Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An Evolution Criticism of the DH Remains Constant, but the Position Continues to Change

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

An Evolution Criticism of the DH Remains Constant, but the Position Continues to Change

Article excerpt

The American League's designated hitter rule has been both embraced and vilified by the nation's fans, their perceptions shaped largely by whether they favor offense or traditionalism.

The rule enters its 40th season, and controversy remains surprisingly strong considering this is one change that did exactly what it was intended to do. The DH was added in 1973 to increase attendance and run production in an era when pitching dominated.

Runs and attendance immediately shot up, and the American League became the superior league, winning eight of 11 World Series starting in 1983, and going 18-3-1 in All-Star Games from 1988 through 2009. Still, purists continue to express outrage, complaining that the DH stifles strategy, as if taking the bunt away from weak-hitting pitchers somehow threatens the game's integrity.

If the criticism has remained constant, the DH position itself has not.

The DH was at first a haven for aging or injured sluggers, or power hitters whose defense can politely be described as limited. But as the game has changed in the post-steroid era, so has the DH. Boston and David Ortiz are now the exception, with more teams rotating position players into the DH spot.

With Jim Thome frequently injured the past two seasons, the Minnesota Twins resorted out of necessity to the rotation strategy. A year ago four players -- Thome, Jason Kubel, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau -- got at least 13 starts, and 15 players in all had starts, tying for the AL high. Manager Ron Gardenhire said the master plan called for Ryan Doumit to be this season's primary DH, although Morneau's status in returning to first base likely will at least temporarily alter that.

As for his dream scenario, Gardenhire said: "It wouldn't be far- fetched to say Doumit could catch a couple days in a row, and give Mauer a couple DH days. Or put Mauer at first base, and DH Morneau a couple games in a row. We're going to put those guys out there, and keep those bats in the lineup. …

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