Crossfire: B and Rand debate the validity of baseball's DH

12 Jun

Yesterday I engaged in an e-debate with world-class blogger and president of the 98 Degrees fan club Michael Rand regarding baseball’s DH rule. The full transcript is below, which I believe will also be placed on Randball in some form. Do enjoy, and have a nice weekend.

B: Rand, I love the DH. You know that. And my love isn’t due to a long ball-loving, strategy-averse, this-is-pure-entertainment reasoning by which all of us DH lovers are painted. That is erroneous thinking, and I resent the accusation.

I’m a baseball diehard, and I hate seeing the pitchers hit for a few reasons, all of which I’ll explain in detail if you care to listen. My reasons are thus: (1) It’s no fun to watch, (2) pitching is a specialized position and should be treated as such, and (3) any “strategy” added to the game due to the lack of DH is overly simplistic (and therefore barely even strategic) and can actually detract from the natural beauty of the game.

Not only do I fully endorse the DH rule, but I think there will be a day many years from now when I’m bouncing little B the Third on my lap and he’ll cautiously ask me if there was actually a time when the NL didn’t allow DHs. “Yes, B the Third,” I’ll say while wistfully looking into the distance. “What you have heard is true. Back when your grandpa was a young buck, the pitchers were actually forced to hit for themselves. There are times I can’t believe it myself. It was a terrible thing to see, and I’m so grateful your generation doesn’t have to witness such atrocities.”

That’s how much I hate seeing the pitchers hit. I’ll go one step further and claim that baseball purists should love the DH. It makes the game better. It allows us to watch the best pitchers face the best hitters.  Isn’t that what the game should be about?

***

Rand: Brandon, I respect your opinion, even though it is completely wrong. That’s just how I operate. Please don’t take it personally. Most pitchers are bad hitters. Some hitters are bad fielders. Know what? Too bad. They should have to perform all of the appointed tasks in a game, just like everyone else. If you play a position, you bat. If you bat, you play a position. Simple.

And now, I shall take to destroying your enumerated points:

1) It’s no fun to watch pitchers hit. Have you ever watched a bad-hitting pitcher? It’s one of the funniest things ever and an enjoyable part of inter-league play. Ever seen a pitcher get an unexpected hit? Also a great delight. I’m pretty sure that if you had seen relief pitcher Rick Camp homer for the Braves in the bottom of the 18th inning with two outs on an 0-2 pitch against the Mets on July 4, 1985 to tie the game, you would feel differently.

2) Pitching is a specialized position and should be treated as such. Seriously? These guys don’t have time between card games on their four off days to work on a little hitting? Most pitchers were among the best athletes on their teams in high school and were likely very good hitters at one point. They only became soft and specialized because of the blasted DH rule pervading the non major league ranks.

3) Any “strategy” added to the game due to the lack of DH is overly simplistic and can actually detract from the natural beauty of the game. I guess you hate squeeze plays, the hit-and-run, a well-executed sacrifice bunt and ballplayers running with jackets on. And look, now Nick Punto is crying.

Seriously, those are fundamental baseball strategies that beautified the game before middle infielders gained 30 pounds of muscle during offseasons. Pitchers, and the Twins, are our last bastion of small ball.

Though I can’t imagine you ever reproducing, I will say that should the day come, I will make my way over to your house and set the record straight with Little B the Third post-haste about why it’s so great that the American League finally saw the error of its ways and went back to real baseball, without enabling part-time players. And then? You and I are going to box.

***

B: Rand, you daft nitwit. Your arguments might have held water if you thought to include logic and sound reasoning, but since you neglected such debate staples, I am embarrassed for you.

Allow me to expand on my three main arguments presented at the onset (reordered to achieve maximum impact), which include simple refutations of your loopy and nonsensical arguments. I am the Kirby Puckett to your Charlie Liebrandt. Yep, I just went there.

It’s no fun to watch. I am outright dumbfounded that you didn’t agree on this point. Most pitchers at the plate flail around like blindfolded children hacking at piñatas. That is not fun for non-sadistic fans. Most of us get our kicks off of watching fair matchups. Competition, in other words. You on the other hand spend your lunch hours at a nearby school’s recess playing tackle football against the fifth graders, which I guess is the difference between the two of us.

Any “strategy” added to the game due to the lack of DH is overly simplistic and can actually detract from the natural beauty of the game. Your claim that the fundamental strategies have changed due to more muscular players is laughable. Do you know why no one sacrifice bunts anymore? Because it’s a bad baseball move. It doesn’t lead to runs as often as letting the player swing away. And since most managers have this weird tendency to try to maximize the amount of their offensive production, they tend to employ strategies to aid their objective. Most of which add up to: don’t give away outs. They’re quite valuable.

