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

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - RICK MOR­RIS­SEY rmor­ris­sey@sun­times.com | @Mor­ris­seyCST

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.

AP

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.

CHARLES REX ARBOGAST/AP

Kyle Sch­war­ber was born to be a des­ig­nated hit­ter but wound up in the Na­tional League. That won’t mat­ter this sea­son.

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