I would like to begin my first commentary for fixmlb.org by thanking my good friend Todd for providing me with the opportunity to contribute to this blog. While we may not always agree on what is best for Major League Baseball, I have an immeasurable amount of respect for his passion for the sport. Conversely, his willingness to feature opinions that may be contrary to his own speaks volumes about how sincere he is with regard to having open and balanced discussions.
Most of our on-going MLB debates hinge on two differing schools of thought: the preservation of America’s pastime vs. moving the sport forward in a positive direction. Granted, those extreme descriptions are terse. But we generally present perspectives somewhere between the two extremes, however closer to one side or the other.
A prime example of this divisiveness is the use of the designated hitter. MLB has been at a turning point in its history for 15 years, starting with the introduction of interleague play in 1997. That’s far too long for MLB to go on pretending to be comprised of two separate leagues with separate rules, while competing during the regular season and for the sport’s ultimate prize.
With the recent divisional realignment and increase in interleague play, should have come an alignment of the rule books, introducing the DH as a full-time, everyday spot in the lineup for National League teams. This relatively trivial rule difference is having a dramatic impact on the game.
First and foremost is the obvious willingness of American League teams to spend more over a longer period of time for first and third base free agents whose days in the field may be numbered. The NL literally lost the two biggest free agents of this off-season, Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder, because a dated rule tied the hands of decision makers. Ryan Howard and Joe Mauer may as well select their preferred AL teams now.
Traditionalists will argue that pitchers are supposed to hit and managers are supposed to work their strategies around an inevitable pitcher vs. pitcher match-up. But MLB, as a singular professional sports league, should be about the best vs. the best. The simple fact of the matter is that as pitchers have become more specialized at pitching, they have become worse hitters. The demands of succeeding on the mound at the highest level do not afford them the opportunity of also being able to work on hitting Major League pitching. And the increased number of interleague games means we will be seeing more AL pitchers stepping into the batter’s box.
As a fan, weighing the option of seeing a great pitcher against a great hitter in the heart of the lineup or seeing the opposing pitcher come to bat at the bottom of the lineup, wearing his warm-up jacket and taking half-hearted swings, the choice is simple.