For National League fans, this will be the last season of watching the 19th-century version of baseball. Next year, the NL has to adopt the designated hitter.
The change will come because, with the move of the Houston Astros to the American League, both leagues will have 15 teams, meaning there will be an interleague game every day of the season.
It would make no sense to stay with the current system, which has the two leagues with different styles of play. Since the National League has been the lone holdout against the DH, as high schools, colleges and minor leagues have joined the American League, it makes sense for that league to drop its outdated style.
Even NL club owners can see the wisdom of that after Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder jumped to American League teams to sign long-term contracts. No National League team could sign either of these powerhouses to long-term contracts because they could be defensive liabilities — Fielder is probably that already — in the second half of their contracts. But the AL clubs they signed with can simply slide them into the DH slot. If the National League stayed with its outdated style, teams would never have that flexibility, and the league would fall behind quickly.
All sports change with the times. Early in its development, basketball had a jump ball at the center line after each basket, which slowed the game to a snail’s pace. It has since also developed a shot clock — 24 seconds for the pros, 35 for college men — to speed up play.
Football began as a no-substitution game, so players had to go both ways. There were quarterbacks who played defensive back; Bob Waterfield in the pros and Johnny Lujack in college were outstanding. But would you really have liked to see Joe Montana playing defensive back in the 49ers’ glory years?
Baseball fans like to think their game is unchanging, but, in fact, there have been significant changes. When the game started, it was with a ball so dead it could hardly be hit 250 feet. Gloves were the size of current driver’s gloves.
The lively ball was introduced in 1911, and batting averages shot up into the .400 range, but it wasn’t until Babe Ruth came along that hitters realized the potential for power. After Ray Chapman was killed by a pitch, it was made illegal to doctor the ball with substances ranging from spit to tar, though Gaylord Perry didn’t get the message.
In 1972, the American League tried a two-year experiment with the DH. It worked so well, it was made permanent.
Essentially, what the DH does is replace a defensive specialist, the pitcher, with an offensive specialist.
NL fans like to talk about the “strategy” in their game, but that strategy mostly is about whether to take out an effective pitcher for a pinch-hitter. Otherwise, well, if a pitcher comes up with a runner on base and less than two outs, who doesn’t know he’s going to try to bunt?
Baseball is better with the DH. I’ll enjoy watching the NL and its fans dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century next season.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.