DESIGNATE RULE FOR ASSIGNMENT
DH had no business being in baseball from the start, but we’re stuck with it this year and probably longer
Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck made his players wear shorts for three games in 1976. He also had them don pajama-style jerseys with wide collars, something Hugh Hefner might have worn to a Playboy Mansion tickle fight. The Sox dressed like a bad softball team, but, on the way to a 64-97 record, didn’t play nearly as well as one.
It was a stunt, a gimmick and an aesthetic crime. Sort of like the designated-hitter rule.
Every time a DH comes to the plate in the American League, a small outpost in my brain sends out the same message: You are, at this moment, watching a sacrilege that would be on par with Vin Diesel playing Macbeth.
Baseball players were meant to pick up a bat and head to the plate. A pitcher is a baseball player. Therefore, a pitcher should have to pick up a bat and head to the plate. I’m pretty sure I learned that in high school logic class.
That major-league pitchers as a group hit about as well as a school of minnows is beside the point. They should have to carry their crosses to the batter’s box.
And bad fielders and older players shouldn’t be able to hide behind the DH rule.
Major League Baseball has taken advantage of the coronavirus-shortened season to introduce the designated hitter to the National League, which will finally join the American League in a science experiment gone terribly wrong. On one level, it could be seen as a good thing. It never made much sense that one league had the DH and the other didn’t. You wouldn’t want one NFL conference using wider goalposts than the other or one NBA conference allowing the three-pointer and the other not.
And it’s unfair that AL pitchers have had to face designated hitters who know how to use a bat while NL pitchers have toyed with pitchers posing as batters.
But a bad idea is still a bad idea. Uniformity might feel good after a 46-year schism, but it’s still surrender to a bad idea.
I know, I know: Cubs fans, even those violently opposed to the mere thought of the designated hitter in National League parks, are willing to put aside their distaste because they have Kyle Schwarber. Schwarber was formed as a DH in the womb, but like a case of a baby going home from the hospital with the wrong mother, was drafted by the Cubs, an NL club. Ever since he joined the big leagues in 2015, people have watched him hit (sometimes well) and play left field (sometimes not so well) and thought: Here stands a designated hitter.
So the upcoming 60-game season will be more than a possible glimpse into Schwarber’s AL future. There’s a good chance it will be his life going forward. The DH will go away again next season in the National League, but when (or if ) a new collective-bargaining agreement is reached in 2022, there’s a very good chance the universal designated hitter will be here to stay. New Cubs manager David Ross has been saying that Schwarber will see time in the field this season, but there doesn’t seem to be any compelling reason for it. His worth is as a hitter.
I wish it weren’t even a discussion. Just as
a pitcher should have to hit, so should a hitter have to field. Fielding is part of the game. If you’re not good at it, it should cost you and your team.
But, alas, the National League is going new school. The opposite should have occurred: The American League should have admitted its mistake, apologized for its nottemporary-enough insanity and gotten back in line with its NL brethren.
Proponents of the DH argue that no one wants to watch pitchers look like uncoordinated fools at the plate. But it’s actually a wonderful reminder of just how difficult hitting is. Nothing wrong with that. And nothing wrong with a manager being forced to make some in-game decisions when his pitcher is due up at the plate.
But that’s going away, mostly because of money and opportunity. Hitting brings people into the park. The players’ union has always seen the DH as an opportunity for more jobs in the game. It’s also a way for older, beaten-up players to rest their legs while someone else plays defense.
But it’s not the way baseball was meant to be played. It’s true that things change. It’s also true that not all change is good.
Former White Sox owner Bill Veeck presents ex-major-leaguer Jim Rivera in the team’s unique hot-weather uniform for the 1976 season. The getup was as gimmicky as the DH rule instituted three years earlier.
Kyle Schwarber was born to be a designated hitter but wound up in the National League. That won’t matter this season.