I'm about as traditional a baseball fan as there can be. I like old-fashioned stirrups on uniforms, don't care for weird-colored alternate jerseys, and love the history and tradition of the classic ballparks, Fenway Park and Wrigley Field. In a perfect world, I'd love to still see 81 day games every year at Wrigley (yes, I know in real life that's not feasible), and pitchers not yanked automatically after 100 pitches.
And until recently, having grown up a National League fan, I was pretty dead-set against the designated hitter coming to the NL.
I've changed my mind, and herein, I'm going to lay out my case. You might disagree. No, you probably will disagree, but I hope you'll at least hear me out.
First, the DH is not a new idea. Check out one DH proposal (apologies for the odd formatting on the link):
The suggestion, often made, that the pitcher be denied a chance to bat, and a substitute player sent up to hit every time, has been brought to life again, and will come up for consideration when the American and National League Committees on rules get together.
When was that suggestion made? 106 years ago, by Connie Mack. It went nowhere. From the same article:
The next honcho to go to bat for an extra hitter was [John] Heydler, the president of the National League from 1918 until '34. Heydler, a former umpire and sportswriter, helped bring Kenesaw Mountain Landis to baseball and baseball to Cooperstown, and he wanted to bring a little more offense to the game. In the late '20s he made repeated efforts to introduce a 10th-man experiment, and he came very close to getting National League clubs to agree to try it during spring training in 1929.
You likely know the rest: the American League adopted it in 1973 as an "experiment", in reaction to reduced offense that was perceived by AL honchos as resulting in reduced attendance (in 1972, nine NL teams drew over a million, while only three AL teams did).
That "experiment" is now almost 40 years old. In January, I wrote this Baseball Nation feature suggesting that the coming 15-teams-in-each-league realignment could likely result in the DH being instituted in the NL for reasons of fairness. That could still happen, but now I'm going to make a different argument, one that was first made by Mack:
Pitchers can't hit. And I'm tired of watching pitchers not hit.
So far this season, major league pitchers are hitting .116/.150/.139. This isn't a small sample size, either; that covers 1,056 at-bats. In which pitchers have struck out 443 times. That's 42 percent of all pitcher at-bats resulting in a strikeout. (The comparable percentage for non-pitchers in the NL this year is 20.9 percent, about half as often.)
How is that good baseball? With the result more than 40 percent of the time a K? Or the automatic sac-bunt attempt when the No. 8 hitter gets on base with less than two out? Many pitchers aren't good bunters and fail. How is that good baseball?
This isn't anything new, either. Here are the comparable numbers for some past seasons, at 10-year intervals from this year, as far back as baseball-reference has splits:
2002: .148/.179/.192, 1956 K in 4830 AB, 40.5 K percentage
1992: .137/.166/.170, 1384 K in 4090 AB, 33.8 K percentage
1982: .151/.184/.191, 1604 K in 4458 AB, 35.9 K percentage
1972: .146/.184/.184, 3441 K in 9209 AB, 37.4 K percentage
1962: .150/.196/.192, 2903 K in 8281 AB, 35.1 K percentage
1952: .162/.202/.204, 1520 K in 5992 AB, 25.4 K percentage
If anything, it's getting worse. It's not fun to watch, and even the occasional, "Hey! Cool! That pitcher hit a home run!" isn't worth the strikeouts and botched bunt attempts. There has been one home run hit by a pitcher this year, by the Rockies' Drew Pomeranz, and we are now more than 20 percent of the way through the season.
I know, I know. Takes away strategy, double-switches, things that make you think along with the managers. I'd miss some of that, too. But I'm tired of watching pitchers who can't hit and can't bunt. And with the start of interleague play this coming weekend, we're going to see pitchers who haven't hit at all this season attempt to do so. AL pitchers hit .119/.137/.162 (33-for-278) and struck out 44.2 percent of the time in 2011. This year isn't likely to be any better.
Having the DH throughout major-league baseball (as it already is in most amateur leagues and most of the minor leagues) won't lead to platoon squads of baseball players, as some fearmongers say, nor designated runners or fielders. It's simply the recognition that playing baseball with eight-ninths of an offensive squad isn't as fun to watch, and with pitchers reasserting dominance over the game, isn't good for the game itself.
2013, with realignment and the Astros moving to the American League, would be a perfect time to do it. Yes, it would be the end of "traditional" baseball. But I believe it's the right time.