DH debate at 40: No sign of slowing down

Associated Press  |  Last updated July 17, 2013
The designated hitter turned 40 this year. Fittingly, it's having sort of a mid-life crisis. Never before has the imbalance between the American and National Leagues regarding Rule 6.10 been more of a potential problem. The designated hitter rule has been controversial from day one. It's been criticized and even confusing since it was born. So it's only natural that Major League Baseball's once-bold experiment will continue to exist unevenly and indefinitely. The DH debate won't die. ''A little controversy between the leagues is really not all bad,'' Commissioner Bud Selig said before the All-Star game in New York on Tuesday. Selig cast one of the votes for using the designated hitter in AL games starting in 1973, when he owned the Milwaukee Brewers, then an AL franchise. He acknowledged this week that further geographic changes to divisions could force MLB to either scrap the DH altogether or install it for the NL, but that's a future possibility and not an imminent plan. When Houston switched to the AL West this year to even out the leagues at 15 teams each, daily interleague games became a necessity of the schedule. ''At the moment,'' Selig said, ''we are not going to change it.'' Perhaps the most polarizing of this sport's many quirks and imperfections, the designated hitter came to be when AL teams sought to boost their then-lagging product. The decision was made during a time when the two leagues were far less integrated than now. The gimmick not only worked to increase scoring and attendance but created a way for some of the game's greatest hitters to extend their careers - and make a lot more money. Orlando Cepeda even credited the rule for boosting his Hall of Fame credentials, after Boston signed him for the 1973 season following a long career with San Francisco. ''That was one of the best years, because I was playing on one leg and I hit .289,'' Cepeda said earlier this season. ''And I hit four doubles in one game. Both my knees were hurting, and I was designated hitter of the year.'' Designated hitters last year had the second-highest average salary by position at $8.1 million, behind first basemen at $8.6 million. That's the main reason why eliminating the DH to bring the AL back on line with the NL is almost unfathomable. Boston's David Ortiz, who recently passed Harold Baines on the career list for hits by a DH, is making $14 million this season at age 37. The designated hitter has also helped teams keep their best players in the lineup while giving them some type of rest. Minnesota All-Star catcher Joe Mauer is a prime example. When he needs a break from crouching behind the plate, manager Ron Garden can keep his potent bat in the lineup at DH. ''I get a lot of questions about the DH, how we use it and all that stuff, but basically the way I see it is I'd rather see David Ortiz hit than some pitcher,'' Mauer said, intending no offense to his own teammates. ''So we'll see. It is what it is right now.'' Most of Mauer's AL peers predictably express support for the DH's existence, even if a lot of them would rather play a position than sit around between at-bats. The power of the players' union, protective of this lucrative and prominent job, is another undeniable force for the DH. And despite the complaints from dads with sleepy kids at long games, fans usually enjoy seeing runs cross the plate. The cumulative AL batting average has beaten the NL's mark in each of the first 40 seasons of the DH. The last time the NL hit above .270 was 1939. The AL has 11 seasons of .270-plus batting during the DH era. There are purists who have a hard time forgiving MLB for the installing the DH, though. Remember the movie ''Bull Durham,'' when Kevin Costner's character Crash Davis launches his crude rant about the qualities and superficialities of life. ''I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter,'' he said. The NL guys, naturally, tout the purity of the no-DH game and the additional substitution strategy it provides. Many pitchers simply find it fun to try to hit - even if it means sometimes looking silly swinging meekly at strike three. Yes, DH conflicts keep on coming - even in spring training. The home team is supposed to decide whether or not to use it and sometimes managers disagree. Cincinnati's Dusty Baker wanted to use Shin-Soo Choo in that role for an exhibition game in March as a precaution for his tight right quadriceps, but Arizona's Kirk Gibson insisted on keeping the pitcher in the lineup so he could let starter Brandon McCarthy take some swings. Baker and Gibson argued before the game about it at home plate. Gibson prevailed because the Diamondbacks were the host team. When the games count, of course, the DH is used in AL ballparks and pitchers bat in NL venues. This year, that will force Detroit manager Jim Leyland to leave designated hitter Victor Martinez out of the lineup at Miami on the final weekend of the regular season while the other teams in the league use their DH as usual. If the AL Central or wild-card races are still unsettled then, that's the kind of potentially pennant-altering wrinkle that could someday prompt a change. ''I think that we need to get a unified set of rules, and I believe that we will get there some day,'' the 68-year-old Leyland said. ''I don't know if I will be there to see it, but I think we will get there. I don't care which way we go, but I think that without question we need to do it.'' --- AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum in New York, AP freelance writer Dave Hogg in Detroit and AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley contributed to this report. --- Follow Dave Campbell on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/DaveCampbellAP
GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Reds’ Joey Votto shuts down heckler with “I remember when you used to be thin”

Rob Gronkowski gets new contract, chance to double salary

Padres offering $99 ticket plan for five June wins or 16 June games – whatever happens first

Former Jets WR Devin Smith found out he was cut via Twitter

Roger Goodell tweets ‘Key & Peele’ joke about relaxed celebration rules

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Martavis Bryant: ‘I know this is my last chance’

Glennon: ‘This is my year and I’m not worried about the future’

Durant apologizes for response to fans complaining about blowouts

Sheldon Richardson says Jets locker room is better without Brandon Marshall

What's next for the Spurs?

Pro Football Hall of Famer Cortez Kennedy dies at 48

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

Box Score 5/23: Preds, Warriors move on to respective Finals

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Best of Yardbarker: Gregg Popovich doesn't mince words

All Sports News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

NBA Referee Hotline Bling: Dejounte Murray gets his calls blocked twice

It's reality check time for the Texas Rangers

The 'Walk on home, boy' quiz

NBA Weekend Awards: Who will take a bite of the Snow White Crystal Apple?

Why wait? Our too soon Cavaliers-Warriors NBA Finals preview

The 10 best sports docs available for streaming

The 'How two award snubs might shake up the NBA' quiz

Preparing for the BIG3: Q&A with BIG3 co-founder Jeff Kwatinetz

Two months in and Nintendo's Switch dominates 2017 video game market

Getaway Day: League leaders falter allowing new teams to surge ahead

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker