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Baseball and religion do not mix, so let’s stop arguing about the DH

Jun 21, 2011, 11:30 AM EDT

Detroit Tigers v Colorado Rockies Getty Images

I often take jabs at the DH as the most evil thing in the universe. And, yes, in some very, very small corner of my brain, part of my id believes that. But I don’t really endorse that view, and when I say such things I hope people realize that I’m joking around.

Yes, I prefer NL baseball and pitchers batting, but I also realize that it’s a personal preference, both on my part and on the part of fans of the DH, and there are few wastes of time in life greater than trying to get someone to change their subjective opinion about things.

Over the last few days, however, both in the comments around here and on Twitter, I have run sideways into to a couple of DH arguments in which people truly seem to be trying to convince the other side that to prefer what they prefer is to engage in folly.  “Your opinion is flawed,” an AL adherent tells an NL fan in what appears to be total seriousness.  “No, you are actually mistaken as to the facts of the matter,” the NL fan replies, seeming as though there are true stakes riding on him changing the belief of the person with whom he is arguing.

Doesn’t this annoy you?  It annoys the hell out of me. Because given that there tactical and performance tradeoffs for either choice, and given that there is a huge overlay of aesthetic judgments and personal history with the game itself which form any one fan’s view of the matter, to be a DH person or a non-DH person is the closest thing baseball has to religious faith. Sure, we can dress our preferences up with as many seemingly rational, quantitative arguments as we can muster, but in the end, we’re asking someone to change their mind about something they believe in, not something they’ve rationally and dispassionately concluded is optimal.

We don’t stand for this in any other area of our lives. Example: I’m a big Bob Dylan fan. My college roommate spent a year trying to convince me that I should not like Bob Dylan because his voice was not true and clear in tone.  Guess what? I know Bob Dylan’s voice is not true and clear in tone. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I like Bob Dylan. His music speaks to me despite of and often because of the nature of his voice, however ragged it has grown.  You’re not going to convince me that I shouldn’t like Bob Dylan any more than you’re going to be able to convince me that I don’t like mint chocolate chip ice cream. We’re outside the realm of objective judgments here.

So to is it with the DH. AL fans will tell me, as if I wasn’t perfectly aware of the fact, that pitchers simply aren’t good hitters. Thanks, professor! I had no idea!  Is it not possible that I don’t care? And that between the gamesmanship that comes with a team working around the fact that their pitchers can’t hit and the occasional thrill one gets when, dammit, the pitcher does hit, that I am cool with all of that and just prefer it, even if you don’t believe that any of it is worth the effort?

Likewise, NL fans will tell AL fans that DH games take away some element of strategy or managerial tactics or what have you. Again, I’m pretty sure the AL fans are both aware of and fine with that. Indeed, given how much time we all spend complaining about what our team’s manager does, they probably wonder how an NL guy could even suggest that more tactical and substitution decisions be put into Joe Girardi’s or Manny Acta’s hands.  Let the players play, they say, and let people who can actually hit the ball hit.  And they are right to say so, because it is what they want to see.

But let us not confuse our preferences for essential truths. Or, more to the point, let us not pretend that any bit of truth our position holds, be it managerial strategy or better hitters in the lineup, changes the underlying values a baseball fan with a different opinion holds.

And while we’re at it, how about we all come to an agreement on something: that we all stop trying to convince other people that what they believe and what they prefer is somehow invalid and inferior. That while we can make our occasional knowing jokes about the superiority of one form of baseball over another, that we never truly take such arguments seriously, for they are inherently offensive to personal aesthetic choice.  That, to put it simply, we live and let live on this matter, just like most of us would live and let live on any other matter that entails such subjectivity.  It seems like common decency to me.

Besides: there are true issues of right and wrong that are far more worth our time and mental energy. For example: the inherent superiority of pie over cake, which only fools would dare contradict lest they show the world just how ignorant and deluded they truly are.

132 Comments (Feed for Comments)
  1. Ari Collins - Jun 21, 2011 at 12:45 PM

    I think the NL is generally more prone to treating it like a religious argument. “The DH is not how the game was MEANT to be played,” is a pretty ridiculous appeal to “That’s how things have always been, therefore that’s how things should always be!”

