By Sweeny Murti
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I like interleague play. I like going to cities I don’t normally visit, see new ballparks and different players. I never thought I’d say that. I always thought of myself as traditional, but I’ve grown to love the post 1995 wildcard format, and you know what? I’ve even come around on the DH. So much so, that it’s time to add it to the National League.
That’s right, I said it. I want the NL to adopt the DH.
It’s not a decision I came to on a whim. I have my reasons, so let me explain.
There are certain inequities built into the interleague schedule every year, and a bigger one will come into play next year. With interleague play going to a year-long format next year we are bound to see a late-season situation when two or three AL teams will be fighting for the same playoff spot and in the final week of the season one of those teams will be on the road playing a National League team, thereby losing their DH in the crucial final week.
You might not feel this is a big enough reason, but you will two years from now when Alex Rodriguez has become the full-time DH and his bat is left on the bench down the stretch with the Yankees down 1 game in the wildcard race and playing their last 3 games of the year in Cincinnati.
I have long admired the strategic aspect of bunting or taking a pitcher out in the 5th inning because you need to take a chance to score an extra run or two. But that time has passed for me too. I don’t go to a game to watch a manager think and I certainly don’t go to a game to watch a pitcher hit. I was there in Houston in 2008 when Chien-Ming Wang’s career went veering off track because he took a misstep on the bases. It didn’t need to happen.
Most times it is amusing, yet somewhat painful, to watch pitchers take their hacks. It’s not worth the one time in 12 or 13 that they may actually sneak one through the infield for a hit and then run the bases wearing an oversized warm-up jacket. I admit that was fun in the 80’s when they had those satin snap-button jobs, but c’mon, it’s over. And in this ever-increasing time when we argue how efficient it really is for teams to give up outs, do we really need to go through the process of bringing a pitcher to bat and watch him try to bunt?
Pitchers like to think they can hit, but we all know that most of them can’t. So why put us through the torturous process and them through the potentially dangerous activity? I have come to think of telling a pitcher he HAS to pick up a bat as just as insane an idea as telling a position player he HAS to pitch in a game. You would never want to risk injury to Derek Jeter by telling him he has to pitch an inning. So why should we tell Andy Pettitte that he has to swing a bat? This is not what these guys get paid millions to do. Let’s just stop.
I know this is absurd to a certain degree. Bob Gibson, Don Drysdale, Steve Carlton, and many others were all good hitting pitchers and it was part of the game. But we decided somewhere along the way that batters need helmets and outfield fences need padding. Some things we must do for the safety of the players, and this is one of them. It doesn’t happen often, but when a pitcher does get hurt trying to hit the argument seems to make more sense.
I’m not trying to kill traditionalism altogether. I just want the same set of rules for both leagues. And since we all know the power of the MLBPA will never allow the elimination of the DH in the American League, let’s just give in and add it to the NL. You will get used to it. And if you think it’s not “real baseball,” then just tell me what will give you more enjoyment as a fan — watching Hideki Matsui hit a home run, or watching Phil Hughes bunt and pull a hamstring running to first?
I know this will not happen anytime soon. The two sides have already hammered out a new collective bargaining agreement to cover the next several years, and this is not a make-or-break issue by any means. This is just me venting after watching another round of interleague play and wondering what’s so great about watching the pitcher hit.
As I discussed this issue in the Yankee clubhouse this week, I had one pitcher tell me it would be a terrible idea if they didn’t get to bat during interleague games. I won’t give up my source. All I can tell you is his name rhymes with BB Rabbathia.
*On a less controversial note, I believe that one element of the new wildcard format that needs to be addressed is the trade deadline. I think that July 31st is too early to have a team declare itself a seller. There are more teams in contention than ever before with this new format, and should a team that’s 5 games out of a playoff spot with 60 games to play really have to get rid of its free-agent-to-be? Let’s make the deadline at least August 14th, maybe even August 21st and give the fringe contenders a chance to determine if they really are in the race.