Put Me In Coach
The designated hitter. The difference between playing in the American League and the National League of Major League Baseball. A position created out of the fans desire to watch massive home runs. A position created out of fear of pitchers being injured while batting. A position that isn't a position at all. A rouse. A cheat. A scam.
The designated hitter was created by the American League in 1973. There is some debate as to the real reason behind the implementation of the designated hitter. Talk of using a designated hitter was around as early as 1906 when one of the greatest managers in the history of the game, Connie Mack, raised the idea of using a designated hitter. The rumor was that he got sick watching some of his best pitchers, such as Eddie Plank and Chief Bender (both hall of fame pitchers), swing widely and look ridiculous trying to hit. Mack was laughed out of the room and for even considering using a designated hitter.
The concept never went away and started to get more widespread acceptance in the late 1960s. Pitchers dominated the '60s. In 1968, Denny McLain won 31 games, which was the last time a pitcher has one over 30 games in a season. In 1968, Bob Gibson lead the majors with a 1.12 earned run average (ERA). There were seven other pictures in 1968 with ERAs below 2.00. Of the top 10 ERAs in 1968, the highest was 2.08. To give some perspective, in 2015 there were two pitchers with ERAs below 2.00, with the number 10 ERA in MLB being 2.77. In 2014 and 2013 there was only one pitcher with an ERA under 2.00, and in 2012 Clayton Kershaw won the ERA titled with an ERA of 2.53.
On the opposite side of the coin, in 1968 Pete Rose lead the majors with a batting average of .335, however, Carl Yastrzemski lead the American League in hitting with an anemic batting average of .301. In 2015, Miguel Cabrera lead the MLB with a batting average of .338 (also the leader in the American League) and Dee Gordon lead the National League with an average of .333. In 1968, the tenth highest batting average was .291. In 2015, the tenth highest batting average was .313.
What is the point of all these stats? The point is to show that in 1968 the owners of American League teams wanted to inject some life into the offense and slow down the dominance of pitchers. With that in mind they finally adopted a "position" that would allow for specialized players that could only hit to take the place of specialized players that could only pitch. That brought to life the designated hitter.
At this year's (2016) owner's meetings there has been rumblings that the National League is considering an implementation of the designated hitter. Rob Manfred, Commissioner of MLB, was quoted saying "Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you'd think you were talking some sort of heretical comment. But we have a newer group. There's been turnover. I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and tradition of the sport." I saw this quote and read this news and my heart sank.
I despise the use of a designated hitter. I think of the "position" as a marketing ploy. It is a "position" created to remove baseball players from the game and change them into hitters. Oh, you can't field but you can hit? Great! You can be a hitter and make millions of dollars without having to actually play baseball. Don't worry about bringing that glove with you on the road, big guy, you won't actually have to play the game you just have to swing three or four times a day.
I believe that the designated hitter inflates a "players" stats to make them seem better baseball players. This upcoming section is about to piss off many of my friends, especially Joe and Liz, but here we go. Let us compare David Ortiz, one of the best hitters (not baseball players) of our generation to Mickey Mantle, one of the best baseball players (not just hitters) of our time. I picked these two players because of the comparative stats. In David Ortiz's 19 year career (to-date) he has accumulated 503 career home runs and has announced that he will retire at the of of the 2016 season. Mickey Mantle had 536 home runs over his 18 year career. Based upon this comparison it is reasonable that Ortiz and Mantle will have roughly the same number of home runs after Ortiz finishes the 2016 season.
Over the course of his career (through 2015) David Ortiz has participated in 2,257 games. Of those games, Ortiz has actually played in 277 games (meaning he played the field and batted). That is only 12.3% of his career actually having to catch and throw a baseball. That means the other 87.7% of his career he was spending most of his time sitting in the dugout watching the game the rest of his team was playing.
Compare this to Mickey Mantle. During Mickey Mantle's career there was not such thing as the designated hitter so he spent every one of his 2,401 career games playing in the field. That in itself is a pretty amazing feat but it is made even more impressive that in the second game of the 1951 World Series (Mantle's rookie year) he tripped over an exposed drain pipe in the outfield and tore his ACL. Mantle went on to play (both hitting and fielding) the rest of his 18-year career with a torn ACL.
Now try and imagine what kind of inflated statistics Mickey Mantle would have had if he could have been just a hitter and not a baseball player. His knees wouldn't have been ruined. I don't think it is out of the realm of possibility that Mantle would have exceed 800 career home runs. His 18-year career could have been extended much further. Instead, this amazing baseball "player" is being compared to a "hitter".
As you can see, I'm biased towards the opinion that a baseball player should play the game, not just hit (or just pitch for that matter). I'm also of the opinion that the designated hitter goes against the very first rule of Major League Baseball. Rule 1.01 of the Official Baseball Rules as published by Major League Baseball states "Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players each, under direction of a manager, played on an enclosed field in accordance with these rules, under jurisdiction of one or more umpires". It doesn't say that it is a game between two teams of ten players each (the nine players plus a designated hitter), but nine players. The very existence of a designated hitter is contradictory to the first official baseball rule.
I'm a traditionalist. I want my baseball players to play the game and to play the entire game. Pitchers should have to hit (some of them have been pretty good, like Babe Ruth). Hitters should have to play the field (there have been a couple that have been good at both, like nearly the entire Hall of Fame). If you just want to be a hitter, go play cricket or something. No one understands how that game is played anyway.
P.S. It should be noted that after I wrote this blog Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred clarified his comments in an interview with ESPN.com saying "The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo. I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are." Good news indeed.
Note: All stats included in this blog were taken from baseball-reference.com.