The designated hitter rule remains one of the few remaining true points of distinction between the American and National Leagues of Major League Baseball.
For all intents and purposes, the leagues ceased operating as separate entities in 1999. The offices of each league president were dissolved, leaving both leagues under rule of the MLB commissioner. League-specific umpires became a thing of the past too, as they also fell under MLB control. Add to that the then-recent implementation of interleague play, and MLB became much more like the other North American sports with no real distinction between its two halves.
But the DH is one lasting quirk. Though now more than 40 years old, it is a comparatively recent innovation for a league that traces its history to the 1870s. Now firmly entrenched as a feature of American League ball, its use or lack thereof remains heavily controversial.
MLB Players Association executive Tony Clark said over the All-Star Break that support for the DH among NL clubs was “gaining momentum.” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred tempered that a bit, pointing out that such a change would be hard to make and would encounter a lot of resistance.
"The most likely outcome remains the status quo," the commissioner said.
The argument for the DH is much the same as it was when implemented in 1973. Pitchers can’t hit. Pitchers as a whole through the first half of the 2018 season are posting an aggressively terrible slash line of .113/.144/.145. While outliers exist — Colorado Rockies starter German Marquez is hitting .324, plus there’s the dual threat that is Shohei Ohtani for the Los Angeles Angels — the fact remains that the best outcome in most cases for a pitcher at-bat is a sacrifice bunt.
But is that sufficient reason to take the bat out of the hands of pitchers? If it’s been working since 1876, why change it now?
What’s your take?
Take 1: Pitchers hitting is a relic of the past
There are many rules that used to be on the books in baseball but that ultimately proved to be bad ideas. A walk used to count as a hit. Fly balls used to be able to be caught on the bounce. Letting pitchers continue to hit is the same. It just doesn’t make sense in the modern game. Players specialize at every position now. A pitcher simply can’t keep up with also being a major league hitter. Let an actual hitter do that job.
Take 2: Pitchers hitting is baseball
Some players are great hitters but are terrible at defense. Should we have a designated fielder to install for those players? Of course not. Why should there be players who don’t get to hit for themselves? Dealing with the challenge of a pitcher in the lineup is part of what makes the game interesting. It makes for more strategy in the NL as something extra that managers have to negotiate. Players hit and play a position, that’s just how baseball works.
So, should the DH be expanded to the National League? Or is it an important part of baseball history that should be preserved? Have your say in the comments below.