David Ortiz is the last of the traditional Designated Hitters. Could he take the DH role with him when he retires?
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports
With David Ortiz nearing the end of his career, the discussion in baseball has been what to do about the designated hitter? Ortiz is 38, and signed through 2015, with team options through 2017, which leaves the question, “With the last traditional designated hitter gone, does baseball still need the DH?”
First, a little history.
The Athletics’ franchise has had their hands in the discussions of adding a DH, culminating with colorful owner, Charlie O. Finley being a major advocate in the late 1960s. In an article by Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News, he talks about the state of baseball after 1968, and MLB feeling the need to ignite offenses once more.
Following the ’68 season, where pitching dominated, and Carl Yastrzemski won the batting title with a .301 average, talks about improving offenses were had, with Charlie O. pushing hard for a designated hitter.
On Arpil 6, 1973 Ron Bloomberg became the first designated hitter in the majors and drew a bases-loaded walk in his first at-bat against Luis Tiant.
Fast Forward a slew of years, and we find ourselves at present day. The designated hitter’s role has changed in recent years. The days of a bulky, aging power hitter are nearly gone, and the age of OBP machines or simply resting a player are en vogue.
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
In the National League, the New York Mets pitchers are all hitting like Bartolo Colon. According to Baseball Reference, Mets’ pitchers have 1 hit in 71 PA, ‘good’ for a 0.014 batting average. This is leading some to believe that the NL should adopt the designated hitter as well. The discussion recently has been, with the increase of Interleague play, both leagues should have the same set of rules pertaining to the DH. With Ortiz nearing retirement, the day may be fast approaching where there is a ruling one way or another.
Here is the case for both sides:
- It’s an opportunity for a slugger to have a few more years in the bigs
- Added offense brings the casual fan to the ballpark
- Ability to give players a “half-day” and keep them fresh
- Pitchers don’t run the risk of injury while hitting/running the bases
- The statistics that baseball is built upon become bloated–power heavy
- It adds to the game within the game; more strategy is involved
- In some cases, the pitcher is actually the best athlete on the field
- Playing for one run in the AL is almost non-existent. It’s all about the long ball
I have been an A’s fan my entire life, and American League baseball is what I am familiar with. There is something nostalgic about watching the same game that DiMaggio, Williams, Cobb and Johnson played, not the one that has been condensed to Home Run highlights ever-present in today’s game. The case can definitely be made that eliminating the DH altogether would hurt MLB financially. “Chicks dig the long ball” and pitchers don’t hit many of those. MLB could potentially lose the casual fan, or at least a portion of them.
Baseball is the thinking man’s game, filled with statistics, era vs. era debate and more going on than meets the eye. Eliminating the designated hitter would engage fans even more, and have them thinking right along with the managers. Should the team sacrifice here? Should the pitcher be pulled in the 5th because his spot is coming up and he’s at 85 pitches? In my experience, when explaining what is really going on to the casual fan they become more engaged in the game and begin asking more questions, furthering their baseball desire.
When David Ortiz retires, my hope is the the designated hitter is eliminated. From an Oakland Athletics standpoint, it would not hurt the team as much as say, the Yankees. The A’s are using the DH spot for a player that is hot, or someone that needs a rest this season. The Yankees sign these big-name free agents to enormous deals for way too many years and are able to DH them after a couple of years in the field. Eliminating the DH would bring more focus on developing a farm system again, and creating a whole team, not just adding a plethora of pricey free agents every few seasons.
I doubt that this is the position MLB will take, but this change could be for the betterment of the game we all love.