Allowing the designated hitter for all All-Star Games, regardless of which league is hosting it, should re-ignite the DH debate.
Actually, there’s little debate, except by a relatively small group who agree with the National League’s decision to refrain from using the DH, while the American League, minor leagues, colleges and high schools all use it.
Hint: If everybody else believes one thing and you don’t, you may be wrong.
I believe most of those who support the NL’s decision are fans over 50 years old who want the game to remain the same as it was in their youth, so they can pretend they are still young.
I first met this phenomenon when I came to The Chronicle in 1963. The sports department was flooded by letters from older readers who said the Giants should bunt more. That didn’t make much sense for a team which had Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda, but it was the game these fans remembered from their youth.
When I go to games at AT&T Park, I often walk around the park in the middle innings and see a large number of people, most of them looking under 40, who are just having a good day at the park. Often, they’re walking around, talking to each other, stopping to get something to eat in the food stalls behind center field.
Do you think these fans care whether there’s a DH or not? It’s only the older fans — and older media types — who hate the thought of the National League going to the DH.
Baseball fans like to think of their game as unchanging, but in fact, it’s changed enormously over the years. Baseball started with a ball so dead that it was hard to hit it more than 250 feet. The gloves were the size of drivers’ gloves today. Until 1920, pitchers could use any kind of substance on the balls to make them curve in unexpected ways.
The lively ball was introduced in 1911, but since hitters never thought of home runs, the first change was in much higher batting averages. Babe Ruth changed all that by hitting home runs in unheard of numbers.
Since then, owners have often opted for improved offense. The mound was lowered after a pitching-dominated 1968 season. The ball was wound significantly tighter in the Depression years and after the World Series was canceled in 1993.
The DH replaces a defensive specialist, the pitcher, with an offensive specialist. Consider this: If you had a pitcher who won 14 games but didn’t get a hit all season, would you replace him? Of course not. Conversely, the Giants played slick-fielding Brian Bocock at shortstop in 2008, but when he hit only .143, he was gone.
Strategy? The only difference for NL managers is that they sometimes have to pinch-hit for a pitcher. When they do that, they use the double-switch so they can pinch-hit for the reliever and have a hitter in the No. 9 spot — which is the kind of lineup they’d get with a DH.
Soon, the National League will accept progress and adopt the DH. The older fans will squawk, but attendance will go in only one direction: Up.