Despite its purity, Major League Baseball has its imperfections

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I need a break from writing about COVID-19. Even though it has been the top news story every day for the past several months, it’s time to focus on something else.

How about sports? There are no sports being played right now – at least not at the professional level – but they’re still being talked about. Baseball, for example, is making the news with regard to how the major leagues might play out in a condensed 2020 season.

As a lifelong baseball fan and one who has appreciated the purity of the game for most of my life, there have been a number of black marks that have tainted the sport – in my opinion – over the past quarter-century. There’s the alleged performance-enhancing drugs scandal that has – so far – kept the likes of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens out of the Hall of Fame. There is the deplorable regular season inter-league scheduling that has stripped the World Series of its mystique. And there is the hackneyed playoff format that allows more teams than are deserving to advance to the post-season.

Worst of all, now comes the news that Major League Baseball’s National League is considering the adoption of the designated hitter rule for the 2020 season, and then perhaps running with it beyond this year. This could be the final nail in the coffin as far as my allegiance to the game is concerned.

The DH rule – which allows another player in the line-up to hit for the pitcher – was adopted by the American League in 1973 in an effort to help bolster the league’s comparatively (to the National League) anemic attendance. Thankfully, the National League resisted following suit and has always held onto the tradition of having the pitcher hit for himself … until now.

To those who have no interest in baseball, I apologize for dragging you this far, and you won’t hurt my feelings if you stop reading. But back to baseball…

What I’ve always enjoyed about baseball is that it’s essentially a game of chess – albeit a much more exciting version of it – between opposing managers. One tries to outthink the other by anticipating his adversary’s next move. As the game moves into the later innings and the score remains tight, the manager has some tough decisions to make – and this is where the DH rule messes everything up. Pitchers are traditionally poor hitters and are usually pinch hit for if their team is trailing late in the game and their turn at bat comes up. A better hitter makes his way to the plate from the dugout to give his team an improved chance at producing some offence. Once that team takes the field again, a relief pitcher takes over on the mound, and often the manager may be pressed into making a “double switch” in his lineup. (I’m not going to waste my allotted space explaining the intricacies of the double switch. True baseball fans will get it.)

The double switch will essentially become extinct if the DH rule is implemented in both leagues. It’s a key strategical element of the game, and it’s always fun to see a National League game go deep into extra innings with both teams running out of pitchers.

An American League pitcher can brush back an opposing batter with little or no reprisal. National League pitchers who try that are apt to face consequences. It harkens back to the glory days of baseball when the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale threw at the opposing pitcher’s head when he came to bat if he had previously brushed back one of Drysdale’s teammates.

When baseball was first invented and for more than a century afterward, the game was played by nine positional players aside with each one taking his proper turn at bat. The American League caved to the DH gimmick almost 50 years ago. It’s going to be a sad, sad day if or when the National League gives in to this sacrilege.

 

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