The Designated Hitter: a regrettable inevitability

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I’m a National League guy and I’ve never been a big fan of the DH. It’s not a superiority thing or an elitist thing — I know that pitchers can’t bat — it’s just a familiarity thing in my case. I’ve watched tons more NL ball than AL ball in my lifetime, I just like it better, and you have as much a chance at talking me out of that position than you do talking the Pope out of Catholicism.

The Philadelphia Daily News’ Bill Conlin hates the DH too — he hates just about everything — but unlike me, he’s ready to surrender:

The American League went from All-Star Game whipping boy and an entity
lacking the NL’s diversity and overall pizzazz to where it is today:
dominant for the simple reason that nine hitters in a lineup are better
than eight.

And where the disparity really kills the National League in the World
Series and in the equally lamentable interleague play is in the No. 9
spot. With their DHs typically power bats of the Matsui, David Ortiz,
Vlad Guerrero stripe, most teams configure their lineups to put speed
and contact at No. 9. A second leadoff hitter, if you will . . .

. . . Once again, I call for the National League to restore the measure of
competitive balance the DH rule has drained from the game since 1973.
It’s not because I like it – although the National League sometimes
reminds me of an auto industry where the automatic transmission was
never invented.

I can’t argue with the underlying logic, and that’s saying something here because I can argue with just about everything Bill Conlin says. But he’s right: it’s not aesthetically pleasing to watch fat, old players who can’t play defense anymore, but there’s no escaping the fact that they’re more effective in the batter’s box than a pitcher.  And while there are other things in play leading to the AL’s competitive advantages — having two teams in the Yankees and Red Sox driving higher payrolls being chief among them — the DH has contributed to that as well.  George Will probably said it best in his book Men at Work:

“The best case for the DH is this: It represents that rarest of
things, the triumph of evidence over ideology. The anti-DH ideology is
that there should be no specialization in baseball, no division of
labor: Everyone should play “the whole game.” That theory is
obliterated by this fact: Specialization is a fact with or without the
DH. Most pitchers only go through the motions at bat.”

I’m almost always going to go with evidence over ideology, but in this case I’ll make an exception.  Personally I hope the NL holds out. Not everything has to be about offense and vive la difference, don’t you know.

But I understand if they cave one day. It may be better for Major League Baseball in the long run, even if it doesn’t make for better baseball form an aesthetic point of view.

Report: Rays nearing a deal with Shawn Tolleson

ST. LOUIS, MO - JUNE 18: Reliever Shawn Tolleson #37 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the St. Louis Cardinals in the eighth inning at Busch Stadium on June 18, 2016 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that the Rays and free agent reliever Shawn Tolleson are close to finalizing a contract.

Tolleson, who turns 29 years old on Thursday, had an ugly 2016 season, finishing with a 7.68 ERA and a 29/10 K/BB ratio in 36 1/3 innings. He was one of the Rangers’ best relievers in the two seasons prior to that, however, which included saving 35 games in 2015.

It’s not known yet what kind of contract the two sides are negotiating. It could be a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training, a non-guaranteed major league contract, or a guaranteed major league contract.

President Obama pardons Willie McCovey

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 06:  San Francisco Giants legend Willie McCovey  waves to the crowd while seating between Jeff Kent (L) and Willie Mays during a ceremony honoring Buster Posey for winning the 2012 National League MVP before the Giants game against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park on April 6, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The big presidential pardon news today concerns the commutation of Chelsea Manning’s sentence. We’ll leave that aside. For our purposes, know that someone in the world of baseball was pardoned: Willie McCovey.

Yes, Hall of Famer Willie McCovey, who in 1995 pleaded guilty to income tax fraud related to the non-reporting of income received from memorabilia and autograph shows. Duke Snider pleaded guilty alongside McCovey. They were given two years probation and fines of $5,000. Snider died in 2011. McCovey still works with the San Francisco Giants as a senior advisor and goodwill ambassador.

President Obama’s release of McCovey’s pardon was pretty succinct. But it’s enough to scrub the record of one of the greatest sluggers of all time.