Commentary: The Designated Hitter in Major League Baseball

Article excerpt

Bob Sr.: In step with the world of baseball

Interleague play is once again with us this weekend. It is baseball's midseason break with tradition, whereby teams from the American League play teams from the National League.

This was not done in the history of baseball until 1997. Baseball at the major league level broke with tradition when it started this interleague play. And anytime the sport of baseball breaks with its long and glorious tradition you can count on many objections.

The relatively few interleague games that are played out of the 162 games each of the 30 major league teams play each year causes the usual discussion of the designated hitter rule. For the uninitiated: The designated hitter rule, used in the American League but not in the National League, is that the pitcher does not bat in games. A designated hitter, or the DH, hits in place of the pitcher in each and every game, each and every time the pitcher would normally come to bat.

Problem: When the teams from the American League play teams from the National League, what rule is used? Answer: When the American League is the home team both teams use the DH. When the National League team is the home team the pitcher hits for himself and there is no DH for either team.

Why would teams not want the pitcher to bat, some that do not know the game may ask? The answer is that pitchers work full-time on pitching. A pitcher might not pitch but one game in every four or five. A team has nine or 10 pitchers on the roster. Very few pitchers are good hitters. More times than not, when a pitcher comes to bat he strikes out or weakly hits a pop fly or ground ball out. So what is the use in having the pitcher make the automatic out? The answer is that to have a designated hitter bat for the pitcher adds more offense to the game and more excitement.

There are those, like Bob Jr., who feel this breaks with tradition - that to have the DH takes away from the strategy of the game.

Let's take those objections one at a time.

Tradition: That can be carried all the way back to the beginning of the game. Since baseball began there have been all kinds of rules that have been changed. The number of balls and strikes has changed since the game was invented. Games were played using only one baseball the entire game. If the ball was hit into the stands, it had to be retrieved to continue the game. Uniforms have changed. I could go on and on about rules that have broken with tradition so to speak and have been changed.

Strategy: There are two strategies that are definitely affected with the use of the DH. Those strategies have to do with making substitutes, such as a pinch hitter for the pitcher, which is not needed with the DH rule. But the strategies involved don't normally make that much difference in how a manager runs his team.

On the plus side of using the DH rule, some of the older players, who perhaps can't play the field as well as they once could but can still hit the ball very well, can stay active in the sport and be used as a designated hitter. It gives the fans the chance to still enjoy the hitting of a favorite player who might otherwise be forced to retire.

But do you know what is the greatest mark in favor of using the designated hitter rule? Every professional baseball team, major or minor league, in the world uses the designated hitter rule except the National League in the U.S.A. So do all college teams. So do all high school teams as far as I know. You would be hard pressed to find any league no matter what age that doesn't use the DH. …