- The Washington Times - Monday, February 13, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“I didn’t think it would last this long. I screwed up the game of baseball.”Pioneer designated hitter Ron Blomberg, on the long-term effect of the DH rule

So I’m a baseball purist; shoot me. The designated hitter is an abomination foisted on us by a desperate American League in 1973. Nearly four decades later, its tentacles choke traditional baseball at nearly every level from Little League to the minors.

Except, of course, in the National League, where pitchers still take their turns at the plate even if they swing like septuagenarians.

Recently, a Sports Illustrated writer suggested that the NL join the rest of the horsehide world by allowing designated hitters because “there’s no longer any stigma attached to the role.” Bullspit! The DH is a gimmick that long since would have outlived its usefulness if it had any to start with.

Nobody enjoys seeing most pitchers flail away at bat as if they were beating rugs. But this was a part of the sport at the professional level for 97 years or until Ron Blomberg stepped into the batter’s box on behalf of the Yankees on April 6, 1973.

Don’t blame Blomberg, who is properly contrite. The real DH culprits were commissioner Bowie Kuhn, American League president Joe Cronin and nine AL owners who voted for the rule after offense and attendance went south in the early ‘70s.

Neither Kuhn nor Cronin would buck the owners who paid their salaries, but this hardly was a surprise. Though both had baseball backgrounds in the nation’s capital — Kuhn tended the scoreboard at Griffith Stadium as a kid, and Cronin managed Washington’s last pennant winner in 1933 — they allowed carpetbag owner Bob Short to move the expansion Senators to Texas in 1972. So much for fair play.

Baseball has evolved drastically since first gaining popularity during the Civil War. Many changes make perfect sense. Pitchers no longer fling underhanded deliveries from 45 feet, and position players no longer are barehanded. Batters can’t indicate the kind of pitch they would like anymore, and fielders can’t retire runners by hitting them with a thrown ball. Best of all, ethnicity isn’t a reason for slamming the door in anybody’s face.

Yet too many recent changes have come in knee-jerk reaction to pro football leaving the erstwhile national pastime in its dust since the 1960s. Who needs artificial turf, World Series games played exclusively at night or ballpark prices that almost require a bank loan for families to attend? Give us a break.

And the DH is the worst change of all — a quick-fix “solution” that has become permanent in large measure because the players’ union demands it so aging players with inflated waistlines and salaries will have a home when they no longer can do anything but hit. Heck, why not ordain a designated runner (DR) who sprints for first base when the DH makes contact?

Even if a pitcher doesn’t hit his weight, he can affect the outcome by sacrificing or simply being patient and making the guy on the mound throw a lot of pitches. What’s more, a few hurlers actually can hit. Last season, Livan Hernandez batted .222 for the Nationals, higher than some of their position players. Over 16 seasons, Livo has a .217 average with 123 sacrifice bunts, third-most among active players. Obviously, he’s no stiff with a stick.

Another DH negative is that it reduces strategy. If you’ve ever seen manager Davey Johnson work a double switch to the Nationals’ benefit, you know what I mean. That’s a lot more fun than seeing some pseudo slugger with a .205 batting average waddle to the plate four times a game.

With interleague play due each day of the regular season after the Astros move to the American League in 2013, even NL fans will be exposed to the DH more than ever. Too bad, because this ain’t real baseball. Not hardly.

Instead of the NL adopting the DH, all other professional leagues should banish it. I know this won’t happen, but baseball dreams always blossom in the spring.

Story Continues →