The Major League Baseball (MLB) is split into two leagues, the National League (NL) and the American League (AL). The major difference between these two leagues is the implementation of a designated hitter (DH) for the pitcher in the American League. I am a baseball purist, I do not believe in the designated hitter. This blog will focus many on the activities influencing the National League and mainly the National League Central, this is because I support the Chicago Cubs.
Before we get into this season and what is currently happening (which will be cover in the next issue), I want to explore the use of the designated hitter and why the divisional system is failing the American sporting public by diluting the quality of teams qualifying for the playoffs.
A Basic Breakdown of the History of Rule 5.11 – The Designated Hitter
In Major League Baseball the designated hitter is a hitter who does not play a position (doesn’t field i.e. provide defensive value), but instead fills in the batting order for the pitcher. The designated hitter may only be used for the pitcher and not any other position player. The American League implemented the rule in 1973 and has since been adopted by most collegiate and amateur leagues, however the designated hitter was only implemented in the World Series in 1976 but between 1976 and 1985 the rule was only used during World Series games in even numbered years. The current World Series and interleague play, the use of designated hitters is decided by the league in which the home team is a member of, i.e. if the game is being played at an American League ballpark both teams can use a designated hitter, while if the game is being played at a National League stadium pitchers will bat for both teams. It wasn’t until 1989 that the all-star game adopted the rule for games played in American League parks.
The idea to introduce a designated hitter was first purposed in 1906 by Connie Mack the manager of the Philadelphia Athletics, while the National League held a vote in 1980 to determine whether it would adopt the designated hitter rule.
In January of this year MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred indicated that the National League may adopt the DH for the 2017 season when a new collective bargaining agreement is created after the current on expires at the end of 2016. However, he has since backtracked on this statement to say that he does not see unification coming any time soon.
Excellence as a Designated Hitter
The Edgar Martinez award is awarded to the most outstanding designated hitter of the season, notable winners include Martinez (five times) and David Ortiz (seven times, five consecutively).
Hideki Matsui became the first player to win the World Series Most Valuable Player award while playing the majority of his games that season as a designated hitter (79%). While David Ortiz became the second designated hitter to win the World Series MVP in the 2013 season, while also being the first designated hitter to win the American League Championship Series (ALCS) MVP in 2004. Paul Molitor and Jim Rice were, until 2014, the only inductees to even play 25% of their games at designated hitter, while in 2014 Frank Thomas was elected into the hall of fame as the first player to play the majority of their career as a designated hitter. Edgar Martinez (who the award is named after) is currently on the ballot, but it seems he will most likely not be inducted.
Even with my dislike for the designated hitter, I still believe the Boston Red Sox DH David Ortiz deserves a spot in Cooperstown and I hope he receives the votes when he retires and becomes eligible.
Why I Dislike the Designated Hitter
The beauty of allowing the pitcher to bat is in the poetic nature of a pitcher driving in the winning run (helping their own cause), in what other sport can this occur. This would be like a goalkeeper in football keeping a clean sheet and scoring a 30 yard screamer to win a game 1 – nil. This romantic scene was most recently seen in the game between San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs on May 22 2016, where Madison Bumgarner pitched 7 2/3 scoreless innings and hit a RBI (Runs Battered In) double to score the only run for the Giants in their 1 – 0 victory over the Cubs. These magical scenarios are what baseball is losing by adopting the designated hitter and pushing the cause of home runs, baseball is limiting the effect that a manager can have on the game. By allowing the pitcher to bat, the manager has to weigh up the decision of losing his pitcher but having a pinch hitter bat when runs are in scoring position or keeping his pitcher in the gaming and allowing a player with the batting prowess of Chris Martin to attempt to drive in the critical runs. Yes that was a cricket reference.
Dilation of the Playoffs
2015 National League
NL East – Mets .556, Nationals .512
NL Central – Cardinals .617, Pirates .605, Cubs .599
NL West – Dodgers .568, Giants .519
The current playoff system sees the winner of each division gaining a playoff spot, while the two highest winning percentage non-divisional winning teams playoff in a sudden death knock out much for the final spot in the playoffs. This is the same system for both the National League and the American League. In 2015 this meant that the second and third best records in the national league had to play a sudden death knockout game to be part of the playoffs, while the Nets and the Dodgers had already gained the right to be part of the post season. I know each team has a different schedule and some are harder than others, but when there was close to 10 wins difference between the teams don’t you think that the record should determine your chances not the division you play in.
This is a plea to the New Zealand sporting public, embrace baseball and fall in love with the game like I have. Watch one game a month, pick a team to follow and check their results online. Get involved and see the magic of the playoffs and the inhuman athletic ability of this sporting icons.