My opinion is that the moves necessary to work around having an abysmal non-hitter in your lineup aren’t any fun to watch. Sure, the suicide squeeze that was successful that one time was rather exciting (though I had to cover my eyes the three other times it didn’t).

HOWEVER. You would have more fun watching your starting pitcher try to take a tight-knit contest later in the game rather than see him lifted for a pinch-hitter in the 7th. In a tie game, you would rather see a stud DH face off against a top-notch hurler rather than see a pitcher drop a sac bunt with one out and a guy on first. Baseball is at its best when the best hitters face the best pitchers.

Pitching is a specialized position and should be treated as such. Actually, pitchers spend a ton of time working on their hitting, but here is a secret: there is more to it than hard work. It’s true. And beyond natural talent, it involves lifting weights and scouting reports and watching video and the like, which they don’t have the time or brain storage or inclination to worry about because their regular duties of being a full-time pitcher are 10x more important. And sure, a lot of them were great hitters in high school, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to MLB success. I was a great high school hitter too, but there came a time when I was overmatched and that dominance faded into the sunset, taking with it any enjoyment I was hoping to get out of this failed experiment known as life. What was your point of that statement, besides making me weep quietly in my cubicle?

Here was my original point. The fact that most pitchers are terrible hitters doesn’t lessen their athletic abilities or harm their effect on the game. We should let them focus on what got them to the bigs to begin with. It makes the game better.

Let’s consider similar positions in other sports for a moment. You’ve got kickers in football, defensive specialists in basketball, goalies in hockey. Do we make any of those athletes do something beyond their focus? No. That would be stupid. Imagine if the AFC forced quarterbacks to punt as well, or field goal kickers to be on the field during their teams’ kickoff returns. What if basketball teams weren’t allowed to substitute offensive- or defensive-minded players at the ends of quarters? Or, perhaps the best example, what if the NHL forced goalies to go on the offensive during shootouts? That would be ridiculous and everyone would hate it because that’s not the goalie’s role, and yet almost the exact same thing is happening with the DH rule today. Why can’t we admit that pitching is a specialized position and treat it as such?

I believe I have obliterated your argument and basically blown your mind. Please admit defeat and say sorry.

***

Rand: Oh, Brandon. You seem to have a need to get the last word. And since I understand you are getting married in a few months and will no longer enjoy that status at home, I do understand your desire to try it here.

I’ll keep it short this time because I really don’t have much more to say after thoroughly eviscerating your thesis earlier. Rather, I’ll just say this: baseball existed for roughly 100 years without a DH and was better off for it. While there might be some strategic benefits to having namby-pamby pitchers ride the pine while their burly brethren take a turn at the plate (say: aren’t you a pitcher, Brandon?), overall it’s symbolic of an over-aggressive society’s insistence on micro-managing situations.

As for your insistence that other sports have similar positions, it’s laughable. A goalie still handles the puck; they don’t freeze it and bring in an offensive player every time it reaches his grasp. A defensive specialist in basketball is still required to function offensively; it’s not as though coaches rotate players in and out on a possession-by-possession basis (except at the very ends of tedious games, which I suppose you would consider enthralling). And yes, even a kicker will be asked to make a tackle from time to time. He doesn’t just kick off and then walk down the field. He becomes the 11th defender, just as the pitcher becomes the ninth hitter. He might not be very good at it – just as some pitchers might not be very good at hitting – but it still comes with the territory.

In a way, Brandon, it’s kind of like you. Even though you seem better suited to your specialty – receiving the brunt of my sharp-edged wit and well-reasoned argument – it doesn’t mean you can’t also try your hand at a rebuttal, as feeble as it might be.

***

B: And with that, Rand, I think it’s become very obvious who has one this debate. There is no need to discuss it any further.

[Both men grin smugly at each other while exchanging a stiff handshake. They turn around and walk off opposite ends of the stage. Lights go black. Curtains. Thunderous applause from the audience. Fin.]

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One Response to “Crossfire: B and Rand debate the validity of baseball's DH”

  1. Gates June 12, 2009 at 3:34 pm #

    Guys, it got too long for me to read all of it so if I cover some points you already did, forgive me. The DH is great. Have you ever watched a National League game? Thank God that league has Pujols and the Phillies. The main reason I like the DH is because this prevents the pitcher from having to come out of a game too early because he was pinch hit for. In the AL, the starting pitcher is kept in until he is done, simple as that. In the NL, often times a pitcher will be pitching great through 5 or 6 but taken out because he was down 1-0 in the top of the 6th and there was a runner on second with two out when he came to bat. That’s my two cents.

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