Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Designated Hitter in Baseball

One of the many great and wonderful things about being at home is that there's a ton of shtuff lying around on my computer that I wrote many years ago. This piece, for example, was written in 2004 for college credit in a PSEO course through the University of Minnesota. Enjoy:
Over the years, there has been much controversy over the Designated Hitter, or DH, rule. The DH rule states that “A hitter may be designated to bat for the starting pitcher and all subsequent pitchers in any game without otherwise affecting the status of the pitcher(s) in the game” (Rules Handbook 6.10). The rule allows for a player to hit in place of the pitcher in the batting order. Some people think that the DH rule negatively impacts the game principally because it allows for a player who only hits, and therefore takes away from the fundamental democracy of baseball where all the players are on the field for both the offensive and defensive phases of the game. However, there are several reasons why the DH, which is used in the American League but not the National League, improves the game and makes it more exciting. One of these reasons is that the DH allows teams to have nine genuine hitters in a lineup. Another benefit of the DH is that older players, who simply don’t have the physical skills to contribute defensively, can still help the team with their bats. The rule is also good for pitchers, because they can concentrate on what they do best, which is pitching, and leave the offensive aspect of the game to players who can hit.

There are many ways to manipulate but not necessarily improve the game of baseball, such as lowering the mound or tightening the strike zone, but the DH is the only one which does not fundamentally change the game. All the DH does is allow for offenses to take advantage of all nine spots in the lineup. The rule is beneficial because pitchers are notoriously weak hitters, which means that without a DH, only eight of a team’s nine batters will hit well and in a consistent fashion. Offenses improve when the pitcher is not forced to bat and the entire lineup is capable of scoring runs. As Tom Trebelhorn, former Milwaukee Brewers manager said, “In the American League . . . I face nine bona fide outs” (Will 121). Having a pitcher in the batting order simply decreases offenses’ potency.

Replacing the pitcher with a DH in the batting order increases batting average and, therefore, offense. In 1972, for example, the year before the DH rule was implemented, the American League hit a combined .239; the next year, with the introduction of the DH, they hit .259 (Costas para 14). The twenty-point increase in average between the two years might not seem like much, but in a sport where each team will have over 6,000 at-bats (defined as any time a batter gets either a hit or makes an out) per season, twenty percentage points translates into 120 more hits, almost one more per game per team.

Before the DH rule, pitchers had to bat for themselves, and as a result, teams’ offenses suffered. For instance, on a recent Saturday, box scores taken from the Pioneer Press show that pitchers in the National League were seven for thirty-two, an average of .218 (13C). The pitchers laid down four sacrifice bunts, walked three times, and hit two doubles (13C). Not a single pitcher hit a homer or even drove in a run. Out of the sixty-one pitchers who threw on that Saturday, only nineteen ever came to the plate (13C). On the same day, the American League DHs (who batted instead of the pitchers) batted eighteen for fifty-one, an average of .353 (13-14C). They hit one homer, three doubles, walked six times, stole twice, and got seven RBIs (runs batted in) (13-14C). The American League’s batting statistics are very telling as they show how DHs batted over .200 points higher and reached base over twice as many times as their counterparts sin the National League. Statistically, the pitchers struck out almost twice as often as the DHs.

Another reason why the DH rule improves the game of baseball is that it allows older players to continue to play the game. This is important for baseball as a business, and therefore for the game itself. One of the goals of baseball teams is to build up a fan-base. This is done in many ways, one of which is to build a relationship between a player and the fans. By allowing older players to continue playing, teams can draw more fans who have built up relationships with the players, and therefore make more money, which in most cases is reinvested in the teams. The most well known of these older players is Paul Molitor, who in 2004 became the first player to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, despite having had most of his at-bats as a DH. Similar to Molitor is Edgar Martinez, the first DH to ever win a batting title (Lilley para 11). Sadly, many competent players become too injured to continue the wear and tear of playing in the field; however, the DH rule allows players who cannot physically play in the field to continue to contribute to the team by batting while not having to risk further injury in the field and at the same time allows pitchers to concentrate on their game, which is pitching.

Pitchers benefit in may ways because of the DH rule. No longer do pitchers risk being hit by a pitch or tweaking their muscles on the base-paths. There are many injuries, such as wrenched backs, torn hamstrings, and broken fingers, that can beset a pitcher while pitching. Even a blister on the pitching hand may necessitate a visit onto the Disabled List. Batters also are exposed to many situations where they can become injured. Pitchers should not have to become exposed to batter’s injuries considering that they are more delicate than their offensive counter-parts. Moreover, pitchers are more exposed to injuries suffered by batters because they haven’t built up the muscles which are necessary for players who hit. Pitchers are light and slender, with the main focus of their training regimen centering on the arms and hands. Hitters do work out their arms and hands, but power, which is the main consideration of the modern game, is generated by most players with their legs and back. Pitchers need to be lithe, batters strong. The DH allows pitchers to continue to perfect their part of the game and hitters theirs.

