It was one of the points, an “oh, yeah” moment, raised by Portville baseball coach Mike Matz in a phone call Friday.
That night, in response to Major League Baseball’s decision to institute a universal designated hitter as part of its shortened 2020 season, the TH polled several Big 30 coaches to see where they stood on the longstanding DH debate.
In his adamant argument in favor of the DH, Matz recalled an injury to former New York Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang.
Wang, you might remember, suffered a partially torn tendon and a sprained right foot while running the bases during an interleague matchup with Houston (formerly of the National League) in June 2008. And while he did return later that season, “he was never really the same after that,” Matz rightfully noted.
It was described by then-Yankees skipper Joe Girardi as a manager’s worst nightmare: a pitcher on the basepath. And if that’s the case, and half the league has long had a rule to all but prevent such a scenario, why do we continue to insist upon pitchers batting in NL ballparks 12 years later?
IT’S TO the point where it’s become laughable.
When an AL pitcher, who’s rarely had to do so, steps up to the plate, often unsure of exactly what to do with himself, it’s, at times, resulted in knowing laughter from his dugout. When Mariano Rivera, who was all smiles at the dish, collected his only career RBI on a bases-loaded walk against the Mets in 2013, it was a feel-good, yet purely comical moment. And if that’s what we’re talking about here, something that draws laughter more times than not at the professional level, perhaps it’s time we move on from it.
The pitchers themselves, outside of a select few (including former Giants star Madison Bumgarner, who takes everything deadly seriously), don’t seem to care.
You never hear about a pitcher who devoted a big portion of his offseason to getting better as a hitter. These guys are paid to pitch, and in some ways, pitching has never been more difficult now that home run numbers are skyrocketing and almost everybody, one through nine, is capable of hitting them.
So why, as media and fans, should we?
IN THIS age of specialization and sabermetrics, roles at the MLB level are becoming more clearly defined, from a hitting standpoint, to the emphasis on “defensive runs saved” (which obviously prioritizes strong defensive players), to the fledgling concept of “openers,” relievers who are called upon to get the first few outs of a game before turning the ball over to a traditional starter.
As part of this, the idea of a player taking on dual responsibilities, let alone the two most important — pitching AND hitting — is quickly being phased out. And yet, we continue to force-feed the need for an NL pitcher, who’s about to face the Dodgers’ Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner in the bottom half, whose sole focus, both performatively and financially, is on pitching, to go grab a batting helmet.
It’s crazy. And predictable.
Outside of a capable few (and I use that term lightly as even Zack Greinke, who was widely considered one of best-hitting pitchers while in the NL, has a career .225 average), most pitchers these days can’t be — and aren’t — expected to do anything more than bunt a runner over. Most seem to step up, their disposition suggesting a complete indifference, and strike out on three or four pitches, content to have it over with so they can get back to focusing on what they do best: getting guys out.
And it’s been happening for so long now, we’ve just come to accept it.
UNDENIABLY, a majority of fans want to see more action — a big hit, a home run, and even if it leads to an out, a more exciting back-and-forth at-bat (think Jose Bautista vs. the Orioles in the 2016 postseason). Rarely, if ever, does that happen with a pitcher at the plate.
“Let’s face it, when you’re watching the game and you’ve got a rally going and the pitcher’s coming up, what’s everybody saying, ‘Oh man, the pitcher’s up,’” former Cuba-Rushford coach Steve Yatzkanic noted in his argument for the DH. “I mean, c’mon, even if you don’t want the DH, you hate that you’ve got second and third and one out and the pitcher’s up.”
That’s to say nothing of the fact that if MLB is serious about wanting to garner a younger generation of fans — currently, an actual crisis point — it’ll have to make some changes to make the game more appealing to that audience.
And that’s the point.
There are dozens of reasons for why a permanent designated hitter in the National League is both a good and necessary decision. There really only seems to be one for continuing to let pitchers hit: because that’s the way it’s always been done.
But that, and the scenarios it creates — giggling when Bartolo Colon digs in — is not a good enough reason for why it should continue.