DH rule takes some fun out of baseball
If anyone wants proof that the designated-hitter rule takes away a lot more from a base-ball game than it adds, all he has to do is look at this year's playoffs. There's just no comparison between the exciting and strategy-filled National League brand of ball, as exemplified by the first two Houston-Philadelphia contests, and the American League version with its DH mutation in which the pitcher never comes to bat.Skip to next paragraph
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Time after time in Philadelphia, one manager or the other faced the crucial question of whether to pinch-hit for a standout pitcher in a key situation. From their decisions flowed all sorts of interesting developments that significantly affected the outcome of at least one game -- and that will keep the second-guessers occupied well into the winter.
You never get this in the American League. Instead you get a somewhat stronger bat in the lineup (it figures out statistically to about one extra hit per team every three games) and for this you give up the lion's share of the managerial wit-matching which is one of the game's chief fascinations.
Hardly a fair trade -- yet, incredibly, the National League appears on the verge of adopting the DH rule which it has resisted ever since the AL started using it in 1973. The latest NL vote on the matter was only 5-4 against, with three abstentions, and proponents are confident of success soon.
So this year's playoffs could conceivably be the swan song for baseball as it was meant to be played -- with just nine men on a side -- unless some DH advocates open their eyes long enough to see how much better the game really is without their gimmick.
Houston's Bill Virdon had the first big decision in Game 1. It was the top of the 7th and the first batter was pitcher Ken Forsch, who had been effective all night but trailed 2-1.
A lot of managers would have pinch-hit, but Virdon left Forsch in -- and looked like a genius when the pitcher singled. Forsch got picked off first, however, leading to some tongue-in-cheek comments that Virdon should have sent in a pinch-runner (actually that happens occasionally, and has a point, since now it's an entirely different situation).
Ironically, Dallas Green played it the other way in the Phils' 7th, pinch-hitting for Steve Carlton even though he was ahead. The move worked as Greg Gross singled in a run and Tug McGraw preserved the 3-1 triumph.
In Game 2 Virdon again had the first tough choice. Nolan Ryan had been sharp but trailed 2-1 when he came up with two out and none on in the 7th, and rather than send up a slugger on the longshot hope of trying it with one swing of the bat, Virdon let his pitcher hit.
Ryan surprisingly drew a walk, then Terry Puhl lashed a double to right, and for a while it looked as though Virdon again should have put in a pinch-runner. Ryan kept watching the ball instead of running all-out, turning what should have been an easy run into a potential play at the plate, but Bake McBride's throw was off line and Nolan scored to tie the game.
Ryan, by the way, also executed a successful sacrifice bunt in that game, while Forsch went 2-for-2 and also had a sacrifice in the opener. Obviously, having the pitcher at the plate isn't quite the automatic ho-hum affair the DH advocates would like us to believe.