when action should be taken." -- Frank Quilici, player-manager for the Twins when the DH came in.

Also, plenty of pitchers were headhunters in the pre-DH days, including Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Early Wynn, Allie Reynolds and Sal Maglie. The thought of getting plunked themselves didn't stop them.

And Pedro Martinez hit guys on purpose with the Dodgers and Expos, and now that he's back with the Mets -- when he pitches at all, that is -- he remains the same punk he has always been.

Even Roger Clemens, in his first game at Shea after the Piazza broken-bat incident, stood in there like a man and let Shawn Estes try to throw at him -- and miss -- and hit a double, though he went on to lose the game.

Let's not forget that there's no reason a pitcher whose teammate got hit has to wait for the other team's pitcher to come up. Say Josh Beckett of the Red Sox hits Derek Jeter of the Yankees on purpose. (I know, you've really gotta use your imagination here.) Does this mean the Yankee pitcher has to wait for Beckett to come to the plate -- which will never happen as long as he stays in the AL? Of course not. "You hit my captain, I hit yours." Take that, Jason Varitek. Or, "You hit my marquee player, I hit yours." Take that, David Ortiz. And if the Sox get angry about it, bring it the hell on, and we'll see who's man enough and who's just Manny.

On the "not a complete player" argument: "Any DH can field any position better than any pitcher can hit." -- Steve Lyons. The former outfielder and Fox Sports baseball analyst may have been nicknamed "Psycho," but he's right.

On the "old guys" and "injured guys" argument: Only a fool would rather see a pitcher batting .125 come to the plate instead of a 38-year-old injured fat man batting .225. Anybody who wants to see a pitcher come to the plate is accepting worse than mediocrity: He's accepting inadequacy. And anybody who will accept inadequacy has no credibility.

Every time I see a big-league pitcher come to the plate and strike out, I think, "Hey, (team owner's name)! Pay me a million bucks a year, and I'll play every 5 days and bat .125!"

On the "nine players on a team, not ten" argument: This one is really stupid. It's actually 25 players on a team.

To use the "nine players" argument, that means that not only will you only be able to play the same nine players every day, but can you imagine every pitcher going the entire game? He can't be relieved, since "A baseball team has only nine players!"

And what about the next day? "Batting 9th, the shortstop, Number 35, Mike Mussina, Number 35. And pitching, number 2, Derek Jeter, Number 2." Tomorrow, A-Rod pitches. The next day, Jason Giambi. It's only 9 players, remember?

On the "purity" argument: What about artificial turf? The NL started it with the Astrodome in 1965. From 1982 to '92, and again in '98 and the first half of '99, the AL had 4 out of 14 parks with artificial turf, their all-time peak. From 1971 to '78, the NL had the plastic stuff in 7 of 12 parks. More than half.

True, the NL was the first to eliminate the plastic stuff completely, when the Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals; while the AL, following the opening of the new Minnesota park in 2010, will still have it in the retractable roof of Toronto and the permanent roof of Tampa Bay (assuming the Rays aren't moved). But the AL isn't the league whose fans were screaming "Purity!" The NL was, and was more than half-plastic in the peak years of DH-hatred.

But, hey, if you really want to have baseball the way it was meant to be played, why stop with junking the DH?

Let's have "real baseball." No artificial turf. No domes. No lights. No electric scoreboards. No foreign-born players. No non-white players. No major league teams south of the Potomac and Ohio Rivers, none west of the Mississippi River except for St. Louis. A distance of just 50 feet from the pitcher's mound to home plate. And only underhand pitching.

In fact, let's bring back the reserve clause. No, let's go back further than that: Let's have only amateur baseball. No pay. And when a player gets hurt, no X-rays. No antibiotics. No whirlpools. No anesthetic. Let's use pre-Civil War medicine. After all, we want baseball to remain pure, don't we?

As the great New York sportscaster Warner Wolf would say, "Come on, give me a break!"

Of course, nobody would want all that. This doesn't quite go all the way back to prehistoric times, but figuring out that changing the above -- including the adoption of the DH -- is so easy, a caveman could do it.

Why, even a Met fan... Well, maybe not. Met fans defy the theory of evolution, anyway.

The DH is good. The DH is right. The DH works. The arguments against it do not. Welcome to the 21st Century. Baseball is a great game, perhaps now more than ever.

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