Monday, May 18, 2009
It Ain't Over 'Til the Big Papi Swings (and misses)
Don't call it a comeback. I've been here for months. I apologize for my inactivity last week. Very busy week around the old orifice, and my time at home was spent sleeping mostly. I am back with renewed vigor this week though. My first rant back involves the troubles of a man they call Big Papi. After several very successful years in Boston from 2004-2007, Big Papi has put up very limited numbers and has been bothered by several different injuries in the past two years. Now I'm not here to question whether he was using steroids, whether or not he should be benched, or if he will ever break out of his current slump, I am here to call for the end of the experiment. The experiment I am speaking of is the addition of the designated hitter to the American League in 1973. The Designated Hitter allows for too much specialization in baseball and needs to be done away with. After all, what are the Red Sox supposed to do with Big Papi if he can't hit?
Why should a player not have to play defense? Why should a pitcher not have to bat? These are two of the most common criticisms of the Designated Hitter in baseball. I say that the players should have to do both. Designated Hitters just take away from the greatness of the game by covering up weaknesses of players. Look at a guy like Carlos Zambrano. He wouldn't be nearly as valuable a player if the National League had a DH. Or how about a guy like Ryan Howard who has vastly improved his defense over the past few years? Were he in the AL, he probably would not have worked so hard to become a better first baseman because he would most likely be DHing every day. The Designated Hitter has been used to prolong careers of players whose defensive skills are terrible, and to cover up for pitchers who are afraid to hit. Speaking of pitchers, the DH also allows AL pitchers to bean players without any fear of reprisal. If you want to hit, you should have to play defense. If you want to pitch you should have to swing the bat as well. Help your team on both sides of the ball for crying out loud.
Not only does the DH cover up the weaknesses of ball players, it also eliminates much of the strategy from the game. One of the most interesting parts of baseball in my opinion is the tough decisions that a manager has to make in the latter innings of the game. Does he keep his pitcher in, in which case the pitcher will have to bat, or does he lift the pitcher for a world class pinch hitter like Matt Stairs? Decisions, decisions, decisions. Managers in the AL don't have to think about this stuff, making for a less interesting game. Moreover, squeeze plays, hit and runs and sacrifices are much more prevalent in the NL than in the AL where the DH just tries to slug homers. The value of a run is much higher in the National Leauge. NL baseball is much more interesting, and more of an art form simply because there is no DH. In an AL game, a bench player will most likely not play, while in the NL you are guaranteed to see one or two guys pinch hitting. We are all the better for it, because Matt Stairs is a bench player in the NL.
When the skills of guys like Big Papi begin to erode, we can't help but question the merits of the Designated Hitter. What does he bring to the team if he can't hit? Nothing. Abolish the DH for good. If hitters (and pitchers) can't play both sides of the ball, then they shouldn't be playing at all. That's all I have to say about that.