The DH Blues
Today, Wednesday October 19th, begins the greatest show in all sports, the World Series 2011. The MLB championships culminate with the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals hosting the American League’s Texas Rangers baseball club.
Once again, this event brings up the controversy of the Designated Hitter. Remember, this is the position created to bat in place of the pitcher.
The concept was first suggested in 1906 by the future Hall Of Famer, Philadelphia Athletics Manager, Connie Mack. He had just finished watching 2 of his 3 star pitchers, Chief Bender and Eddie Plank, flailing away at the opposing pitchers’ offerings, to no avail. As it turns out, both Bender and Plank made the Hall Of Fame, and were decent hitters, for pitchers (The 3rd to-be Hall Of Fame pitcher on that staff, Rube Waddell, wasn’t much of a batsman).
“The designated hitter rule is like letting someone else take Wilt Chamberlain’s free throws.”
— Rick Wise (1974)
Various other suggestions on behalf of this concept were made during the years, but it took a perfect storm of necessity and Charlie O. Finley, the owner of the Oakland Athletics, to make the “DH rule” happen.
During the “high mound” era, offense diminished, and with it, the crowds in attendance at games. Finley was always looking for ways to improve attendance. He was one of baseball’s great innovators, and was able to garner enough votes from the other AL owners to carry the day. His argument: more offense will bring in more fans. So, in 1973, the AL instituted rule 6.10, the so-called “Designated Hitter” rule. It still exists in the American League.
I have mixed views on the rule. It does produce more offense, the DH usually being a more accomplished hitter than most pitchers. And, a majority of fans prefer more offense. I, on the other hand, prefer the more complex strategy brought about by the pitcher being in the lineup. Also, double switches in the lineup require more managerial strategy than a DH-present lineup. In essence, significant baseball strategy is lost when a DH is used.
During the 2003 season, Brooks Kieschnick of the Milwaukee Brewers became the first player in major league history to hit home runs as a pitcher, designated hitter, and pinch hitter in the same season.
Many have pointed out that World Series results don’t seem to reflect a DH-included lineup having much difference in won-lost stats. Does a potential 7-game series with either 3 or 4 games involving a DH constitute too small a test sample? Probably.
John Kruk, former All-Star first baseman for the Philadelphia Phillies, and current featured analyst for ESPN’s Baseball Tonight, believes the DH is a detriment for the American League teams. He explains that their clubs are built for a DH, and then when playing in a National League venue, the AL lineup is out-of-sync, thereby, diminishing the ability of the team to play well. Kruk cites other strategic reasons, such as severely reduced protection for hitters when a pitcher is adjacent in the lineup. I think Kruk is correct.
Pitcher Mark Langston pinch-ran for designated hitter Hubie Brooks in the top of the 9th inning, scored on a single, and then was in the remainder of the extra-inning game as the DH finishing with two strikeouts in a game at the Chicago White Sox on June 10, 1992.
In the case of the 2011 Rangers, they are less affected than most teams because their preferred DH, Michael Young, is also a Gold Glove-level infielder. Young can seamlessly play an infield position one game, a DH the next. Yet, in an NL park, there is still the matter of a pitcher protecting an adjacent batting order slot.
Of course, the DH rule does allow great hitters to have another season or two in the sun. I remember taking my son, Brian, to see his first Major League game at the old Turnpike Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Boston Red Sox were playing the Texas Rangers, and it was widely believed this would be the last trip to the Lone Star state by the great Carl Yastrzemski. The future Hall Of Famer, as a DH, collected a base hit that day, and my son and I went home happy.
So, there is at least one redeeming value to the purpose of the DH.
Now, time for the World Series 2011 to begin!