We Americans are a people who build our foundations on tradition. Be it using the metric system, presidential turkey pardons, or prohibiting those who are unlike us from marrying, traditions continue to stay true in our daily lives.
The designated hitter rule in the American League is a “tradition” that has existed since 1973 in Major League Baseball. If you’re unfamiliar, the DH rule allows for a designated hitter to take the place of the pitcher in the lineup. In laymen’s terms, it prevents the pitcher from having to step outside his comfort zone of throwing baseballs and into the fantastical world of hitting them. Using the rationale of “most pitchers aren’t good hitters”, the American League adopted the rule in 1973 and has since posted a higher batting average league-wide than the National League yearly.
Forcing our athletes to be well-rounded would be insane, to say the least. Asking pitchers to hit would be like asking our hitters to field, or our fielders to run! Why should a professional athlete who is paid millions annually be forced to play the field when he is bad at it? The DH rule takes away strategy in the American League, allowing for pitchers to avoid hitting and players like David Ortiz to stop doing that thing he claims is “fielding”. Ortiz could go an entire 162 game season having never set foot on the defensive side of the field and still come out as the MVP of the league.
When baseball became a national sport in the 19th century, there was no DH. Pitchers hit for themselves and hitters fielded their positions. Babe Ruth, widely considered one of the greatest athletes to play the game was a pitcher, and a damn good one. Athletes were forced to become at least passable at all parts of the game. While it is true that most pitchers aren’t very good hitters, it adds depth and strategy to the game. Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning in a 1-0 game, do you pinch hit for your pitcher who is currently throwing a shutout? Do you rely on your bullpen or use small ball, having your pitcher bunt a potential runner over, leaving him in the game while still contributing to the offense? These are the kinds of scenarios that the American League doesn’t encounter. When pitchers step up to the plate in the NL, immense strategy falls onto the shoulders of the manager.
When pitchers do end up hitting in the NL, it can be one of the more entertaining parts of the game. When Santiago Casila stepped in the batter’s box for the first time as a part of a professional baseball team, he stood about seven feet from the plate with no intention of swinging whatsoever. Casila walked on four pitches. On the opposite end of the spectrum, what Phillies fan doesn’t remember Randy Wolf’s two homer game in 2004? That single game was the reason my cousin and I began a cult-like following of Wolf, getting excited to see what we could do every time he stepped to the plate in one of our video games.
If we allow a hitter to take the place of the pitcher just because pitchers are historically poor hitters, what comes next? What, logically, prevents designated runners from taking over once a 400- pound first basemen hits a single? First basemen are historically slow runners, just the same as catchers are for the most part, one of the weaker hitters in a line up. Replace them both then, in fact, have a defensive team and an offensive team. One that only plays the field, one that only hits. Maybe one that only runs. Hell, give them all steroids and aluminum bats too, to increase production, but for the sake of sports fans everywhere, never let the pitchers hit, that would ruin tradition.