Pardon my brief sojourn into sacrilege …

… but the time has come for the National League to adopt the designated hitter. There. I said it. May burning sulfur rain down on me from Heaven. And yes, being a lifelong N.L. fan, the whole notion does turn my stomach a bit. But if the N.L. remains true to tradition and continues to play “real” baseball, it is also going to continue to get its derriere handed to it on the second Tuesday of every July and at least four times over a five- to nine-day period every October. (Yes, I know, the Cardinals won the World Series last year, but if the Tigers hadn’t had a six-day layoff, and if the Tigers pitchers hadn’t forgotten how to throw a ball from the mound to third base, the result would have been different). The fact is, there are several reasons why the A.L. is so far ahead of the N.L., but every one of them stems either directly or indirectly from the presence of the DH. From the moment it was introduced some 35 years ago, this was always bound to eventually happen. Take this World Series, for instance. The Red Sox have Big Papi, who has become one of the game’s most feared hitters while playing almost exclusively as a DH. In Games 1 and 2, he is 3 for 8 with two doubles, two RBI and three runs scored while hitting in the three hole, ahead of Manny. The Rockies have countered with Ryan Spilborghs, a part-time center fielder who is batting in their lineup and is 0 for 5 with a walk, five strikeouts, no runs and no RBI. Hmmm. David Ortiz? Or Ryan Spilborghs? Yeah, that’s a pretty even matchup. The key to all this was that a few years into the DH, teams started recognizing the value of having a full-time DH (Ortiz, Frank Thomas, etc). There was a time when there was a stigma attached to that, when a guy who did nothing but DH was viewed as half a player who could only play half the game, and most players wanted nothing to do with such a role. But that has changed dramatically. Now, that role is filled by some of the most feared hitters around, and the result is that a lot of A.L. lineups (like Boston’s) are almost impossible to pitch to because there isn’t a weak spot anywhere, even at the bottom. As a result, the pitching in the A.L. has had to improve — to the point that it, too, is far superior to N.L. pitching — just because pitchers have to elevate their games just to survive in that league. And PLEASE don’t tell me this A.L. dominance is cyclical, because it isn’t. Look it up. It began a quarter of a century ago, and since then, has gotten steadily more pronounced. The N.L. went into the 1983 season on an unprecedented run of success, having won the previous 11 All-Star Games and the previous four World Series. Since then, the A.L. is 18-6-1 in the All-Star Game, with none of those losses having come since 1996, and 15-8 (soon to be 16-8) in the World Series. That sound cyclical to you?
Of course, simply adopting the DH isn’t going to instantly bring the N.L. back to respectability. That’s just the first, and most vital, step. After that, N.L. managers have to completely overhaul the way they do things, and that will take time (at least a year or two). They will have to overcome their addiction to that ridiculous sacrifice bunt, the most counterproductive tactic the game has ever known, and for many of them, that could require a 30-day stint in rehab. And then, they will have to get over the notion of manufacturing runs and playing for a run here and a run there. N.L. managers go to sleep at night dreaming of their leadoff man drawing a walk, stealing second, taking third on a sac bunt and scoring on a sac fly, all without benefit of a hit. A.L. managers go to sleep at night dreaming about the inning Terry Francona got to watch his team have on Wed. night, a seven-run outburst in which 13 men go to the plate and nine in a row reach base. Hmmm. A one-run inning? Or a seven-run inning? Which do YOU think is better.
Finally, there is one other adjustment that will have to be made, and this one will come on the part of the players — and it can be argued that this has NOTHING to do with the DH. N.L. players HAVE to learn to work counts the way A.L. clubs do. Ask two or three of the veterans in the Dodgers clubhouse about working counts, and they look at your like you’re nuts. The idea of taking two strikes and falling into an 0-2 hole is mortifying to them. But watch what the top A.L. clubs, like the Red Sox, do. They grind away relentlessly at the other team’s starting pitcher, making him sweat for every out he records. It amazes me every year, when the World Series rolls around, that N.L. pitchers are completely baffled by this, that the whole concept is something that never occurred to them. And they can’t understand why they get ahead of a guy 0-2, then he takes a couple of pitches, fouls off a couple of pitches, takes ball three, fouls off three or four more, then finally gets a hit on the eighth or ninth pitch of the at-bat, and this pitcher has just wasted all those pitches for an out he couldn’t get and a hitter he couldn’t put away. Jeff Francis threw 103 pitches in four innings in Game 1. That’s 103 pitches to record 12 outs. And then he was gone. And Hurdle had to go to his middle relief, in this cas a rookie (Franklin Morales) who had never made a relief appearance in the majors, and the Sox scored seven runs off him the next inning.
That, my friends, is how you win a World Series. That, my friends, is how it is done in the vastly superior American League — and how it will have to be done in the sad-sack National League if the so-called Senior Circuit has any hope of EVER closing the gap.
Long live the DH. I still don’t like it. But it’s time has come.

Facebook Twitter Plusone Digg Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Email