There are other ways in which the pitcher benefits from the DH rule. Before every game pitchers have a meeting with their catcher and manager to decide how they will pitch in the upcoming game (Garagiola 17-20). The meeting is used to discuss the pitcher’s personal history against the batter, which includes personal matchups between the pitcher and batter, as well as the batter versus the team and the pitcher versus the team, their personal history in the ballpark, what the weather is like, who is catching them, and even at what time of day the game will be played. This meeting and the accompanying thinking which it involves is very important, as it allows the pitcher to focus on the game and “zone out” everything else. The batter has to concentrate on many of the same things as the pitcher. The batter also has to think about the defensive alignment of the infield and outfield, and if and where his teammates are on base. Pitchers need to be allowed to focus on their pitching duties. In a game where every pitch is important the pitcher can’t afford to lose his concentration and think about batting. The DH allows pitchers to concentrate on pitching rather than worrying about batting.

Not only does the DH rule improve hitting and pitching, but it also makes managers’ jobs easier. One important part of a manager’s job is his decision process involving players who are or have been injured, those whose defense is not up to snuff, or even those who just need a break from the demanding job of fielding; in the National League, the only solution for any of these problems is to bench the player. Players who can’t contribute defensively might come in and pinch-hit, but their services will not be able to be used for the rest of the game. On the other hand, the DH rule in the American League allows the manager to rest a player as well as benefit from their bat. Players just coming off injuries often aren’t ready to play full time. In the National League, the only option for managers who need to rest players is to use them as pinch-hitters, which delays their return; conversely, the American League manager can pencil in this player as the DH and allow him to slowly acclimatize to playing.

There are several reasons why baseball purists prefer the National League, where there is no DH. One reason is that baseball is a democratic game, which means that, theoretically, every player should have the chance to do everything. All nine players play defense, and all nine play offense. Initially, this theory makes sense; after all, shouldn’t every player be made to play everything? For example, if a manager is to switch a shortstop and center fielder, each will experience some difficulty, but both will be able to perform satisfactorily; however, if the manager switches a pitcher with the center fielder, things will be very different. The pitcher does not have the same fielding skills as outfielders, and consequently, many fly balls will drop in for hits and many singles will turn into extra-base hits. The center fielder will not have the accuracy, velocity, endurance, or knowledge needed to pitch, and any potential batter will most likely walk on four pitches. With the pitcher’s inadequacy at any position (save his own) exposed, it is hard to accept the argument that baseball is a fundamentally democratic game. Pitchers can’t hit, and hitters can’t pitch.

Some still say that even though pitchers can’t hit well, they can hit. However, players who DH often can not play defense. This argument-- that the DH is the only specialized player in baseball-- is invalid. When one sees the kind of pitchers in modern bullpens, it becomes clear that the DH is not the only specialized player in today’s game. Most relievers are specialists brought in to pitch only in certain situations. For example, it is much harder for a right-handed batter to bat effectively against a left-handed pitcher, and consequently, many pitchers are just brought in to face one batter. In many games, pitchers are brought in to face one batter and are then taken out. These pitchers never come to bat; they are more specialized than even a DH, who bats the entire game, regardless of the who the pitcher is.

Opponents of the DH, like NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, also dislike the rule because they claim it takes away from the strategy of the game. To give an example: The Mudhens are down two to one in the bottom of the eighth inning, with a runner on second and one out, and the pitcher is up to bat. If there is a DH, there is no problem. With a pitcher batting, however, the manager is faced with a major conundrum. If the manager allows the pitcher to stay in and hit, he probably will not drive the runner home, but if he calls in a pinch-hitter, he loses the pitcher who has thrown a great game. Proponents of the DH rule argue that there really is more strategy involved with having a DH. With a tying or winning run on base and the pitcher up to bat, the manager’s decision is actually simple: if the manager trusts his bullpen, he’ll call in for pinch-hitter. If he doesn’t have a good reliever, he’ll tell the pitcher to sacrifice the runner to second. With the DH, the manager must decide on the basis of pitching and pitching alone. With a DH, a pitcher is forced to stand on his own merits, pitching-wise, and not be subject to the dictates of the offensive game plan.

