Let’s make a deal

I remember a question my wife asked me once, so brilliant in its simplicity:

Why are there two different sets of rules in baseball? It would be like not having a long snapper in the AFC or moving back the three-point line in the Western Conference. Just plain silly.

The American league adopted the designated hitter rule on a trial basis in 1973, and ever since there have been a different set of rules for American and National Leagues.

The question is why?

I know that baseball traditionalists hate the rule. They think by having a guy who’s only job on a given day is to grab a maple bat and stride into the batter’s box hurts the purity of the game. They argue that the strategy involved with having the pitcher bunt, pulling a double switch or knowing when to lift your pitcher for a pinch hitter makes up for the fact that the pitcher – almost always – is an inferior hitter.

I used to see it that way.

Then, I realized that the purity in baseball, and perhaps all pro sports, died a long time ago.

Baseball sold its soul in 1994 when it decided not to stage a World Series, and then sold it again by turning a blind eye to performance enhancing drugs in the late 90s and the early part of this decade.

I’ve got no interest in watching Johan Santana wield a bat. I don’t care how smart Tony LaRussa is when he saunters out on the field and makes a double switch with his pitcher and rightfielder.

Keep the strategy. Give me some action.

I like the fact that baseball has room for guys like Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz. I like the notion of there not being any easy outs in a major league lineup. It makes it all the more meaningful when Cliff Lee tosses a shutout when he has to navigate a lineup of nine professional hitters – rather than eight pros and a pitcher – to do it.

I’ve heard the argument that the DH is just a way for fat guys who can’t field to stay in the lineup. But in truth, only about half of the teams in the A.L. use the same guy as the DH all the time. More often, skippers use the slot as a way to give his players a mini-break during the 162-game schedule.

I just don’t see it. Interleague play has blurred the once obvious line between the American and National Leagues. The teams play each other all the time. The mystique of the Yankees and Mets playing each other by whatever house rules they happen to be playing with is dead. Has been for quite some time.

Bud Selig’s reign as commissioner of baseball has been a mixed bag. He brought us the wildcard, interleague play and relative labor peace. But he’s also overseen the steroid era, a freaking tie in an all-star game and, as a result, a really stupid rule giving home field advantage for the World Series to the league that wins that otherwise meaningless event.

He can go out on a high note by dragging the National League into baseball’s modern era.


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