Monday, July 7

Hank's D(H)umb Idea

Hank Steinbrenner is a man of the moment. His comments are off the cuff, and many times not well thought out. During a game against the Houston Astros, the Yankees ace pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, was hurt running the bases. Following the injury, Steinbrenner lashed out, "It's OK for the Yankees to fill up the seats in the National League parks, they make a ton of money off us. Then we should support each other when one of our guys gets hurt. The National League should join the club and not have pitchers hit. It's time to go to the DH. It's the right thing to do." Wang tore a ligament and will likely miss the rest of this season. No one wants to see their best pitcher injured, but Steinbrenner’s comments show a disregard for baseball history.

The implementation of the DH into the National League will effectively kill the ‘double switch.’ The double switch is an instrumental tool, particularly used in the postseason, which allows teams to get an offensive advantage. By not having their pitcher hit in their next at-bat, teams can avoid having to send up an almost sure out to the plate. As recently as the last World Series, the Boston Red Sox used the double switch to their advantage. In game 3, manager Terry Francona used a double switch that allowed centerfielder Coco Crisp to hit third in the inning instead of the pitcher. Crisp hit a single and helped key a three-run rally that extended the Red Sox lead. The strategy of the double switch will be forever removed, and the dumbing down of baseball will continue if Steinbrenner has his way.

Baseball at its core is a strategic game. It is a game of shifts, matchups, pitch selection and managerial choices. The designated hitter removes more managerial choices than any other change in the history of baseball. Another choice, the pinch hitter, will become a relic of the past. Already rare in the American League, pinch hitting will be used in fewer and fewer situations. Instead of Kirk Gibson’s epic homerun or Fransisco Cabrera’s NLCS-winning single, most managers would stand pat with their lineup. One measure of great managers is how they handle game situations, and to remove these choices is a great disservice to the sport. Many baseball purists prefer the National League to the American League for just this reason, and to give in to the urging of Steinbrenner, would forever diminish the strategy of America’s pastime.

Steinbrenner was upset over the National League’s lack of a DH, but it was the designated hitter that ruined the Yankees last shot at a World Series. In the 2004 ALCS, the Yankees were up 3 games to zero on the Boston Red Sox. In the 12th inning of game four, DH David Ortiz hit a game-winning home run. Later that night, Ortiz again delivered, singling in the game-winning run in the bottom of the 14th. In game 7, Ortiz hit a 2-run homerun in the first inning, and was named series MVP, becoming the first DH to ever receive the honor. Since that historic collapse, the Yankees have not won a playoff series.

Hank’s errant comments were in frustration over losing his best pitcher, but the inability of one of his players to run 90 feet without injuring himself, is not a reason for the National League to succumb to the designated hitter. The game as designed by Abner Doubleday is to be nine versus nine. The American League adopted the tenth man, in an effort to increase offense. In doing so, they changed the game from chess to checkers, from bridge to crazy 8’s. For baseball to abandon its national pastime roots, it should require an act of congress, not a hissy fit from a pompous, daddy’s boy who doesn’t appreciate the game.

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