MLB’s universal DH: An end to the best brand of baseball

MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Pitcher Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs works in the batting cage during practice on February 28, 2004 at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
MESA, AZ - FEBRUARY 28: Pitcher Carlos Zambrano #38 of the Chicago Cubs works in the batting cage during practice on February 28, 2004 at Fitch Park in Mesa, Arizona. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images) /

While we’re still waiting for the new Major League collective bargaining agreement, let’s consider again one point of agreement apparently already reached – the beginning of the era of the universal DH. The National League holdout on this issue is over after almost 50 years.

Some of us admittedly older folks consider the announcement of the universal DH something like the end of baseball. It really isn’t that, exactly, and of course the Angels will let Shohei Ohtani bat whenever MLB restarts, but within the next few decades, the best early version of baseball at the highest level will disappear.

This statement assumes that high-level professional baseball will survive hundreds of years more in some form.

The clamor for more MLB offense and collective bargaining will apparently begin the universal DH era.

However, people do have to be reminded that there were, following the American Civil War, several versions of baseball played until the foul-strike rule was introduced at the beginning of the last century.

This means that sometime after 2050, some old codgers sitting in a bar somewhere will start a conversation with this question: “Remember real baseball, 20th century baseball – remember Vince Coleman?” And a really old codger will respond, “Remember when pitchers hit?” (Vince will, then, be forgotten while the ancients debate whether pitchers hit in both leagues.)

Many younger fans consider the universal DH long overdue. They hate the “boring” offensive “hole” in NL lineups, and the players want the universal DH, we’re told, because more marginal and older players – and lousy fielders – will be able to extend their careers.

Those old codgers in the future will nonetheless argue that the best baseball actually involved pitchers hitting because prior to 2022 (or ’23) at least all of the offensive strategy hadn’t been sucked out of the game.

No one will deny that pitchers, generally, couldn’t hit well. Those guys who divided time between shortstop and pitching in high school were overmatched when facing, say, J.R. Richard. However, a manager had to plan around that fact to an extent.

Everybody on the field had to be able to field, and hit at least a bit, and that weakest hitter in the nine-hole had to be thought about. A manager hoped for a few hits in a season from him, but the other manager had the same problem. Also, later in the game, the substitutes for that pitcher or his even weaker-hitting reliever became another thought problem.

This also put pressure on the “weakish” hitters in the 7 and 8-slots. (The current push for the elimination of MLB’s weakest hitters has not yet been called by anybody an attempt to hide teams’ lousy seventh and eighth hitters, so I’ll do that first.)

Anyway, whatever happens without pitchers hitting, some sterling memories will never be made without pitchers hitting, and I’ll give you one:

On June 16, 2011, the winningest Phillies team ever, but one doomed to fail in the playoffs, hosted the Marlins at Citizens Bank Park. Those who attended will always remember this as the game Cliff Lee had as many hits as he gave up in a complete game.

We didn’t know that would be the outcome when the athletic pitcher banged an RBI-double off the right-center wall early on in the game, but that’s what happened in a 3-0 Philadelphia win.

That Lee had another hit in the game was just gravy on top of a game that only took 2:21.

To quote Mary Hopkin, “Those were the days, my friend….” That day the universal DH seemed very far away.

Other things that will be lost in memory as pitchers stop hitting? How about the pitchers’ home run leaders? Of course, only one pitcher among their top ten home run hitters played in this century – Carlos Zambrano, who is tied for seventh with 24 home runs. The record-holder is Wes Farrell, who played from 1927 through ’41, and hit 38 dingers.

Farrell hit his home runs out of much larger parks than today’s bandboxes, but the two-digit “grand total” for the all-time leader and the fact all but one pitcher on the top ten list played well before this century began are now problems.

MLB pitchers incrementally became poorer hitters over the course of time. If Farrell had been an everyday player, he would likely have reached 125 or 150 home runs, but what he did was so long ago. He might have also improved on his lifetime batting average of .280, but that too was so long ago.

Ironically, that they couldn’t hit made pitchers who could hit all the more special as baseball time passed. Those few of us who have seen one of our team’s pitchers hit a home run in a World Series can tell you it is as thrilling a sporting moment as has ever been available.

So, we’ve decided to kill that moment with the universal DH.

Next. How much can the MLBPA gain in the new CBA?. dark

There are days ahead, surely, when we find a heavy-legged, 36-year-old DH striking out three times less than entertaining – or at least less entertaining than a pitcher who might have laid down a decent bunt.