To DH Or Not To DH

With Mariners FanFest nigh upon us, it seems like the 2016 baseball season is so close…but it’s also so far away. The weather is still cold, but there are twinges of spring in the air; I noticed that the edge to the chill we have been experiencing over the past few weeks had gone away a bit the other night while on my way back home from a Target run. It was even a little sunny last weekend, though of course it did not last long. Seattle favors the gray and fog during the winter months, and spring has to fight to get here, even past the point of when it should be settled in. Our home openers are often fought under wet or even snowy skies (seriously, remember when it snowed back in like 2009 or something?) with fans bundled up in as many layers as possible, huddled under the rolling roof of Safeco, sometimes ill-protected from the sideways rain coming in over left field (I say, as if I’d had some experience with that or something). But the hours march on, and baseball is coming.

If you’re not an analyst, there isn’t much to talk about in the world of baseball after the winter meetings, and Jerry Dipoto seems to have stayed true to his word that no other moves of significance would be made after December. All 30 teams currently seem to be experiencing a calm before the storm, and news coming out of anyone is minor league and prospect in nature. But baseball fans are going to debate some things every year when they get bored, and if it’s not steroid policies, it’s the Hall of Fame, and if it’s not that, it’s Yankees fans talking about whether or not New York should make a play for Felix Hernandez, and if it’s not that, it’s a team switching from NL to AL, or a change in balk rules (seriously, I still haven’t figured out how to immediately identify a balk), or like this year, a rumored change in the designated hitter rule.

Of course, MLB has come out in the last few days and insisted that they have no intention of revoking or changing one of the last things that differentiates the American league from the National. I am unsure where the original story might have come from that it was even up for debate; I just know that it was talked about online for about a week or so until this announcement came out. One thing is for sure though; a lot of fans feel very solidly on one side or the other. There are arguments on both sides for why or why not the DH should exist, and if you do feel strongly about the subject, you have mentally outlined and probably verbally presented your argument several times over the years to anyone who will listen; and indeed, thought it’s one more aspect of the game that none of us have any control over, it is a fun topic to discuss. I’ll just get it out of the way right now and say that I am pro-DH. That might have more to do with the fact that I am the fan of an AL team than anything else. But while I am pro-DH, unlike many other pro-DH fans, I am not anti- pitchers batting.

Starting pitchers are of course a very important commodity. Given the money that most of these guys make, the DH makes sense; when the pitcher’s not batting, he doesn’t run as much of a risk of being hit by a pitch, getting beaned, or of being retaliated against for a real or imagined indiscretion. He can concentrate on honing his true skill, rather than having to spend time taking batting practice, and that results in higher pitch speeds, less finesse pitching, and higher pay for the players in question. And there is something neatly poetic about having that guy on your team (or maybe I’m just saying that as someone who has that guy on their team). It’s nice to be able to watch two parts to the team; pitchers and position players in the AL seem like two separate mini-teams where each part has a job to do, and they are both separate parts of the machine.

But I also like watching pitchers bat. A lot of fans think that pitchers batting is silly, some for their own reasons, some for a lot of the reasons I listed above. There isn’t that feeling of two parts of a National League team, but there is something different; the whole machine. Everyone works towards the same end in a lot of the same way. Pitchers in the NL, generally speaking, aren’t topping out at throwing speeds in the upper 90s, but they’re also not forced to bunt when they get to the plate, or try and take a walk if they can’t swing. The NL’s way of playing the game like it was originally played makes interleague play more fun to watch. It keeps a little history in a game that has lost a lot of it, and creates a reason for there to be two different leagues; having two different leagues both with or without a DH seems kind of bizarre to me, personally. I’m sure a lot of that is that I’m used to the way things are, but it does feel pointless to have two leagues if there aren’t any differences between them at all. Our guys have to figure out a strategy that is going to get men on base in National parks, and the NL pitchers get a break from having to come to the plate. The AL also has to suss out their best bet for DH. Sometimes they’re good at it, sometimes they’re not *cough*KendrysMorales*cough* but it’s part of overall strategy evolving out of having two different sets of rules.

There is part of me that wishes that there was no interleague play; it makes the World Series less of a question mark, because nearly everyone has seen each other during the season at some point; and now that the Astros have moved to the AL, that is even more true. We face more NL teams now than ever since 2013, and interleague play goes on all year, as opposed to the little pocket in the middle of the season surrounding the All Star Game. I guess it’s nice that there’s a higher chance I’m going to be able to see either the Phillies or the Diamondbacks more frequently, but it was comfortable prior to this switch because opposing teams in the AL were just easier to keep track of. I was used to it. We saw them a ton during the regular season, we sort of knew our enemy, and frankly, it was easier to write about; this isn’t my job (painfully obviously), and keeping track of 375 guys was already hard enough, without throwing another 375 into the mix. But it does keep things interesting, I guess; and since trades between leagues are so frequent, it’s nice to have even a small look at who might be yours in the future. And interleague play makes things like Felix Hernandez’s grand slam happen. Anyone who witnessed that won’t ever forget it; and it’s events like that that make baseball worth watching.

This argument is always going to be more emotional than practical, I think; this post is not nearly as logical as I wanted it to be when I started writing, because I see the arguments on both sides and have my own set of emotions about the subject. While there are certainly practical reasons for making the rules the same across both leagues, I personally would prefer to just keep things the way they are. I’m glad that MLB is going to do that, and will enjoy it for however long it lasts.

See you at Fan Fest!

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