By: Kurt Snyder
It was two weeks before my 10th birthday when it happened. The American League began their experiment; one that stuck. And the Tigers did their part on April 7, 1973.
On that day at Cleveland Stadium, 74,420 fans watched Gates Brown step to the plate as the Tigers’ first designated hitter. Gates went 0-4 that day, but it was historic for the Tigers as the American League embarked on a new era; one that still exists today, and one that the National League has yet to endorse.
For baseball purists, the adoption of the designated hitter was not a welcomed sight. A lot of the intrigue of strategic baseball had been removed from the American League game. At 10 years old, I don’t think I was one of those purists quite yet, but I did wonder one thing. Why would only half of baseball use a DH?
Baseball fans have accepted the difference in the 2 leagues for decades. It’s pretty likely that most fans of the American League prefer the designated hitter rule while National League fans do not. The NL fan defends the strategic style that their league has preserved.
But the game has changed. And it was both a surprise and refreshing to hear last week that the NL may now be more receptive to the designated hitter. However the Commissioner, Rob Manfred, quickly backed off of the notion by stating that “the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are.”
Why? What the heck happened? As baseball spends more money investing in high-priced pitching, both leagues have to be getting increasingly concerned with those big investments, hired to get hitters out, walking up to the plate to become hitters themselves.
Max Scherzer, for obvious reasons has become a proponent for the designated hitter in the NL. The last thing Max wants (and his team for that matter) is to get hurt batting or running the bases. Last year, the Cardinals lost their ace, Adam Wainwright to an Achilles injury that ended his season while hitting. So this isn’t just a risk for American League pitchers not used to hitting, it’s a risk for all pitchers.
The time has certainly come. Baseball should be one sport with one set of rules. You can’t have one league using the DH while the other does not. Interleague play is a farce because of it.
If baseball was going to introduce interleague play in 1997, wouldn’t that be the perfect time to install the designated hitter across the board? As all teams in both leagues spend millions and millions on high-priced pitchers and American League teams spend big money on designated hitters as well, does interleague play make sense? Of course not. It’s a joke!
Look at the Tigers over the years. Don’t think team management didn’t hold their breath every time JV or Scherzer or Price or Sanchez walked up to the plate to hit in a National League city. These are pitchers with no hitters and Cy Young Awards risking their health doing things they aren’t used to doing; swinging a bat and running the bases. It’s ludicrous.
But injuries aside, how laughable is it that one league has to make all the adjustments and all the sacrifices for the sake of interleague play? How can Major League Baseball, since 1997, justify an AL team visiting an NL city having to turn their lineup upside down because they can’t use their designated hitter? Does baseball really want guys like Victor Martinez or David Ortiz sitting during interleague play?
What does a National League team sacrifice when they visit an AL city? Absolutely nothing. Not a thing. Their only concern is what hitter to add to their lineup. Big deal.
Let’s talk World Series for a moment. Imagine the new fans whom we continue to try to entertain; fans who are looking to learn and understand the game. Go ahead and explain the World Series. What do you say? “Well depending on what city they are playing in, the rules are different. The pitchers only bat in some of the games …. Understand?” No, not really.
But the Fall Classic’s lack of class doesn’t stop there. In today’s game, you could have a team win the most games in baseball, win an American League pennant and advance to the World Series. But despite all of that, they could very well be starting on the road in the National League city! How does that happen? Well, you can thank the inventors of another gloriously neurotic idea; having the All-Star game determine home field advantage in the World Series.
So congratulations, American League champs, now get your butts on a plane. I hope your pitchers are ready to hit, because you get to start the Series playing National League baseball.
Please, please, don’t misunderstand me. I love this game. I love baseball. But there are some confounding things that need fixing if there is going to be increased interest in the sport. You can’t start by confusing new fans.
Baseball was probably the third word I spoke as a baby right after ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’, and even I continue to be confused by the disjointed and dysfunctional mysteries of this great game; one that could be so much better.