Counterpoint: The DH Stinks. Long Live Pitchers Batting!

A few days ago, my colleague at Everybody Hates Cleveland and “guy who looks like he’s summoning Poseidon in his Twitter picture” Michael Ondo wrote a piece in the wake of the Adam Wainwright and Max Scherzer injuries arguing for instituting the designated hitter in the National League. Go read the article yourself, but I’ll take the risk of summarizing: essentially, Ondo argues that rule changes have regularly come about in reaction to major injuries (i.e. the “Buster Posey Rule” for home plate collisions), and adding the DH to the NL would reduce injuries and add scoring while evening out some of the advantages the American League has over the NL in those categories.

Now, we’ve got a crack (or crackhead, not entirely sure) team of writers here at EHC, and I’m generally in agreement with the opinions presented on this site. So it pains me to break the united front here, but as the NL representative on staff, I must burst through the chapel doors to stop Father Ondo from presiding over this unholy matrimony of the National League and the Designated Ortiz: I object!

First, aesthetically, forcing the pitcher to bat adds an element of strategy most other sports don’t have. Football, basketball and hockey teams can hide guys who can’t defend, shoot, catch, etc. in various ways. In baseball? Nope. Your worst hitter MUST bat, and your manager MUST figure out a way to make it work. Let him bleed the pitch count? Lay down a bunt? Swing away? It’s great, and even better when guys like world-renowned fat guy Bartolo Colon cracking an RBI single while losing his helmet.

At most, a pitcher will see 2-3 at bats in a game anyway before he’s removed in the late innings as part of a straight pinch hit or a double switch. Adding another hitter might bump up offense a little bit, catering to the casual fan’s insatiable desire for POINTSPOINTSPOINTSALLTHEPOINTS, but if the old “chicks dig the long ball” maxim bears any truth to it, the fan impact will be minimal: there simply aren’t many 30-dinger, stone-gloved guys waiting in the wings for 15 new jobs to open up.

Sure, AL teams use pinch hitters, but appropriate situations to do so come with far less regularity. An NL manager’s ability to arrange his chess pieces late in games is crucial and affects when he brings in relievers, when to leave starters out for another inning, etc. AL managers have to make late-game subs sometimes, but 90 percent of their work is done by the third inning, when the lineup card is turned in and they’re all out of dip to spit.

Ondo and others cite injuries to pitchers who get hurt doing something they’re not paid to do, but that’s not entirely true. Sure, Scherzer wasn’t offered a gadzillion dollars to come rake for the Nationals, but it’s not like he was unaware of the whole “you’re gonna have to swing this piece of tree bark a handful of times a week” rule when he signed the contract and switched from the AL to the NL. Heck, he spent his first two pro years with Arizona and actually hit a respectable .226 during the 2009 season.

There are occasional injuries that can’t be avoided as a result of batting: sprained thumbs, injured hands, etc. But a large chunk of the injuries come from strained backs, like Josh Beckett and Phillies-era Pedro Martinez, or running the bases, like Wainwright or Chein-Ming Wang. Sure, we want our pitchers to primarily focus on getting a little extra bite on their slider, but what kind of pro athlete can’t handle an action most similar to swinging a golf club a couple times a season…or, you know, the act of running? Fluky injuries can happen anywhere on the baseball diamond – just ask Garrett Richards.

With the exception of football, and perhaps the goalie in hockey or soccer, we ask our professional athletes to handle all facets of the game,
offensive and defensive. How their weaknesses are accounted for is up to the manager or coach, and baseball is no different.

MLB has implemented several new changes already in the past three years to bolster the game: instant replay and speed-up rules have been great addition. But not every rule change does right by the game (see the labyrinthine Posey rule). The DH rule would also eliminate the charm and cunning that draws in potential hardcore baseball fans.

The biggest argument in favor of the DH is the disparity between NL rules and AL rules. Why should half the league play a different style of game than the other? On that front, I completely agree, which is why I propose eliminating the DH from the American League as well. No more gravy train for you, Big Papi. Pick up your favorite colored chunk of timber, Felix. And don’t you put that evil DH on me, Mikey Ondy. Don’t you put that on us.
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