Ditch the DH

Edgar Martinez, Paul Molitor and Harold Baines are regularly regarded as three of the best designated hitters in baseball history. Since 1998, all three have retired. Meanwhile, other notable DHs like Frank Thomas, Juan Gonzalez and Rafael Palmeiro are in the final stages of their careers and might not be far behind. The question, then, must be asked - has there ever been a better time for Major League Baseball to do away with the DH?

The hard truth is that no matter when the MLB decides to ditch the DH, if ever, there will be a notable player or two left scrambling for a defensive position just to stay in the game.

In today's game, those big names would be guys like Boston's David Ortiz and Cleveland's Travis Hafner. Ortiz has a good chance to win the American League MVP this season – unless Alex Rodriguez gets the nod – and Hafner was the Indians top bopper in the middle of their promising young lineup. But, as I stated above, no matter what season, the removal of the DH in baseball would always put the squeeze on a few premier players.

At least for the Ortiz's and Hafner's of the world, moving back to first base – as they would have to do – wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility. They're lucky that way. Veterans like Tim Salmon and Ruben Sierra, each on the last legs of their careers, probably wouldn't be as fortunate. Putting either of those two in the outfield for any length of time would not only worsen their team's defense, but also almost surely lead to injury.

When the DH was added to the American League in 1973, it was intended to add offense to the game at a time when attendance figures were dipping. While it helped in both areas, it also changed the game as it had been in its natural sense before that point. Suddenly, the AL lacked the strategy of the NL, which never adopted the DH. Without a pitcher in the batting lineup, clubs could no longer use the intentional walk to get to the No. 9 hitter – which had always been where the pitcher would bat - when in a jam. AL managers no longer had to decide whether to let their pitcher bat in order to keep them on the mound the following inning. Those are just two scenarios.

Over the years, the effects were felt in other ways as well, and it's safe to say not all of them were positive. Aside from creating two very different forms of baseball, the offense-driven AL and low-scoring pitching-led NL, it also took away the need to field a position. Is that really how Abner Doubleday intended for the game to be played? Something tells me that the answer to that is no.

In places like Seattle and Minnesota, where the likes of Martinez and Molitor utilized the DH position to significantly extend their careers, it's hard to see it this way. Imagine the Mariners over the past decade without Edgar in that lineup? Think about if Edgar would have had to remain in the field all those years? As amazingly reliable as his bat was all those years, his defense might not have been able to make up the difference. It was that bad.

The question is this: Is extending a player's career by allowing him to entirely avoid playing defense a positive byproduct of the DH? Some, like Salmon and Sierra, would vehemently argue "Yes."

I would argue the contrary.

It's ridiculous, when you think about it, how the two leagues have this one huge fundamental difference. It ruins the game in so many ways, including those that aren't even associated with in-game strategy.

Take the careers of Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey, Jr., for instance. Bonds turned 41 in July. Griffey turns 36 in November. Both are currently on National League teams, and rumors have been swirling for years that each will need to join AL teams in their final playing years to extend their careers. Why? Easy, the DH - stop playing defense, take the load off your achy joints and muscles, and focus all your attention to coming to the plate five times a game. That's the beauty of being in the AL.

But how is that fair? How can aging players in one league have a distinct advantage over players in another league? As it is now, and has been the past 32 years, they do. It only seems normal now because it's been that way for so long.

There are other negatives, as well.

Like in interleague play, anytime an AL team is at a NL team's home park. In those instances, the games are played under NL rules, meaning no DH. Every year, the AL teams struggle to win in NL parks without the luxury of the DH in their lineup. It's like having the rules one way for 95 percent of the season, but for five percent it's another way. If a mother or father parented that way, it'd be bad for their kid and regarded as wrong.

How is this any different? NL teams aren't suited to use the DH, often putting more payroll in a deeper pitching staff, while AL teams aren't accustomed to playing without it. It's a lose-lose situation.

It doesn't take a diamond genius to realize that the DH needs to be removed from the game, and removed soon. If a player can't play defense - exactly half of what goes in to the beautiful game of baseball - he shouldn't be an every day player. Instead, he should be relegated to the bench as a late-inning pinch-hitter or, if necessary, a spot-starter. It's a shame for guys with a golden stick like Edgar and Molitor, or those older veterans from an earlier generation like Don Baylor, George Brett and Carl Yastrzemski, but the DH cheapens the game.

Baseball is a game of strategy, and too often today, at least in the American League, that strategy consists of how to find some veteran left-handed designated hitter to insert in your lineup every day. Wouldn't it be better if the game returned to being uniform across the board, and the strategy centered around utilizing the "double-switch," getting sacrifice bunts down with your pitcher and making every run count?

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