A baseball traditionalist's case for losing the DH
ATLANTA -- It's been 40 years since the American League began using the designated hitter, and my teeth still are clenched. Then again, I'm the baseball traditionalist who lives in a National League city (as in no DH), which means I'm a little paranoid these days.
Courtesy of the Houston Astros switching leagues to the AL before this season, baseball's schedule makers were forced to employ Interleague Play throughout the year.
That groan you hear is from the traditionalist. After all, the omnipresence of Interleague Play is already giving folks a bunch of ideas about the future of the DH, and some of those ideas, well, they don't exactly lead to restful nights for traditionalists.
First, about this omnipresence of Interleague Play: Ugh.
Give me the days when the NL and AL only saw each other during Spring Training, the All-Star Game and the World Series, and all was well with the universe -- at least, on my side of it.
There was magic back then when the two leagues met, because it was a rarity. "So Boog Powell really is that big," you thought with wide eyes as an NL chauvinist? And goodness knows, AL folks hadn't a clue that my Big Red Machine was that potent until those Cincinnati Reds survived Carlton Fisk's little blast in 1975 and then clobbered the New York Yankees in another World Series the following year.
Now it has come to this for traditionalists: The Minnesota Twins will travel to Atlanta next week to play the Braves at Turner Field, and it doesn't feel anything like 1991 for so many reasons. Back then, both teams went from worst to first to win the pennant of their leagues. Back then, both teams were meeting in the World Series.
Back then, both teams had never faced each other.
Thus the magic. It was the same magic that appeared in 1992 for the Braves when they returned to the World Series to face a team from Canada called the Blue Jays, not the Expos. While the Expos were a known entity around here from the NL, the Blue Jays were from that other league, which made them mysterious and delightful for Braves fans.
Anyways, the Blue Jays will follow the Twins to town this month for Interleague Play, and this won't be the first time either team has visited Atlanta since their World Series days against the Braves.
So no magic here, but that's me talking.
As for those other sides of the universe, they've never had issues with Interleague games. Such games consistently outdraw their counterparts by huge margins. That's also why the number of Interleague games won't exactly shrink over time.
Consider, too, that the days are gone when advocates for either the NL and the AL viewed their roles as the Hatfields versus the McCoys, dogs versus cats, good versus evil. Uniformity is on the way for everything in baseball, and you know what that means?
Sooner rather than later, both leagues will use the DH or go back to the pure and decent way of playing a baseball game.
Guess which side I'm on?
Whether we're talking about Babe Ruth smacking balls over fences with regularity, Wilt Chamberlain turning into the NBA's first prolific scoring machine, the likes of Air Coryell and The Greatest Show On Turf in pro football or Wayne Gretzky pushing a slew of pucks past goalies, the overwhelming masses in sports have always favored offense over everything else.
We're back to my restless nights. Since the inception of its DH days, the AL has topped the NL most seasons in runs, RBIs, homers, slugging percentage, on-base percentage -- virtually all things offensively, which only makes sense. Instead of a traditionally weak-swinging pitcher in that spot, the AL has an accomplished slugger.
Conversely, instead of old-fashioned baseball strategy such as double switches late in games, the AL has little of that.
With the DH, the AL is playing a different game. The NL is forced to play that game during Interleague Play, All-Star Games or World Series games that take place in AL parks.
It has caused issues both ways.
More than a few NL teams have tried and failed to find somebody close on their roster to match the DH of their AL foe. Plus, there was that famous rant in 2008 when Hank Steinbrenner morphed into his father, George. It was after his Yankees lost ace pitcher Chien-Ming Wang for several months due to a baserunning injury in Houston, then an NL park.
"My only message is simple," Steinbrenner said at the time. "The National League needs to join the 21st century. They need to grow up and join the 21st century. I've got my pitchers running the bases, and one of them gets hurt. He's going to be out. I don't like that, and it's about time they address it. That was a rule from the 1800s."
It was a rule that lasted in both leagues until 1973. Then came the split, and 40 years later, we're on the verge of a merger.
Yep, you know my vote.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.