A quick hello before we jump in here. My name is Lawrence and I am going to be writing about my favorite sport; baseball. I follow all the major sports religiously, but I will always hold baseball just a little bit higher than the rest. I still remember my dad taking me to my first baseball game, and even though it was in Veteran's Stadium, I was hooked right away. If you've never been there, consider yourself lucky. Anyway, here is my first of many articles to give everyone a glimpse into how much I love the sport, and why it's my favorite. You can follow me on Twitter @LawrenceMonaco. I am very excited to connect with fellow sports fans and cannot believe I get to contribute to a site with so many talented writers. Thank you to John for this wonderful opportunity and thank you all for reading!
Every major American sport has its own traits that make it unique from all others. Football has a shorter schedule, making every game critical. Basketball has different point totals for different shots, depending on where they are taken from. Hockey allows fighting. Heck, it even encourages it. And then there is baseball.
Baseball, a sport that prides itself for its 'quirkiness.' The only sport that doesn't have a clock. The only sport where the every field has its own dimensions. The only sport where the team without the ball scores. The only sport where the manager wears a uniform (and in most cases, probably shouldn't). And most importantly for this discussion, the only sport where each league has it's own set of rules. While the NFL, NHL, and NBA are split into two conferences, each with separate divisions, Major League Baseball is divided into two leagues with separate divisions. Such a minor difference seems like splitting hairs, but what makes the MLB setup special is that the National League requires pitchers to hit, while the American League allows teams to utilize a Designated Hitter.
Traditionally baseball did not see National League teams play American League teams at all during the regular season. Teams would play exclusively in their respective league all year, until the champions of each met in a best of seven World Series to determine a champion. This changed in 1997, as 'Interleague Play' was introduced as a gimmick to bring fans back following baseball's 1994 players' strike. Initially it was a special occasion, few series a year idea to bring some fresh new match ups into the league. We got to see local rivalries like the Mets vs. Yankees, White Sox vs. Cubs, and Angels vs. Dodgers, match ups that were unheard of unless the teams met in the World Series. While baseball purists hated it, a lot of fans embraced expanding the list of their favorite team's potential opponents.
Now let's fast forward to 2013. MLB realized that having 16 teams in the National League andjust 14 in the American League was not fair. Their decision to move the Houston Astros to the AL balanced the leagues, but with an odd number in each, scheduling required substantially more interleague play throughout the season. Whether this was a good idea is an entirely different debate for another day, but it brings forth an even bigger argument, what should be done about the Designated Hitter?
Unlike most two-sided arguments, there are actually three opinions that can be held in this debate. Some feel both leagues should adopt the DH, others argue that both leagues should abandon the DH, while a third camp feel things should be kept as is. In honor of the old saying, 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it,' this is what I feel they should do; leave the rules exactly as they are. If you are playing in an NL ballpark, both pitchers hit. AL ballpark? Both teams get a DH. Simple enough, right?
I understand why fans embrace the DH. Who would you rather watch swing the bat, David Ortiz or Jon Lester? A DH leads to more hits, which in turn leads to more runs, and most fans prefer a higher scoring game to a 1-0 pitchers duel. Who wants to see a pitcher at bat in a big spot, taking pitches hoping for a walk, or hacking at the ball trying to make contact? It's a valid argument that is hard to argue.
And that is why I say keep the DH! But just in the AL. Keep it away from the National League. I admit that I am in the minority, but I love well pitched, defensive baseball. Give me the pitcher's duel over a slugfest any day. I guess you could call me a 'baseball purist,' but as a Phillies fan living in south Jersey, I grew up on National League baseball. I can claim ignorance; I didn't know any better!
As much as I enjoy 'National League' baseball, I do not believe that forcing American League pitchers to bat is the way to go at all. I like having differences between the two leagues. It's part of what makes baseball special, and adds to the fun of interleague rivalries. It may seem silly to have two sets of rules, but again, baseball is an odd sport. It's not for everyone. But those of us that get it, love it. And its these goofy little things that add charm to America's Pastime. Leaving things as they are now, despite the increase in interleague play, is definitely the way to go.
Letting each league keep their own rules also gives teams a true 'home field advantage.' I'm going to use David Ortiz again as an example, since he is one of the best and well-known DH's in the league. Suppose the Red Sox make it to the World Series. The Cardinals have a better regular season record, but Boston has home field advantage because the American League won the All Star Game this past year (DUMBEST. GIMMICK. EVER). That allows Boston to keep Ortiz's bat in the lineup for 4 games out of the 7 without him having to play in the field. Conversely, if the Cardinals have home field advantage, their pitchers would be more likely to lay down a sacrifice bunt or even slap a single, giving them a chance to help themselves. Not to mention that this scenario would put David Ortiz in the field for four games. He is a capable first baseman, but his glove could certainly become a liability over the course of a series.
It also forces AL teams to make tough decisions when playing on the road. In last year's World Series, Delmon Young was coming off a great ALCS, where he was named MVP for Detroit as their DH. When playing in San Francisco, the Tigers had to decide whether to play him in the field, where he was not very good, or take his hot bat out of the lineup completely for a much more solid defender. They decided that the positives he brought to the plate outweighed the negatives he brought in the field. It all comes down to strategy!
The biggest complaint I hear from non-baseball fans is that the sport is boring. There is too much standing around, and too much down time. I do my best to explain to people the thought process that goes into just about every at bat. If you have a man on second with one out, do you walk the hitter to set up a double play, or do you pitch to him because you have a righty-righty matchup and the batter on deck is left-handed? Do you bring an arm out of the bullpen, or leave the starter in for one more hitter? These little things are what hold my interest, and a lot of this thought goes right out the window when a DH is in the lineup.
An example from a National League game:
Your team is down 2-0. Your pitcher gave up two runs in the first inning but settled down and is cruising. His pitch count is low, and he is up to bat in the bottom of the 6th. There are two men on, with one out. Do you pinch hit for him to try to capitalize on this scoring chance? If you do, you turn the game over to the bullpen. If you don't, and let him hit, he could hit into a double play and end the inning. The wrong decision could end up costing you the game.
Your team is winning 4-3 with the other team at bat. There is a runner on 2nd base with two outs. Their 8 hole hitter is up. Do you pitch around him and try to get the pitcher out? Or do you go after him and risk giving up the tying run?
You lose these types of dilemmas when you have a position player batting 9th. Another victim isthe sacrifice bunt. It can be crucial in a close game, and is something you don't see as much in a lineup when a DH is used. Designated hitters also makes the double switch obsolete, as well as the strategy of burning a bench player to get a better matchup against a relief pitcher. Pinch hitting in general is not as common in the AL, and the late inning match ups between the left handed specialists and the power bat off of the bench are truly things of beauty. Again, I realize a lot of people think this stuff is boring, but to me, it's exactly what makes baseball so great!
Change begets change begets change. In the past 20 years, Major League Baseball has added expansion teams, relocated teams, had a few switch divisions, and in some cases even swap leagues. Instant replay has been implemented and rumors are circulating that it will be expanded, and soon. Divisions have been added and wild card playoff berths have been introduced. Progression is not always a bad thing, and baseball still has a long way to go in some aspects. Still, watching National League baseball with a designated hitter in the lineup? Well, that just sounds boring to me.