    Not to mention the strange religiosity of “meant”… Meant by whom?

  2. Jonny 5 - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:08 PM

    The DH was created by people trying to increase revenue while also giving sluggers with no defensive ability the chance to be gainfully employed. Maybe I can be swayed here after all ???

    • halladaysbicepts - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:16 PM

      Of course it’s about $$$$$$. Always has been. Believe me, changes in baseball by the powers that be (aka. Darth Selig) have nothing to do with protecting the integrity of the game. It’s always about money.

      Why do you think they want more playoff teams? To make it more competitive? Bullshit! To make more money.

      Why do they want to blur the line between the NL and AL? To create a balanced schedule? BS! To make more money.

  3. foreverchipper10 - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:28 PM

    When come back bring pie.

    • Utley's Hair - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:55 PM

      Tarzan? Is that you?

      • halladaysbicepts - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:03 PM

  4. yankeesfanlen - Jun 21, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    Hey, it was the 70s, we were just a buncha kids, and this DH thing, man, it just kinda caught on

  5. dexterismyhero - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:05 PM

    Zambrano could DH in the AL once he is done pitching in the NL.

  6. buddaley - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:32 PM

    I have no problem with your point, Craig. I think it is essentially a matter of taste. For myself, I do not argue in favor of the DH because I expect to convert anyone. Rather it is to counter the self-righteous who claim that there is something purer about the non-DH style or who assume they have the high ground in any discussion of the issue. I think there is some use in examining the numerous ways of looking at the question, not to convert anyone but to lend some balance to the conversation and perhaps to help us understand the game better-its history, its nature and what its essential elements are or aren’t.

    I was 30 years old when the DH was introduced so I grew up without it. But from the start I was offended by the dogmatic claims of those who disliked it. Initially, because their claims were unexamined and had the charm of tradition, those who either liked the DH or were not automatically opposed to it, were on the defensive. So those who wanted to appear clever or specially graced in their appreciation of the game merely had to announce, without explanation, that they hated the DH to earn the halo. They could parade their orthodoxy as if it sanctified them. And I dislike orthodoxy when it shares the same mind set as bigotry in any field, no matter how inconsequential.

    So I gladly concede that ultimately it is a matter of taste. But if there is going to be a discussion of it, I think it reasonable to point out the positives of the DH. And if the approach is purely mockery, then fine. We can all revert to our pre-teen selves and try to outsnark the others no matter how tiresome that sort of “dialogue” is.

    • FC - Jun 21, 2011 at 4:06 PM

      “But from the start I was offended by the dogmatic claims of those who disliked it.”

      And I am offended by the dogmatic claims of those who like it and assume the rest of those who don’t are somehow Brain Damaged because we just can’t accept that the DH is clearly superior. You will find plenty of those in this and other comments sections. When I see you actually call out your dogmatic brethren for doing what you don’t like being done to by the anti-DH crowd I’ll take you more seriously.

  7. buddaley - Jun 21, 2011 at 2:40 PM

    I add that I think it true that the motive for creating the DH was venal. I also think that is irrelevant to any discussion of its value. It is not the motive we are considering but the effect on the game. And it is absolutely legitimate to approve of the DH by noting its very positive effects on the game and the honest competition it engenders for each AB. One may disagree with those evaluations or may be unconvinced that they are enough to validate it, but at that point we are back to the matter of taste.

    Parenthetically, I assume nobody thinks the motivation for introducing the lively ball was that the power game was superior or more interesting in an aesthetic sense than the “inside baseball” play of Cobb and McGraw.

  8. igbomb - Jun 21, 2011 at 5:02 PM

    Not sure why I would engage in this debate, but I’m bored so why not?

    The argument that the logical next step to having a DH is to go ahead and have offensive vs. defensive specialists is silly. The fact is that hitting is an incredibly specialized skill, pitching is an incredibly specialized skill and fielding, not so much. The gap between competent and great hitting and pitching is far greater than it is in fielding. I don’t discount the ability for great fielders to impact the game, but they simply aren’t as valuable nor rare as are great hitters or pitchers. For reference, look at the WAR leaderboards. There are only two players who have contributed more than 10 runs defensively in all of baseball. There are 69 pitchers and 44 hitters that have done the same.

