Skip to main content
Original Issue

Switch Hitter

IT TOOK ME 10 years to stop saying "California Angels," five to accept that Montreal no longer has a major league team and 15 to give up on Kerry Wood's Hall of Fame candidacy. I am the Antonin Scalia of baseball: so reluctant to acknowledge changes in society, I still write "1993" on my checks.

I wasn't just opposed to night games at Wrigley Field. I didn't even want lights in the bathrooms. Make 'em pee in the dark, I said. It's good for the soul, not to mention local dry cleaners.

So it is with a heavy heart that I write this:

Rob Manfred, for the love of your country, please make the National League use the designated hitter.

As the new commissioner, Manfred oversees our national pastimes. Yes, pastimes. There are two: the game played in National League parks, when pitchers hit (or at least swing); and the game in American League parks, with designated hitters. This is as ridiculous as the NBA having a three-point line in Eastern Conference arenas only, or the NHL deciding to use power plays in Canada but not in the U.S.

The DH is a hot topic because Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles tendon running to first base on a pop-up on April 25 against the Brewers. The problem is not that pitchers get injured while hitting; they are far more likely to get injured while pitching.

The problem is that for too long, baseball players have lived under two sets of rules: one on the road, one at home. They may pull that off in their love lives, but it doesn't make sense for the game.

Two sets of rules made some sense when the American and National leagues faced each other only in the World Series and the All-Star Game. But there are interleague games all season now. Why should a fan turn on the TV and have to wonder what the rules are?

It is tempting to say that the American League should solve the problem by getting rid of the designated hitter, bringing the game back to its roots. But the DH "experiment" is into its fifth decade. For half the country's fans, the designated hitter does not buck tradition. It is tradition. So forget how the game used to be. What would make it better now?

The game is more interesting with a DH. Sure, you miss out on managerial maneuvers like the double switch, but does anybody tell their grandchildren about that great double switch they saw when they were a kid? What would you rather see: David Ortiz bat, or Terry Collins scribble on his lineup card? Was last year's epic World Series Game 7 diminished because both teams used a designated hitter?

Traditionalists say that a true major leaguer should know how to field and hit. But there are specialists in every sport. Mariano Rivera had a total of seven plate appearances in his career, and he is heading to Cooperstown. Why complain that Ortiz is half a player?

Historians will tell you that Babe Ruth was a fantastic pitcher before he was the home run king. They should also note that he has been dead for almost 70 years. The skill level required to play baseball is so high now that it is virtually impossible to be a good major league hitter and a good major league pitcher. Through last week pitchers were hitting .105, with one home run in 838 plate appearances. Watching pitchers hit is like watching grass grow, waiting and waiting for something to happen, then realizing it's actually artificial turf.

Would you rather see the best pitchers in the game hit, or see them pitch? The DH allows the top starters to throw longer into games because their managers don't pull them for pinch hitters. (Managers still have to decide when to pull pitchers, of course, so you can still second-guess them and call them mean names. Relax!)

Pitchers should still hit at lower levels, like high school, where they are often the best athletes and have success. But the major leagues should go all DH, all the time. The game would be better with a single switch.

Rob Manfred, for the love of your country, please make the National League use the designated hitter.

Is it finally time to make the DH the law of the land?

Join the discussion on Twitter by using #SIPointAfter and following @Rosenberg_Mike