Should the National League adopt a designated hitter?
It’s very fair to say that if Masahiro Tanaka had not gotten hurt during the Subway Series this weekend while running the bases, that we wouldn’t be having this conversation. But alas, here we are having this conversation, because he did, straining his hamstring running home in a pivotal matchup between the two cross-town rivals.
Tanaka will be out at least 10 days after being put on the DL, and it’s happened to the Yankees before, losing Chien-Ming Wang to an identical injury. Unfortunately for Wang, he never recovered, so hopefully this cautionary tale ends differently for Tanaka.
The tale of the designated hitter was started in 1967 when Ron Bloomberg of the Yankees became the very first to take on the role in the American League. The rule was adopted and the two leagues essentially played two different styles of baseball, even in modern times. The managerial decisions are different, the plate approach is different, and the way a team is even constructed is different between the American and National leagues.
It may be a cute ode to the baseball days of old with the pitchers hitting and once in a blue moon getting a hit, but in my opinion it’s dumb because the risk of injury is much higher than the reward. There have been many pitchers who have gotten hurt batting or running the bases, some in our own backyard. For the Mets, they lost Jacob deGrom because of the rule, and for the Yankees they’ve lost two aces so far, Chien-Ming Wang for an extended period of time and Masahiro Tanaka for an unknown amount of time.
Regardless of the severity of the injury, there have been too many instances where a pitcher acting like a position player has gone wrong. Tanaka is just another notch in the belt that is pitchers being unprepared to hit. He is a shining example of a pitcher who doesn’t know how to hit, run, or really do anything else on the baseball diamond but pitch. It’s not his fault, but the risk of injury is very high considering he doesn’t have a clue what he’s doing out there.
Sure you get some great moments (as seen below) like Bartolo Colon crushing a home run. However, just from a statistical standpoint the National League rule of hitting pitchers doesn’t make sense. If a pitcher gets a hit once every ten or eleven at bars how much does that really help out the team. In interleague play, most of the pitchers in the American League flail at the ball, using their bat more as a sword than a hitting tool. There are very few pitchers who have ever mastered the art of hitting, because they’re not supposed to. They are pitchers, not hitters.
It may sound like I’m complaining but it just doesn’t make any sense why the leagues have adopted two different rules. If pitchers are going to hit, at least make it a standard for both the American and National leagues. If not, adopt a universal designated hitter rule. It will eliminate pointless at bats, the risk for injury, and some of the convoluted decisions a manager has to make with double switches, replacing a batting pitcher, etc.
The pitcher being able to hit is a great novelty for baseball, but it doesn’t mean all that much when it has little impact on the game other than from a strategy standpoint. Baseball purists will yell that this is how it’s always been for baseball and it should remain because of that notion, but how many things over the past few years have changed to modernize the game of baseball? Ty Cobb would be rolling over in his grave if he saw that catches can no longer be bowled over or there’s a replay for any close play at the plate. It’s asinine to think that this league can’t adapt.
Will this point of view actually change anything in baseball? Probably not, but it’s worth a shot. We can’t have our star pitchers getting hurt for absolutely no reason other than trying to preserve some old baseball rules. The risk is not worth the reward, and it’s time for a change. You’re on the clock Commish.