DH rule unfairly penalizes AL in playoffs
Big Papi gets nod at first over Youkilis in Game 3 on Saturday
DENVER -- And now we come to the necessary, but not painless, discussion of baseball for an event that crowns its champion under two sets of rules.
Of all the major sports that grace the American landscape, only our national pastime changes the actual number of participants in the starting lineup during its ultimate championship. There are people who think this is sort of precious, but there is an excellent chance that these same people also think that daytime television enriches the soul.
We come to this topic again, because when the 2007 World Series resumes on Saturday night on FOX at 8 ET, it will do so in this National League city. And thus, the Red Sox, who play their games like all their American League brethren, with nine hitters and one pitcher, will not be able to use their designated hitter in Games 3 and 4, or Game 5, if it comes to that, against the Rockies.
Even people who don't like the DH, and I'm right there with them, can see that this is not a particularly fair development.
In this case, first baseman Kevin Youkilis will be the odd man out, at least for Game 3. Manager Terry Francona announced on Friday that the usual Red Sox DH David Ortiz will start at first. As much as Youkilis has meant to this team, he's not Big Papi.
The other option was to play Youkilis at third base, his original position. But that would mean removing Mike Lowell, who drove in 120 runs this season.
"I think David is a really good hitter, and I think Mike Lowell is a really good hitter, and I actually think Youk is a really good hitter, but they won't let us play all three of them," Francona said. "So we'll go with this.
"The hope would be we'd have a lead, and we'll put Youk in late. It doesn't always work perfect, but we'll do the best we can. It's a difficult situation to be in, but I don't have any second-guessing about what we're doing. I'd just rather play all three of them."
In keeping Ortiz's bat in the lineup, the Red Sox sacrifice defense. Ortiz played only seven games at first base this season, and although those games were errorless for him, he remains a defensive liability waiting to happen.
What is the other side of this argument? Not much. The NL team, of course, gets to add a DH in the AL city, but with the way Senior Circuit teams are set up these days, they aren't likely to have an Ortiz waiting in the wings to grab a bat. If they had another guy who was a terrific hitter, he'd be in the lineup.
The Rockies put Ryan Spilborghs in that spot for the first two games in Boston. He went 0-for-5 overall, with three strikeouts in Game 2.
So what has been accomplished here? We have taken away an integral performer from the AL team, without adding significantly to the NL team. Not a particularly good tradeoff, but over time, the DH rule hasn't exactly pushed baseball up the evolutionary ladder, either.
The DH rule was instituted by the AL in 1973 as a vehicle to increase offense. The increase in offense, it was thought, would increase attendance. The NL was in ascendance at the time -- that was a long time ago, wasn't it? -- and it took the purists' approach, that this was a gimmick unworthy of the grand old game. You can argue that the NL was protecting the integrity of the game or you can argue that the NL was being snooty. Either way, fans ended up with the two leagues playing by different rules.
The DH should go now, but it probably won't. There has not been a problem with creating offense for some time. The reasons for that could constitute several other columns. It is sufficient to say that the basic reason for the creation of the DH is long gone.
If your position is that watching pitchers hit is fundamentally boring, you're missing the point, and you're also missing your favorite programming on the snowboarding channel. The inherent worth of the successful sacrifice bunt should not be diminished. And on those occasions in which the pitcher changes the course of the game with his bat, we are all the better for their relatively rarity.
Beyond that, it is reasonable to say that the designated hitter rule dramatically reduces the number of variables involved in pitching changes, and thus reduces the texture and the nuance and the thought that is required to manage a game. And it also reduces the texture and nuance and thought that is required from those who watch a game.
The DH rule does provide a vehicle for one-way players to greatly extend their careers, and their fiscal well-being. The purists' view is that if you're going to ascend to the lofty level of a Major League regular player, you ought to be able to catch the ball and throw the ball, along with being able to hit the ball. The DH has in that way lowered the bar for what a Major Leaguer can be.
Why does this situation persist? Because the DH provides 14 of what can be some of the highest-paying jobs in the game. If you were the Major League Baseball Players Association, you wouldn't want to lose the DH, either. The fellow holding down that spot is going to drive up the salary structure much more than a utility infielder or a long reliever could.
All of that is why Youkilis won't be in the starting lineup on Saturday night. He made himself into a superior first baseman, a first baseman who made no errors during the 2007 regular season. Then he hit .500 during the AL Championship Series, and he very easily could have been the MVP of that series.
But there isn't room for him now, because the number of players in an AL starting lineup is reduced, in the middle of the World Series.
Maybe playing baseball's proudest event under two distinctly different sets of rules is quaint. Maybe it is charming. More likely, it is just goofy.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.