The designated hitter rule has been one of the most controversial subjects in the MLB since its introduction 40 years ago. Any baseball fan could rattle off several reasons why the designated hitter is either a vital part of the game or the worst thing to ever happen to it. I can understand the intended benefits of including a designated hitter on a team’s roster, but the problems it causes outweigh the benefits.
I’m not even going to pretend to be a “traditionalist” because I was born into a world where the designated hitter had already been an established part of the game. Because I live in Massachusetts most of the games I’ve been to have been at Fenway Park. A designated hitter can be fun to watch, especially one as charismatic as David Ortiz. They can allow aging or hurt players to play longer, if only offensively. Having a designated hitter can also help protect pitchers from getting hurt.
I have always been a supporter of having the pitcher hit. The National League games I’ve been to have been to have been more intriguing overall because of the strategy involved with substitutions. The decision to remove a pitcher for a chance at a better batter knocking in some runs in a pinch makes the game more suspenseful. Pitchers can be frustrating to watch at the plate sometimes but they are not useless. They can sacrifice themselves to advance a runner or even swing for the fences.
Now that Interleague play will occur all season teams will have to adjust to different rule changes more often than usual. This major rule difference causes inequality between the two leagues. I am of the opinion that the American League has a clear advantage in this situation. When they play at home against a National League team they already have an established lineup. National League teams do not usually have a bench player that is capable of hitting as well as an American League designated hitter, so it does not really help the National League team to have one. When an American League team travels to a National League park they only have to make a choice between letting the defensive player play or have the designated hitter play defense. They can’t really go wrong either way. Most designated hitters tend to be first basemen and can still play the position well enough. If the designated hitter can’t play in the field the position player is still used to being in a major league lineup on a daily basis.
If I could ever un-invent one thing it would be the designated hitter rule. It is going to cause more of a debate now than it ever has now that the leagues will be colliding every day. There are some who think the designated hitter will come to the National League in a matter of years. I could support a uniform league, but one that does not include the designated hitter. Hopefully such a change could be discussed when Bud Selig retires to make the two leagues more even.