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The DH and the Demise of Baseball

Major League Baseball has always been nutty in that it has two leagues with two sets of rules, as we all know.

The National League plays the game the way it was meant to be played while the American League whored itself out in 1973 in an attempt to generate more excitement and attendance, giving us the Designated Hitter.

For a National League fan, the DH is the guy down the block that leaves his Christmas lights on all year round. You shake your head and call him tacky, but it’s not really bothering you.

Sure, Interleague Play creates five or six games a year where a team has to adjust its style of play when traveling to a different league’s park, but it’s a long season and a little shakeup never hurt anyone. Even the World Series, which plays by the rules of whichever league is hosting that night’s game, isn’t an advantage to one league or the other. American League teams have (more often than not) more power on their bench and more versatility. The National League team (and manager) knows how to manage a National League game, you know, with strategy and thinking and all that stuff.

To DH or not to DH isn’t a new argument.

But next year, on the 40th anniversary of the rule change, the Houston Astros are moving to the American League West. On the surface, it’s not a big deal. But it will give each league an odd number of teams, meaning Interleague play will go on all year long. Now, playing a team in a different league throughout the course of the season isn’t a bad thing. Whether fans want to admit it or not, games in April mean just as much as games in September and the number of Interleague games won’t increase much, if at all.

But instead of a quirky summertime event lasting a few weeks, we’ll have constant integration. The “you do your thing over there and we’ll do our thing right here” line between leagues -and fans- will start to haze. Not only will it haze, but the decisions and adjustments made by a team during Interleague play won’t just occur over a six-week stretch in a six-month window. 

It will happen every month. And what will happen when AL and NL teams are already playing one another every night and teams get tired of changing their game plan every few weeks?

More integration, I’m afraid. And for fans of the correct National League style of play, that isn’t a good thing. Why? Because the MLB Player’s Union isn’t getting rid of the DH. Not now, not ever.

“I would be shocked if 10 years from now there’s not a DH in both leagues,” a source told Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci in March.

A DH is another highly paid player on the payroll (it’s not a coincidence that five of the top six highest payroll teams are in the American League) and it extends players’ careers. Guys like Paul Molitor and Frank Thomas played longer as a DH than they would have in the National League.

The whole reasoning behind the Designated Hitter was to get more fans into the park. In the last 10 seasons, the National League has had more clubs in the top 10 in attendance every year.

And the top 20.

So what happens when a gimmick stops doing what it was created to do?

More gimmicks, I’m afraid.

2 Comments Say Something
  • I’d rather watch the DH hit than an incompetent pitcher up there at the plate. I don’t care about the lost “extra strategy” by having the pitcher bat. Get rid of it. No DH would have shortened the careers of some great hitters we got to watch play, including our own George Brett. I’d like to see MLB go to an NFL-style setup for scheduling. Keep the AL/NL intact but treat them as conferences and play everyone more often. You play all MLB teams 4 times: 2 at home, 2 on the road (116 games). You play all division opponents an extra 6 times each (10 games v each division opponent-40 games). For the extra 6 games, you play an extra 2 games against 3 different opponents based on strength of schedule within your conference (you would have 3 at home and 3 on the road v. these 3 teams instead of 2 and 2). DH for everyone.

  • Your opinion on watching a DH at the plate rather than a pitcher is fairly common it seems, Paul. It’s just interesting that attendance numbers don’t reflect that opinion. If it was created to boost attendance in the AL but it no longer does that, what’s the point?

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