DEAR NATIONAL LEAGUE: WAKE UP!

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.

28 thoughts on “DEAR NATIONAL LEAGUE: WAKE UP!

  1. This is something that would never happen, but if the NL thinks their rules are so great, then play WS and interleague games this way. NL pitcher bats and the AL has the DH batting. Then see how long it is before the NL adopts the DH. I bet it wouldn’t take much time.

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    • I like it, do it for a few years and when the two leagues meet those respective teams still manage their team and we see which product is better, pitcher hitting or dh’s. I must say I do like that the NL uses more aspects of the game. More strategy. Once the few yrs are up, look at the data,public perception, and also which teams tend to win, and then both leagues go that route.

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  2. I agree that the discrepancy only becomes an issue with the inter-league play. For the WS it’s merely an idiosyncracy. Dump the in-season inter-league games. That’s been a joke for too long. It forces teams in the same league play uneven schedules. And the fact that the two leagues never met until the WS (other than the All-Star game) gave it an extra allure.

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  3. I’ve always thought that if the NL teams had to bat their pitcher in all ballparks, the purists would change their minds in a hurry. I’m not a DH fan, but the interleague and WS rules Kurt mentions are the only thing more ridiculous that the All Star victor getting home field advantage. Where do they find these people?

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  4. Do away with the DH in the AL; do away with inter-league play: start all World Series games at 7:00pm so the youngsters can at least watch most of the games every night. In my mind the DH has always been the start down the slippery slope of changing the sport in to something that is non-comparable to it’s roots. Stop babying the pitchers.

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  5. What I know is that the Tigers, for the second time in a few years, will end up the season playing in a NL park and will sit one of the best hitters of the game on the bench. Is that fair? Guess not. If the NL owners don’t want the DH, the AL owners should refuse Interleague games even though fans will miss watching some great players from the other league.

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    • Frankie – I know, finishing the season in an interleague series can’t happen. If the games are meaningful, the Tigers would be forced to put Cabrera at third and Martinez at first, something they hopefully wont have to do all year. No one team should have to make those kind of adjustments, especially in a pennant race. Thanks, Kurt

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  6. Let’s back this up a level… why do we even need that ninth batter at all? It seems like we’re just “filling a spot” in the lineup for what reason? I don’t consider a DH a true player if he can’t be used in the field, which is half of baseball. I’d just rather see an 8-man lineup.

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  7. This topic gets scrutiny almost every year. Why, because baseball fans hate it! Sending AL batters to the plate is a joke. Just stand there. Walk, strike out, return to dugout. Why won’t baseball fix this?

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  8. The implication that the NL has no change in an AL park is incorrect. The NL teams’ roster has to keep an extra pitcher or 2 if the SP is taken out early if they are behind whereas in the AL, they stay in until no longer effective. So the NL has a slight disadvantage in AL parks. Home field advantage in the WS determined by the All-Star game is idiotic. I believe the DH should be taken out of the AL. Pitchers are baseball players.

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    • Hi, John – I am squarely in the middle. I see both arguments for and against the DH. I like the added strategic element but also see how expensive pitchers like Wainwright can kill team aspirations. And then I think about how Norris got injured last year taking that swing. Interesting that pitchers are no longer being coached on hitting anymore. But one thing that is not black and white to me – both leagues need to have the same set of rules. Thanks for asking! – Holly

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  9. Way to DH bait and reap a 19 comment post Kurt! Can we talk about how aweful these special spring training uniforms are? Hunter Safety Orange with white outlined Old English D cap… Barf!

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  10. Would people really rather watch Justin Verlander bunt with 2 strikes and 1 out instead of Victor hit? That question should be rhetorical.

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    • Here is my rhetorical answer: Yes, I would rather see Verlander bunt. For all the money he is making, a little bunting practice wouldn’t kill him.

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      • Why risk losing a good/great pitcher at bat or running bases.We have enough poor hitters don’t we ? Pitchers have enough injuries as it is. I wish players or owners would force the NL to accept the DH(which creates another baseball position & more hits. Baseball is slow enough & watching another player strike out is just so in demand.

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  11. So what’s next, a designated first baseman so Miggy can’t hurt himself diving for a ground ball? Look at the histories of all the ballplayers, they all miss games due to injuries. Look at Iggy, Victor, Miggy, they all have missed significant chunks of various seasons. Maybe we should just have a designated fielding team and a designated batting team. Yikes!!!!!

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  12. One comment that was not mentioned in this topic is the fact that pitchers today don’t bat in. college or the minor leagues. NL minor league teams don’t have their pitchers bat! You can have a young kid make the Majors after playing several years of never batting. Only High School pitchers hit.

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