As a long-time baseball fan, though not as ardent of a fan as I used to be, I want to weigh in on this one. The designated hitter (DH) rule is probably one of the most controversial topics among baseball fans, next to the steroid scandal that rocked the sport almost a decade ago now (2007). One of the things that makes baseball at least semi-interesting is the fact one league allows the manager to designate another player to bat for the pitcher, and one does not.
But that might be about to change. Among other sources, this article on stltoday.com notes St. Louis Cardinals’ GM John Mozeliak’s comments on the movement to apply the DH rule in the National League. (It has been applied in the American League since 1973.) John’s comments state in part (from quotes in the article):
I do feel like there were times I could look all of you in the face and say it’s a non-starter, it’s not being discussed at the owner level or GM… But over the past year it has. I’m not suggesting you’re going to see a change but I definitely think the momentum (has changed).
As a Houston Astros fan, I get a bit of a different look at this than fans of other teams around the league; the Astros switched leagues in 2013, joining the American League West after 51 years in the National League. I have never been a huge fan of the DH rule, even though I’ve never been alive to see an American League game without it. Every Astros game from the era when I was a hardcore baseball fan was without the DH rule. I’ve seen a couple of Astros pitchers hit home runs over the years–always a spectacular sight when it happens, as usually pitchers are considered the worst batting players on the team. Thus the argument for the DH rule, that pitchers will almost always be lousy hitters and the game is more interesting if we let someone else bat for the pitcher all the time.
I feel very strongly that we will have lost something if the DH becomes universal at the major league level. If anything, I would like to see the AL dump the DH rule. According to the Wikipedia article, the main criticism of the DH rule are that it introduces asymmetry in the game: the players in the batting order are not entirely the same players that take the field. Pitchers who bat are, in general, less likely to hit batters with a pitch, knowing there’s the possibility of retaliation when they step up to bat. The DH takes this out of the equation; it’s just not the same when someone who bats for the pitcher gets plunked or beaned. This by itself is enough reason to call the DH rule a bad idea.
I wish the Astros were still in the NL. Not only do I hate the DH rule, I miss the old rivalries (Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, and Reds–yes, there were six teams in the division), even though it’s obvious the Astros can hold their own in the AL West. (There was concern about this when the Astros had over 100 losses in each of their last two NL seasons.) Yes, there’s a chance AL pitchers injure themselves running the bases when forced to bat. However the solution to this is not to introduce an asymmetry to the game that simply doesn’t belong. The solution is to make sure pitchers get at least some time running the bases and a decent amount of batting cage time.
In summary, It’s time to dump the DH and dump it now. The experiment has run long enough, and it’s time to call it a failure and move on. The same nine players on the field should be the same nine players come to bat. As a corollary to this: too old to field (usually) means too old to play (it is exceedingly rare for a player to stay on the roster just to be a pinch-hitter in the NL, though once in a while it happens).