From The Archives: Blame Ego Of Owners For No DH In NL
The following Tracy Ringolsby column is reprinted from the November 1985 issue of Baseball America.
KANSAS CITY, Mo.— Kenesaw Mountain Landis had the right idea in 1927. Then the commissioner of baseball, Landis proposed the designated hitter. At the time, the National League agreed, but the American League didn’t. And so the idea was dropped.
Somewhere along the line the AL saw the error of its ways, and in 1973 decided to give the DH a try. The AL has found out it likes it.
For some reason, however, the NL has reversed field and won’t let the DH assume its proper role in both major leagues. Won’t somebody wake up the NL?
There is only one reason for the reluctance of NL owners—they won’t swallow their egos and admit the AL was right.
Yes, letting the pitcher hit is a tradition, but what good is a tradition if it is detrimental to the welfare of the game?
Face it, baseball has been a game of constant changes for the improvement. Just note the game’s equipment changes—from the stubby, little gloves to the mammoth, flexing pieces of leather today; from the thick-handled bottle-type bats to the shaved-down, cupped-end wands of today.
Playing conditions have changed—from the 154-day-game schedule to today’s predominance of night games, from the cow-pasture-type playing fields to the smoothed-out surfaces of today (some real grass and some ersatz grass).
And strategy changes—from a laid-back approach to the game to an aggressive approach, from the iron-man pitchers to the evolution of the bullpen stoppers.
They laughed at Ned Hanlon in the 1890s when he conceived a style of baseball that included the hit-and-run, the squeeze and the double steal. It won pennants for the Orioles from 1894-96, but it was criticized by people who said it wasn’t baseball that Hanlon had his team playing.
The same type of mentality has kept the DH out of the NL for the last 12 years.
The statistics are well documented. The DH does produce more offense. Don’t waste your breath arguing that point. And the wear on pitchers’ arms has subsided since those first couple of years when the novelty of the DH led managers to stay with pitchers too long because the temptation to pinch-hit for them was gone.
In the first two years of the DH, there was a modern-day high of AL pitchers who worked 250 innings or more—22 in 1973 and 23 in 1974. But by the end of the first decade of the DH, the number had dropped to five—three less than the NL.
Now, if the NL and its fans would drop their simplistic arguments against the DH, baseball would be a better game.
What the DH does is create more pressures for a manager. He has to know how to handle pitchers, and he can be more creative with the building of a lineup.
In the late inning of an NL game, if a club is down a run and a man is on base, the manager pinch-hits for the pitcher. No questions asked.
Or how about when an NL pitcher is struggling in the middle of an inning but is due to lead off when his team comes to bat? The manger leaves the pitcher in the game to make the pressure pitches that can ruin an arm. The manager has a built-in alibi. He was sparing the expense of using an extra pitcher by milking an extra out from someone who had lost his best stuff.
An AL manager makes a pitching change because he feels it has to be made for the betterment of the game. It is made because the manager feels his pitcher has lost his best stuff. If the game blows up, the manager doesn’t have an excuse.
"You have to have the ability as a manager to say, ‘This guy has had it,’ and make your move,” Twins manager Ray Miller said. "You have to have sound judgment of pitchers and what they are doing over the course of a game.”
More than anything, however, the DH presents the manager with versatility in his batting order. By removing the pitcher, a manager can blend the strengths of a nine-man lineup.
The DH requires more strategy during the course of a game than having a pitcher in the lineup. How bad is it for a manager to call for a sacrifice bunt when his pitcher comes to bat with a runner on first? It’s a defensive action during the offensive part of the game.
The decisions a manager has to make are to pinch-hit, or not, and that normally is reserved for the late innings only.
With the DH, offensive strategy is at work from the first inning on. What a pitcher-free lineup does is force a manager to consider all his options: swing away, sacrifice, steal or hit-and-run with the one through nine spots in his order.
"It really starts with your No. 6 hitter,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said. "If he gets on base, you hit-and-run with your seventh hitter. Say he grounds out and moves the runner to second. If you’ve got a pitcher in the lineup, they’ll pass your No. 8 hitter and go right to the pitcher.
"With the DH, though, they’ve got to pitch to your hitters. It opens up a lot of things for you throughout your lineup.”
What has to happen for the DH to reach its full potential is for AL team to realize it is a role for a complete offensive player, not an aging veteran. The true DH is a Don Baylor or Hal McRae, in his younger days—a fellow with defensive limitations, but one who has power, can drive in runs, hit for average and has better than average speed.
That will come. Teams are making adjustments.
But will the NL ever come around to logic in its approach to the DH? Will the NL ever realize the pettiness of its arguments based on "purist” grounds?
It is so ironic for the NL to complain, when they believe in a league that has become a bastion of antiseptic ballparks with ersatz grass playing fields.
"Most people who talk about the sacrilege of the DH are the NL owners whose teams play on artificial surfaces,” Miller said. "You talk about changing the game. I think any record that is set on artificial grass should have an asterisk next to it. Anyone who says the DH destroys the sanctity of the game, and plays on artificial grass is being sacrilegious himself—and a hypocrite.”
Kenesaw Mountain Landis couldn’t have said it better.