Bill Conlin: It's time for DH in the NL

DH Hideki Matsui drives in two more runs during Game 6 of the World Series.
DH Hideki Matsui drives in two more runs during Game 6 of the World Series.
Posted: November 11, 2009

AS AN AFFRONT to the natural order of the universe and the laws of man, the Designated Hitter Rule is up there with the national health-care bill, a legislative dose of castor oil about to be stuffed down our throats, hate it or despise it.

I'm sure if the DH had been in existence when Sen. Joseph R. McCarthy was playing God, he would have attacked it as un-American even before he went after all the Com-Symp-Pinkos in Hollywood.

The DH is an evil invasion of the purity of a game invented by ancestors who rode to games in horse-drawn conveyances. It was played in daylight, but rarely on Sunday, by hard-drinking, gambling and unsavory members of America's vast post-Civil War underclass. Irish immigrants excelled in it. It beat the bejabbers out of digging ditches, carrying hods and off-loading cargo.

Former slaves playing it? Not on Cap Anson's watch. Or during the long reign of the first commissioner, a federal judge named Kenesaw Mountain Landis, an unabashed racist renowned for the number of his court decisions that were overturned. He's the jurist who had black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson banned from boxing for transporting a white woman across state lines for the purpose of prostitution.

Through all those decades when America was still recovering from history's bloodiest civil rebellion, the pitcher was required to take his turn at bat. Much of the game's strategy evolved from that unfortunate requirement. The pastime's founders - whoever they really were - didn't decide, "Hey, these guys can't hit a lick; how about if we permit a real batsman to hit for the pitcher? There will still be nine men in the field. We'll just get some big, dumb coal miner or farmer to take the pitcher's turns at bat. It'll be a good thing because it will give a man who can't run or catch a chance to play and fans will get to see more scoring."

Proponents of such an outlandish and radical concept were always shouted down when the rules committees and owners got together. Hell, they'd outlaw doctoring the baseball, a craftsman's art, before they'd make the pitcher stop making a fool of himself.

Well, the American League voted in the DH in 1973 and I don't want to hear a whimper about how the biggest difference between the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series was the presence of DH Hideki Matsui. The Japanese slugger was the Series MVP despite starting just three of the six games - and driving in seven runs in Games 2 and 6, both played at Yankee Stadium.

Nope, just zip it up because the Phillies are to blame for the National League voting it down at that same meeting. Bill Giles was the Phillies' representative. With 12 clubs in each league, it took eight votes to pass a rules change. Phils owner Ruly Carpenter favored the DH. Pirates owner John Galbraith instructed GM Joe Brown to vote with the Phillies. Before the teams were polled, Giles attempted to contact his boss for formal approval.

Ruly was on a fishing trip. He couldn't be reached. Giles had no choice but to abstain. The Pirates followed suit. The 6-4-2 vote fell short of the two-thirds majority.

The American League went from All-Star Game whipping boy and an entity lacking the NL's diversity and overall pizzazz to where it is today: dominant for the simple reason that nine hitters in a lineup are better than eight.

And where the disparity really kills the National League in the World Series and in the equally lamentable interleague play is in the No. 9 spot. With their DHs typically power bats of the Matsui, David Ortiz, Vlad Guerrero stripe, most teams configure their lineups to put speed and contact at No. 9. A second leadoff hitter, if you will.

Innings that begin 9-1-2 present a myriad of table-setting chances ahead of the engine-room mashers. So in the early innings, NL managers typically have a pitcher hacking leading off an inning, bunting with one out and a runner on. And when it gets to bullpen time, the texture of the game is altered by bench-depleting double switches. In the AL game, the best bench sticks are saved for crunch time. Matsui was 2-for-3 pinch-hitting in Philly, with a homer.

Actually, the best No. 9 hitter in the Series was Carlos Ruiz, who batted .444 in the three DH games. But slap-hitting Brett Gardner had replaced injured centerfielder Melky Cabrera in Game 5. And both Cliff Lee and Andy Pettitte produced big hits in their Philly outings.

But over the long haul of a 162-game season, AL teams will score more runs. And the pitchers who don't hit will be facing No. 9 hitters who do and their ERAs will balloon .50 to .75 runs as a result.

Once again, I call for the National League to restore the measure of competitive balance the DH rule has drained from the game since 1973. It's not because I like it - although the National League sometimes reminds me of an auto industry where the automatic transmission was never invented. Since the players union will never give up the highest-salaried position in the game, the ball, as always, remains in the NL court.

These are weighty issues to ponder before Ryan Howard takes about 350 homers to the American League at the age of 32.

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