The DH — baseball’s career extender 

Witness the majesty of the first-half numbers of this modern-day collective American League murderer’s row: A combined 112 home runs compiled by 4 men, along with 304 runs driven in for their teams. That comes out to 28 home runs and 76 RBIs per man, with a batting average of .290 and a slugging percentage of .634 divided evenly among David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Jason Giambi, and Travis Hafner.

Ortiz leads the group with 31 long balls and 86 driven in, while Thome sets the pace with his .656 slugging percentage. Hafner is the standard for batting average at .320, while coming in just behind Thome with a slugging number of .655. Giambi is third in homers with 26 and is also slugging over .600.

Remarkable hitters all, and not a baseball player among them.

That’s right, these men may have started out as baseball players, but American League rules have allowed them, over time, to become nothing more than hitting specialists. One-trick ponies. Or no-gloved phonies.

No one wants to debate the merits of the designated hitter rule again because the DH is not going anywhere, but with the All-Star Game upon us and these four guys putting up these kinds of numbers, it’s worth pointing out that not one of them knows what that hunk of leather is doing in their clubhouse lockers.

The American League’s brand of baseball is a little sexier to the common fan because of these human fireworks displays, but true fans should be offended by the fact that the AL has become a glorified nursing home, where the old and the infirm go to prolong their once-proud careers.

Thome, for example, used to be a full-time ballplayer, starting out at the hot corner before becoming an average first baseman for the Cleveland Indians. Back problems then took away his ability to play the field, which in any other sport would have meant the end of his playing days. But not baseball. Forget about that whole defense thing, they say in the AL. You can just play the part of the game where you don’t get sore — the hitting part.

Giambi, too, had back problems, along with a severe illness that threatened his career in 2004. But no baseball career is ever really threatened unless one’s batting stance is compromised.

Similar injury problems have forced Hafner from the field to the eternal on-deck circle. His elbow limits his throwing, but not his swing, so congratulations, Haf, you’re now half a ballplayer.

And Ortiz? No real injury problems here — he just stinks at defense. So even in the prime of his career, he’s allowed to ignore his shortcomings and focus solely on his strength.

Just for good measure, look at the A’s Frank Thomas. With bad knees and various other ailments, the Big Hurt has become the Big Hurting, forcing him from the field. Well, except for that every-other-inning trip to the plate, where he’s smacked 19 home runs in the first half of the season, extending what should be a completed career.

Some big men are having some very big seasons as we reach the midpoint of the season. Too bad they’re not playing baseball.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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