Why I Hate The Designated Hitter

"I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter."
   -- Crash Davis, Bull Durham

I had my first 2010 experience of the DH yesterday, as I watched the Diamondbacks (DH: Tony Abreu) take on the Red Sox (DH: David Ortiz - yeah, tell me that's a fair contest), and it reminded me of what a freakin' awful idea it is. It may have made sense at the end of  1972, when the average American League team scored less than 3.5 runs per game, but even the National League is now scoring about 28% more than that. There should have been an expiration clause that automatically nuked the DH, after run-scoring on the Senior Circuit went back above four.

I particularly hate the lack of strategy which results from the DH. In the American League, a manager can basically fall asleep from submitting his line-up card until his starting pitcher's arm falls off. Tactics are largely limited to wheeling out the correct bullpen arm for the match-up; things like the double-switch or even the simple sacrifice bunt (much though my sabermetric side hates that) are approaching the status of a lost art in the AL.

The original justification for the exercise - to pull in more crowds - has largely been a failure. The National League has consistently outdrawn the American League, and it's not just the presence of two extra teams. Last year the margin was more than 33%, 42.91 million to 32.26 million, and it's a gap that has grown wider since 2000. People voting with their attendance dollars, simply seem to prefer the National League.

Logically, if you're going to replace the pitcher, why stop there? Why not also have someone take every at-bat for your light-hitting shortstop, or your offensively-challenged, Gold Glove caliber center-fielder? Let's just turn baseball into the NFL, filled with lumbering specialists who are good at one thing and one thing only. That's not my idea of sport, but your mileage may vary, of course.

In the end, there's no genuine reason pitchers shouldn't be able to hit - right the way through high-school and college, they often do, very effectively. If you want to argue otherwise, Dan Haren would like a word. His .425 average this season is the best of any player in the majors with 40+ PAs. Not pitcher, note. Any player. But that aspect of his skill-set will be completely devalued when he pitches in Boston tomorrow - and the game of baseball which results will be all the less interesting for it.

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