Whitey Herzog could easily have ducked a discussion of the designated hitter rule, since the idea of having an extra hitter in the lineup in place of the pitcher is strictly an American League creation. The outspoken manager of the St. Louis Cardinals isn't one to sidestep issues, however, even if his views go against National League tradition. ``Basically I like the designated hitter because it gives the fans a lot more offense and that's what most people pay their money to see,'' explained Herzog, who formerly managed Kansas City in the American League and thus has seen both sides of the coin firsthand.
``On the other hand,'' he said, ``it wouldn't bother me if they cut out the DH entirely. What I don't like is that one league has it and the other doesn't. Either they should both have it or nobody should have it.
``But I can tell you why baseball is dragging its feet on the designated hitter: It's because too many teams have their DHs signed through 1988 and getting rid of that rule now would be hitting American League club owners with a tremendous financial burden.''
There's no question that the DH increases offensive production to some extent; statistics show that AL teams outscore their NL counterparts by an average of 60 to 80 runs a season. But critics of the rule claim that it cuts down on the strategy aspects of the game.
Asked about this objection, Herzog replied: ``Well, as far as changing pitchers is concerned, a manager can stay with his original starter longer if he's going well. He doesn't have to use his bullpen as much, so he has fewer chances to make a mistake.
``The DH also opens up some areas offensively that aren't available when you have a pitcher in your batting lineup. For example, now you can hit-and-run all up and down your batting order. You can afford to put your power at the top of your lineup and your speed at the bottom; even bat your three best hitters one-two-three if you want to get them up more times. It can make things easier for an older pitcher, too, because now he never has to run the bases.''
On another subject, Herzog thinks it is time baseball ditched the present system of having separate umpires for each league and put them all under one umbrella.
``Then the standards would be the same for everybody and you'd have major league umpires in the World Series instead of part American and part National League crews,'' he pointed out.
Whitey would also like to put the World Series in a neutral site each year -- either a city with a domed stadium or one where the weather isn't apt to be a problem.
``My idea would be to play the first four games without a break, take one day off, then continue until it's over,'' he said. ``That way teams would need depth in their pitching staffs, just as they do all year. You can't win in the regular season without a fourth starter, so you should have to use one in the World Series, too.''
One argument against a neutral site is that the fans in the winning cities wouldn't get to see their teams in person, but Herzog thinks this objection is unrealistic.
``Unless you're a season ticketholder, you're not going to get in anyway,'' he said. ``The politicians and the big shots somehow always get those [the remaining] tickets.
``I think most fans would be satisfied with watching the World Series on TV if they could always count on having the playoffs in their home park. And with the participants and the media all in one place for the Series, it would be almost like the Olympics.'' Gooden adds to repertoire
Be it ever so humble, Dwight Gooden, the New York Mets' fireballing right-hander, has added a change-up to his list of pitches. Confirmation came from all-star catcher Gary Carter, who says the 1985 Cy Young Award winner began to work on the pitch in spring training at the request of pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.
``It's strictly a fun pitch for Gooden,'' the veteran Mets' backstop told me. ``I don't even know why Dwight bothers with it, because with his speed he isn't going to need to finesse hitters for another 10 years. So far I can't remember him throwing the change-up more than twice in any game this year, and then only when he was way ahead in the score. It's like his slider, which isn't much more than a waste pitch. When you've got two fastballs that jump around the way his do, plus a great curve, it's probably not wise to do too much experimenting.''
Gooden started out this spring where he had left off last fall, going 5-0 over the first month or so, but then struggled for a while as he lost twice and had one no-decision. He got back on track Wednesday night, however, tossing a 5-hitter to beat Los Angeles 4-2 and help the Mets boost their lead to 5 games in the NL East. Elsewhere in the majors
Pitcher Tom Seaver of the Chicago White Sox said it: ``There are only two places in the American League; first place and no place!''
Pitcher Don Sutton of the California Angels is a vintage car buff. When Sutton sold his 1955 two-door coral and sand Chevrolet, he replaced it with a 1955 Ford Crown Victoria. Don also has a 1962 Bentley with just 32,000 original miles on its odometer.