Today in an interview with ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said there will be no Designated Hitter in the National League for the “foreseeable future,” and added that the “vast majority” of NL teams like the rules the way they are. Thank God. Last week Manfred made headlines and caused me great concern when he speculated that National League owners might be more willing to adopt the DH, and an outcry from baseball media and fans seemed to support the notion that adopting the DH would be good news. As a proud lifelong fan of National League baseball, this inspired me to write about why the game is better when pitchers have to hit.
There’s been no DH for 140 years
Baseball takes more pride in its history than any other sport. The beauty of baseball is being able to compare stats and players across decades and centuries, and any time there is a fundamental change to the rules, comparison becomes more difficult. Furthermore, National League fans have spent lifetimes like their fathers before them appreciating and loving how the game is played.
The strategy is better
Baseball on the Senior Circuit is deeper and more interesting to watch because of the strategy maintained by not adding the DH, and managers’ jobs are significantly more important. Knowing when to pinch hit, pull a double switch, or leave the starting pitcher in is an essential skill for NL managers that can win or lose games. Julio Teheran is throwing a shutout in a tie game through seven innings, and the Braves are finally mounting an offensive rally as he steps to the plate. Should Fredi Gonzalez pinch hit to better his team’s chance at scoring the go ahead run, or does he leave Teheran into hit because he needs the effectiveness on the mound? For fans, speculating and debating on what moves their team should make adds intrigue and nuance that enhances the experience for an invested fan. Not having the DH adds a depth to National League not seen on the Junior Circuit.
Bench depth is more important
Because of the increase in strategic options noted above, the lack of a DH necessitates better benches over the course of 162 games and a playoff run. Good teams need to have bats on the bench they can rely on to come up with a late inning hit. The National League has infinitely better opportunities for role players and specialists, whether it’s a big DH-type hitter off the bench, a late inning defensive specialist, or the switch hitting utility man who can do anything you ask in the late innings. In Atlanta in recent years that utility man was Martin Prado, who became a fan favorite for his scrappy versatility on his way to earning a starting job and becoming an All-Star. The increased role of pinch hitting without the DH allows marginal players who would otherwise get little attention to make a big difference in games. More players can be the star, if only for a couple nights a season.
It’s fun when pitchers hit
When almost all pitchers are extremely poor hitters, it’s all the more exciting when one surprisingly comes through at the plate. And when someone like Bartolo Colon steps to the plate, one cannot deny the entertainment value.
More importantly, guys like Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke who can actually hit are even more valuable.
It’s okay for the leagues to be different
For nearly a century from 1903 to 1999 the National League and American League were separate entities that only played each other in the All-Star Game and World Series. They may be united under Major League Baseball and play frequent inter-league games now (that’s an argument for another day), but that doesn’t mean they have to all of the sudden operate the same. The distinction in styles between each league is a fun nuance that has permeated the game since the AL was founded. Each league has, or used to have, its own character, a feature of sports really only seen between conferences in college football. Similar to the way the SEC prides itself on having big, fast defenses and the Big 12 is all about explosive offense, the NL hangs its hat on pitching and strategy while the AL loves the longball. If the NL ever adopts the DH, that distinction in character will forever cease to exist.