The first DH was Ron Bloomberg of the New York Yankees. In his first at-bat he drew a bases-loaded walk (Lilley para 5). Since then, many players have been the DH. All of them had something in common: they could all hit. Some DHs were playing at DH because they were inadequate defensively, others were coming off an injury, and still others just needed a break. Because of the DH, pitchers have been able to concentrate on pitching, and offenses have finally been able to have nine batters who were all capable of getting hits. Some might say that the DH is not an improvement for baseball, because it takes away from the equality of the players or the strategy of the game, but this claim is simply not true. With the DH, everyone on the team has an assigned role. The pitchers pitch, and the DH hits. Neither the pitcher nor the DH is required to try and do what they cannot. With the DH, managers are required to judge a pitcher on his pitching, and on no other factor. With the DH, offense is increased without neglecting defense. As Peter Angelos, owner of the Baltimore Orioles wrote, “A great pitching duel is much appreciated. But good hitting, timely hitting and power hitting — those are the most attractive aspects of baseball” (USA Today para 8). The only way to insure “good hitting, timely hitting, and power hitting” is to have a DH, a player who will always have a much better chance of increasing offense, thereby increasing excitement in the game.

Works Cited

Adams, Cecil. “The Straight Dope” Chicago Reader. Sep. 5, 2003. Aug. 10, 2004.

Angelos, Peter, Bob Costas. “DH rule: Angelos vs. Costas.” USA Today. Aug. 10, 2004.

Aug. 10, 2004

Aug. 10, 2004.

Daugherty, Paul. “It's time for DH in NL.” The Cincinnati Enquirer. Sep. 16, 1997. Aug. 10, 2004.

Garagiola, Joe. Baseball is a Funny Game
. 2nd ed. New York: Bantam, 1972.

Juipe, Dean. “Selig wrong to think DH expendable.” Las Vegas Sun. Aug. 10, 2004.

Lehmann-Haupt, Christopher. Me and Dimaggio. New York: Lyons Press, 1986.

Lilley, Bill. Aug. 10, 2004.

Official Rules regarding the Designated Hitter.” Aug. 10, 2004.

Redabaugh, Blake. “Looking Back at the ‘Effect of the Designated Hitter.” Aug. 10, 2004

Saturday’s Box scores. Pioneer Press 8 Aug. 2004, sec. C: 13-14

Selig, Bud. “Transcript of Commissioner's chat.” July 9, 2002. Aug. 10, 2004

Will, George F. Men At Work. New York: Harper Collins, 1991.


e said...

Like your last piece of vintage writing, I couldn't make it until the end. I really don't care about DHs.

Just like a guy said...

Your loss...

Altie said...

lol me too. i scrolled down and down and down till the bottem to see how long it was- and by that time I forgot where the top was.

ok but I'm sure its great anyway. have fun walking down memory lane. but have a llittle pity on the rest of us folks.

Just like a guy said...

Pity is not my middle name.

Altie said...

i shouldve known.

so what is your middle name?

fine. but just know that your posts may turn into bed time stories. zzzzzzzzz

Just like a guy said...

You don't know my middle name?

That's what these are for:

Altie said...

ok now i know your middle name. i get what the 1st link was for.

but whats the connection to the 2nd link?

Altie said...

bed time story?

Just like a guy said...


Altie said...

i bet u dont know my middle name.

so what was the point of this illustrious post then?

Just like a guy said...

I bet I don't particularly care.

What is the point of many of my illustrious posts?

Altie said...

lol ok then.

no point. thats my point.

Just like a guy said...

The point is there is no point.

Altie said...

ah, so u got my point.

good point.

Dovid said...

well written- was this a high school English assignment?

we should find TRS a DH to write stories for him when he's busy.

altie/trs- point well taken

Anarchist Chossid said...

I wrote something like this about the game of paper-rock-and-scissors in the Seventh grade.

Just like a guy said...

Dovid: Thanks, and yes, it was a high school assignment for college credits.

CA: Can we see?

bonne said...

wrong context but...emotional dump, eh?

Just like a guy said...

It's good, no?

bonne said...

Ugh, and here I was trying to scare you. Yes, it's good, I'll add it to my list of phrases. Right up there with "teenage angst."

Just like a guy said...

Oh come, it's far superior to "teenage angst," especially with what it lead too...

bonne said...

I mixed up definitions. I thought by dump you meant, well, garbage. "Gee willigers, am I in an emotional dump right now."
After a brief elucidation with your kalla however, well yup.

Just like a guy said...


e said...

Is this some inside joke? How does emotional dump land here?

Just like a guy said...

Not a joke, but inside it is.