A Debate of History

I got involved in a debate today through my Facebook status that was unintentional, but it got me thinking.

After I made a comment about how the Cubs needed to maximize the value of Jake Fox by trading him to an American League club to become a DH, a friend of mine made a claim in so many words that the National League is better than the American League because the American League uses the designated hitter. After further prying, I find out he thinks the designated hitter is bad for baseball because it’s not part of the old school tradition of the game.

I could not disagree more.

Since when does something that is not traditional automatically mean it is bad? Why is innovation always wrong? I understand that baseball, more than any other sport, thrives because of its history and legend, if that weren’t the case we wouldn’t have seen months and years of debate before the league decided to implement instant replay.

But when a change is made that makes the game better, you stick with it, and just because it’s not traditional and not part of the history of the game, doesn’t make it bad.

How is it good baseball that a team is almost automatically out of a big inning if their pitcher comes to bat? Where is the fun when a team has runners on second and third with two outs and their eighth place hitter, batting a whopping .230 is up, but the pitcher chooses to intentionally walk him to face a guy who has no more business in the batter’s box than Billy Crystal or Garth Brooks?

I understand that a pitcher in the lineup might bring about a little more strategy with the double switches and whatnot, but I would much rather see nine professional-level hitters in every lineup than eight guys and a pitcher. It becomes a snooze-fest. It’s not fun to watch and it’s flat-out bad baseball.

Sure, there’s always a few pitchers who take their hitting seriously. The Carlos Zambrano’s, Micah Owing’s and Mike Hampton’s. But 95 percent of these guys are just looking to get in and out of that batter’s box as quickly as possible. And during the few games a year where American League pitchers have to take their swings, it becomes downright horrid.

I won’t make the argument that the designated hitter helps keep pitchers healthy, because injuries happen regardless of what you do, and that’s not a reasonable explanation. But one argument I will make is that the designated hitter has helped prolong the careers of some hitters who would have had to retire long ago it it weren’t for the designated hitter. The two greatest DH’s of all time, Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines, both lost their legs a good 10 years before retirement, but were able to keep playing and keep hitting — at an incredibly high level — thanks to the DH. And if you look at the number of DH’s today who would have no business in the field (Jim Thome, David Ortiz, the recently retired Frank Thomas, Mike Sweeney, Jason Giambi, Hideki Matsui, pretty soon Vladamir Guerrero), it’s nothing but good.

Pundits often argue that we need to get rid of the DH. Go back to baseball’s roots. All that crap that makes zero sense. But I say do the opposite. Put the DH in the National League, something that would give the Mets something to go with Gary Sheffield, something that would allow the Cubs to keep hot-hitting, no-fielding Jake Fox, something that would make baseball a better sport to watch on a daily basis.

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