Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Separate But Equal?

      The boys of summer are back, my friends. As our school year slowly draws to a close, the baseball season is only beginning. However, when veritable Reds punching bags, the lowly Houston Astros, tragically moved to the AL West, a monumental shift in baseball occurred--interleague play is now an everyday event. While some fans, and certainly all franchise owners, may relish the fact that their hometown teams get to play clubs like the Yankees or the Red Sox on a daily basis, many people see a glaring inefficiency in this “opportunity”: the discrepancies regarding the usage of a DH, or designated hitter, to bat for a team’s pitcher-the AL uses it, the NL does not--will always put one team at a significant tactical disadvantage depending upon where the game is played. While some may praise the National League’s stance on this issue for keeping true to “tradition,” and for “protecting the “complete player,” many, including the author, have called for the universal institution of the designated hitter in major league baseball.

     Given the aforementioned fact that interleague play is now an everyday occurrence, Major League Baseball’s policy of “Separate but Equal,” in regards to keeping the DH out of the NL while supposedly keeping a level of play comparable to that of the AL,  no longer applies. It is time for change. This doesn’t just hurt the NL, however. As mentioned above, one team, be it AL or NL, is always being put at a tactical disadvantage in every competition they play in-NL teams do not have a consistent DH to use like all AL teams do, and AL teams do not have a large enough sample size to weigh a given player’s talent or lack thereof in the field against his offensive capabilities in order to set a lineup, like all NL teams do. Universally instituting the DH would instantly level the playing field and add much needed punch to National League lineups and simplify the process for managers and front offices across the league, who will struggle deciding whether or not to keep a fulltime DH on 25 man roster although they may not be used every day.

     Furthermore, the DH rule can also be seen as a safety rule, both from a financial aspect and a physical health aspect as well. Let’s use a hypothetical: Dusty Baker finally puts Aroldis Chapman into the starting rotation, and in his first at bat of the season, he gets plunked in the head and is concussed, leaving his career in jeopardy-a $30,000,000 investment wasted. This actually has happened before--Chien Ming Wang, a former Yankees pitcher, fell victim to a similar situation running the bases, he blamed lack of experience doing so as the cause, against an NL team and his career was essentially ended. Because of the inherent risk of batting, GMs need the financial security that comes with a DH rule so that their expensive investments in pitchers aren't cut short for any reason besides a general lack of talent. Also, the newfound ability to develop prospects at the then universal position, DH, would revitalize the league’s trade market High schools use a DH to make games more competitive and safe, so do colleges, why can’t the MLB?

       From a mathematical stand point, adding a DH would create roughly 40 additional runs to add to any team’s offensive output, translating to more wins and higher scoring games-a formula for baseball parity and higher attendance, translating to higher revenues and better teams. It is interesting to note that an overwhelming majority of World Series winners and attendance leaders since the DH was created in 1973 have hailed from the American League, which traditionally uses the DH every game, perhaps due to higher scoring games generating more fan interest and therefore more revenue to spend on players in the form of ticket sales. In regards to jersey sales-the DH provides a10th “starter” to capitalize upon, increasing sales by default. In comparison, the NL’s inherent lack of marketable bench players and the limit to nine “starters” per lineup effectively caps the amount revenue NL teams can receive and spend on players.

     There always comes a time when tradition must give way to progress. For baseball, that time has finally come. Gone are the days of the “complete” player-pitchers are paid and scouted for their ability to throw the ball, not hit it, after all and there has never been a truly complete player who could hit and pitch in baseball history besides one George Herman Ruth. Pitchers’ legacies are created on the mound, not on the batter’s box, and hitters are judged at the plate, not in the field- so why try to force something upon fans, the myth of the complete player, that isn't true? Why force aging legends out of baseball, when they can extend their careers like Frank Thomas did? Let’s make the game great again. Long live baseball. Long live the designated hitter.

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