2019-03-14 / Opinions

‘I would vote for death to the designated hitter rule’

By LORAN SMITH
columnist

JUPITER, Fla. – The grind has begun, the long season is underway, and the ultimate prize waits in October. There will be winners and there will be losers along the way, but everybody will enjoy nice paydays. That’s the way baseball goes.

In the beginning, the idea of spring training for Major League baseball teams was to create an opportunity for the players to dry out from an off season of carousing and heavy drinking. Give ‘em time to get in shape leisurely.

Players now report in late February and begin playing games immediately. That’s another thing – spring training has become a profit center. Players make so much money (the minimum salary last year for a big league player was $545,000) that teams don’t want to simply break even as it once was. If you don’t stay in shape in the off season, you may lose your job.

The current routine brings about long hours, especially for the managers and coaches who are evaluating and making personnel decisions in addition to providing teaching and instruction.

Spring training is like farming yesteryear. Your work is never done. You begin at sunup and you are still at it long after the sun goes down. However, with baseball, you go about your business in the most pleasant of conditions. Maybe a wind breaker early morning and early evening. Then there is that crack of the bat tradition, accompanied by the seventh inning stretch and, “Take me out to the Ball game.” That allure that the game has had historically makes one conclude that no matter the greed and the tinkering with a grand old game, that modern day geniuses can’t really mess it up – even a universal designated hitter rule, sucking the National League into joining the in-your-face attitude which is now promoted by the union. You would expect players to side with the financial incentives than tradition which made the game special.

Require that the pitcher hit. Keep the game old fashioned. I remember the view of Sparky Anderson who passionately hated the designated hitter rule. After he had that great run with the Big Red Machine at Cincinnati, Sparky later wound up managing the Detroit Tigers.

He never was reluctant to speak out against the DH, always prefacing his remarks with, “they don’t like to hear me say it, but I ain’t quitting.” Of course, “they” were the American League officials who had put in the DH rule for their teams. Our conversation took place behind the batting cage when Commercia Park first opened in April of 2000.

The cozy ballpark had brought about a new enthusiasm for Detroit, and its downtrodden downtown. Everybody was talking about the Tigers’ new baseball digs, but Sparky chose to lecture anyone listening and was not reluctant to spew forth salty language about how bad it was that baseball would allow the designated hitter rule to tarnish the game. “I tell you one (expletive) thing,” Sparky said. “I will speak out against the (expletive) DH as long as I breathe. And I don’t care who knows it, including the Commissioner.”

Sparky’s testimony took place nearly two decades ago, and there is a legion of followers but the overwhelming view among those who follow baseball today is that the designated hitter rule will be standard in short order.

The Braves manager, Brian Sniker, believes that it will only take a couple more years before the National League will incorporate the designated hitter rule. The DH allows for one more player on the roster.

Players play longer since they are expected to do only one thing. Hit. Even if it is a single or a double, they can, in late innings, be replaced by a pinch runner. If you like offense, and fans of all sports teams do, advocates of the DH have only to point out that for almost a half century, the American League has annually led the National League in runs scored per game.

I have always found myself anchored on the side of tradition, and given a vote, I would vote for death to the designated hitter rule. One reason has to do with Jake Westbrook, a Madison County boy who spent more than 11 years in the big leagues, becoming a multi-millionaire and winning a World Series ring with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011.

A highlight of Jake’s career was hitting a grand slam homerun on August 11, 2011, in Milwaukee to lead the Cardinals to a 8-3 victory. An unforgettable moment in his life. The designated hitter rule would eliminate such singular moments in the grand ole game.

The pitchers not batting in the National League? Say it ain’t so.

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