    I have no problem with disliking the DH, but let’s not utilize the Glenn Beck school of thought and gleefully slide down the slippery slope, theorizing on completely implausible scenarios.

    • FC - Jun 21, 2011 at 5:48 PM

      That’s an interesting point, but for the sake of argument, don’t you think the current baseball make up is what drives those stats? Put in another way: IF there were specialized fielders in every position isn’t it possible that we might see higher and higher WAR contributions from specialized defenders? I’m interested in the plausibility of current WAR trends reflecting current practices and that if those practices changed WAR might well change and reflect that change.

      • Kevin S. - Jun 21, 2011 at 5:59 PM

        No, not in the least. If anything, specialized fielders would decrease the WAR contributions. Defense is judged against the positional average. It’s much harder for a shortstop to stand out if every team has an Adam Everett manning the spot. Fielders can post high fielding WARs now because teams have to make the offense-for-defense tradeoff. Incidentally, no pitcher in the last twenty years has added more than half a win or so at the plate in any season.

      • igbomb - Jun 21, 2011 at 6:40 PM

        I don’t think we have a definitive answer on that, but I think that most likely the differential would decrease. We already have about as far of a spread in ability as you could expect across defensive positions since defense is such a secondary attribute and guys like Adam Dunn spend the majority of their careers bringing down what ‘replacement level’ is.

  9. feartherallythong - Jun 21, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    Craig, this may be your best, and most evil post ever!
    I can see it now – you are thinking, “Hm – what is one baseball related topic that is GUARANTEED to maximize the number of comments? Even if I try to remain neutral and conciliatory?…”

    Were I in your shoes, I would count how many total comments you get for this post, and write it down. Diary 6 months, and generate the following, brevity-laden post:
    “Designated Hitter rule. Discuss.”
    See whether you get more or fewer responses than today’s post.

  10. kountryking - Jun 22, 2011 at 10:32 PM

    There is no reason why pitchers can’t be taught to hit along with “position” players. If you’re a major league level athlete you should be able to hit. Even if you actually play every five or six days, you should be able to hit decently enough. There is no need to prolong an aging position player’s career by hiring him in the American League as a designated hitter. Make your millions and retire when you can’t run to your right and your arm suffers from rigor mortis. Let a young pitcher hit. That’s the way the game should be played.

  11. htimsr40 - Jun 27, 2011 at 9:26 AM

    Why not simply have offensive and defensive platoons, like football? Football, once upon a time, required players to go both ways. Eventually it was determined that using the best available offensive players versus the best available defensive players led to the most interesting match-up. Why do we have to watch some ineffective hitting shortstop at bat in order to have his glove in the field? And why not have a platoon of heavy hitters, even if they can’t catch or throw?

    No easy outs. No defensive holes. What’s tradition got to do with it? Baseball is a dying game, long ago replaced as the national past time by a sport that wasn’t as beholden to tradition, willing to change with the times.

  12. soutsidemike - Jun 27, 2011 at 10:02 AM

    Home runs were once counted if they bounced into the stands
    Gloves were one left on the field
    Once the mound was higher
    Once catchers never wore masks
    The ball was once more losely wound
    The centerfield was once 450-460ft
    The gloves are different
    Once upone a time the same ball was used for the whole game and tobacco juice was rubbed on it to make it dark

    Admit it. Baseball is a living, CHANGING, entity
    and those who live in the past better look out for the head high “spitter”

  13. marshallnbrown - Jun 27, 2011 at 11:49 AM

    The DH is an aberration, added to juice attendance. I’m sorry that some players’ careers will be shortened if DH’ing were eliminated, but baseball simply does not need this “evolvement;” quite the contrary, the DH is a major contributor to b-o-r-i-n-g games.

  14. pkelly2505 - Jul 21, 2011 at 3:40 PM

    In a perfect world, I would refer to see baseball with no DH. There are many reasons why this will never happen. A lot of AL teams have high-salaried players who are full-time DH’s who have not fielded for years. If the DH were eliminated the teams would have to eat the contracts or put a defensive liability in the field. The AL owners will never let this happen. The present structure with the leagues playing under different rules is a mess and unfair to the AL. The only practical solution is to put the DH in both leagues to have an even playing field.

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