(Jim Thome: great guy. Reason to mandate a DH in the NL? Hell no.) (AP Photo: Amy Sancetta)
An article appeared earlier this week by Jason Gonzalez of the Minneapolis Star Tribune in which the purported ‘imbalance’ of the two leagues within MLB is discussed, probably for the billionth time in the history of mankind. There’s a lot of stuff from both sides, including the ‘it doesn’t make sense for the leagues to be different’ camp as well as the ‘don’t pollute the NL with your twisted machinery’ camp. This debate makes me wince whenever it’s brought about because I lean towards the latter and simply can’t fathom the death knell of the way baseball has been played for over 100 years. I sure as hell hope Bud Selig doesn’t add the elimination of NL-style ball to his resume because I would instantly be counted among his many haters. The Gonzalez piece laments that slugging first baseman Ryan Howard might not be as long time a long-time Phillie due to the lack of a DH in the NL. Boo-frickin-hoo. You’re telling me we should add the DH to a beautiful, original style of baseball that has stood the test of time because that means Howard won’t be able to play quite as long in Philly? Give me a break. He can go to the AL if the DH is so appealing. It’s as simple as that.
Gonzalez quotes Joe Mauer as saying ‘using that DH can really help’. Well, that’s amazing, Joe. Apparently some Twins were bummed that they couldn’t have their precious DH types like Ryan Doumit hit when the Twins were in Milwaukee instead of their pitchers. Well the DH can ‘help’ you score a couple more runs here and there, but what’s lost in the process? Quite a lot. You end up with guys who can’t handle playing in the field more than on a part-time basis. The Twins are one of the teams that are so accustomed to the DH rules that they use it as a crutch. They rotate Ryan Doumit, Josh Willingham, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau in and out of that spot like a carousel. If they didn’t have that spot, suddenly all four of those guys actually have to play some defense…like every day, not a few times a week. Try to manage that, Gardenhire.
It seems like the ‘DH debate’ mostly comes from the AL side where they just find the non-DH NL rules to be so hard to understand. I’ve also found that folks who regularly follow AL teams are the ones most puzzled by resistance to the DH’s spread. My advice: watch some NL ball for a more prolonged period than just a game here or there and its genius will reveal itself. Guess what, the pitchers do just fine in the NL and they’re not all getting beaned or pulling hammies running the bases. The other day Kyle Lohse nearly had two hits (he ended up with one). His teammates were up there rooting for him all the way. That’s fun. If they get on base, they put a jacket on and run. They’re not sprinting trying to take an extra base. It’s station to station, generally, and it works just fine. The memorable game mentioned below by my colleague Enrique Bakemeyer in which Gallardo homered to provide the only run and beat the Pirates? That game does not exist in a DH-only league. Gallardo also memorably homered against Randy Johnson, which I believe was the only time a pitcher ever homered off of him…well that doesn’t happen either if we’re just going to dumb down the game for no reason.
‘The new model of interleague play…has ignited an argument about the future of the DH’, Gonzalez writes, even though teams are only playing a few more interleague games per year than they did previously. Yes, interleague play does occur throughout the year now and yes, it’s possible, although not probable, that in a ‘pennant chase’ an AL pitcher may have to run the bases at a NL park late in the season. Live with it. That doesn’t mean we should just scrap the NL style because it would be easier to conform to monolithic uniformity or panic at the remote chance that an athlete could be injured. Don’t be xenophobic, AL fans. Just because you’re not used to having the pitchers get an at-bat (or plate appearance…because pitchers do walk in the NL game) doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do so. Some call the NL style boring. Boring? The opposite is true when anything can happen in the pitcher’s spot in the order and that spot is not simply patched by another regular hitter (or a specialized hitter, I should say). You assumed it would be an out? Well guess what the pitcher just drove in a run. Thought the starting pitcher might pitch into the eighth inning? Guess what, he was pulled for pinch hitter and good call because that pinch hitter just broke a tie. If anything, the AL style is boring to me. Innings can drag more because there’s no potential soft spot to keep the game moving. Four-and-a-half-hour marathons between the Yanks and Saux sounds like so much nap time to me.
I don’t want to see aging has-been pine-riders on my team supplanting skilled role players. I want to see guys who can bunt, steal some bases, and play four different positions. I want small ball, double switches and strategy. I don’t want these part-time baseball players who can fall into the DH like it’s a day on the couch. I don’t care about three-run homers and four-hour baseball games. For me, a 3-2 decision after a well-played, 2-and-a-half-hour game is brilliant.
My preferred solution (if we can’t abolish the DH entirely): status quo. In that I apparently agree with former Twins GM Bill Smith, which is somewhat odd. Gonzalez mentions other discussed ‘solutions’ like adding a 26th player for interleague series (not a terrible idea) or mandating use of the DH in every interleague series (yuck). The best thing to do is just leave it as it is. NL teams can search for a reasonable hitter to plug the DH spot and AL pitchers can roll their eyes and take some batting practice. MLB, do not commit malfeasance for malfeasance’s sake (as Dwight Schrute might say). DO NOT F**K WITH THE NL GAME.