Designated hitters don't ruin America's pastime — they make it more fun to watch
Pitchers are terrible hitters. We all know it. Of course, it's completely understandable. Aspiring young pitchers are so busy perfecting their curveball, their grip, their form — and more, or course — that they just don't have much time to take cuts during batting practice. It's an understandably low priority. Nonetheless, for fans, having to dread at bats from the number-nine slot in the lineup only to suffer through watching pitchers crouch in an awkward stance, bat dangling somewhat askew, and then feebly swinging through fastballs that they stand no chance of hitting — well, it's really one of the worst things about National League baseball.
It doesn't have to be this way. It's time for the National League to yank pitchers out of the batter's box by adopting the designated hitter rule, just as the American League did all the way back in 1973.
Don't pay attention to decades' worth of howling from baseball purists. The DH doesn't ruin America's national pastime. Forcing pitchers to hit is essentially just adhering to tradition for tradition's sake. When the AL succumbed to reason in 1973, the rule change — which takes pitchers out of the batting lineup and replaces them with a designated hitter who doesn't play in the field — did baseball a world of good. Batting averages rose. So did attendance. The games were far more exciting. Baseball became less a battle of managers and more a competition of athletes.
The AL's batting average jumped from .239 in 1972 to .259 in 1973. In the same span, the NL average only climbed from .248 to .254.
For nearly 40 years, the AL has had more sluggers, more hits, more runs, and more excitement. The NL's batting average for the last 39 years is .258, fluctuating between .246 and .268. The AL's average for the same period of time is .265.
The DH is a specialist. Just ask Ron Blomberg, the first designated hitter to bat in the major leagues. On April 6, 1973, the New York Yankee took his first at-bat as DH in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. With the bases loaded, he walked in a run. That season, his batting average was an impressive .329. That's a full 70 points better than the AL average that year. A pitcher hitting in Blomberg's spot would have been lucky to hit 70 points below the AL average. Hitters like Blomberg immediately made the game more exciting and higher scoring.
Fast forward to 1996, 24 years after the DH rule was instituted. The American and National leagues began inter-league play. For a brief time, the DH was in jeopardy. The NL, still reticent to change the game, wanted the AL to adopt the old rules now that National and American league teams were set to play each other. Even some AL managers had niggling doubts. After all, the DH is a tenth man and often a power hitter. That costs owners more money. But in the end, the DH was so popular among players that the AL stuck with it, ruling that the DH would be used only during AL home games.
Now, there is a dark side to instituting the DH. A New York Times article from 2004 suggests that the DH rule has led to an increase in batters hit by pitches — as much as 15 percent higher in the AL than in the NL. The reporter attributed this to what risk management experts call "moral hazard." The theory goes that if a pitcher never has to face retaliation himself for having hit a batter with a pitch, then he'll be more likely to take risks on the mound. It's a fair argument — but not reason in and of itself for the NL to balk on instituting the DH rule.
The DH makes games more fun. It makes baseball's growing audience even larger. And let's be honest: We're all sick of watching pitchers try (and fail) to hit.
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