I often take jabs at the DH as the most evil thing in the universe. And, yes, in some very, very small corner of my brain, part of my id believes that. But I don’t really endorse that view, and when I say such things I hope people realize that I’m joking around.
Yes, I prefer NL baseball and pitchers batting, but I also realize that it’s a personal preference, both on my part and on the part of fans of the DH, and there are few wastes of time in life greater than trying to get someone to change their subjective opinion about things.
Over the last few days, however, both in the comments around here and on Twitter, I have run sideways into to a couple of DH arguments in which people truly seem to be trying to convince the other side that to prefer what they prefer is to engage in folly. “Your opinion is flawed,” an AL adherent tells an NL fan in what appears to be total seriousness. “No, you are actually mistaken as to the facts of the matter,” the NL fan replies, seeming as though there are true stakes riding on him changing the belief of the person with whom he is arguing.
Doesn’t this annoy you? It annoys the hell out of me. Because given that there tactical and performance tradeoffs for either choice, and given that there is a huge overlay of aesthetic judgments and personal history with the game itself which form any one fan’s view of the matter, to be a DH person or a non-DH person is the closest thing baseball has to religious faith. Sure, we can dress our preferences up with as many seemingly rational, quantitative arguments as we can muster, but in the end, we’re asking someone to change their mind about something they believe in, not something they’ve rationally and dispassionately concluded is optimal.
We don’t stand for this in any other area of our lives. Example: I’m a big Bob Dylan fan. My college roommate spent a year trying to convince me that I should not like Bob Dylan because his voice was not true and clear in tone. Guess what? I know Bob Dylan’s voice is not true and clear in tone. Indeed, that’s one of the reasons I like Bob Dylan. His music speaks to me despite of and often because of the nature of his voice, however ragged it has grown. You’re not going to convince me that I shouldn’t like Bob Dylan any more than you’re going to be able to convince me that I don’t like mint chocolate chip ice cream. We’re outside the realm of objective judgments here.
So to is it with the DH. AL fans will tell me, as if I wasn’t perfectly aware of the fact, that pitchers simply aren’t good hitters. Thanks, professor! I had no idea! Is it not possible that I don’t care? And that between the gamesmanship that comes with a team working around the fact that their pitchers can’t hit and the occasional thrill one gets when, dammit, the pitcher does hit, that I am cool with all of that and just prefer it, even if you don’t believe that any of it is worth the effort?
Likewise, NL fans will tell AL fans that DH games take away some element of strategy or managerial tactics or what have you. Again, I’m pretty sure the AL fans are both aware of and fine with that. Indeed, given how much time we all spend complaining about what our team’s manager does, they probably wonder how an NL guy could even suggest that more tactical and substitution decisions be put into Joe Girardi’s or Manny Acta’s hands. Let the players play, they say, and let people who can actually hit the ball hit. And they are right to say so, because it is what they want to see.
But let us not confuse our preferences for essential truths. Or, more to the point, let us not pretend that any bit of truth our position holds, be it managerial strategy or better hitters in the lineup, changes the underlying values a baseball fan with a different opinion holds.
And while we’re at it, how about we all come to an agreement on something: that we all stop trying to convince other people that what they believe and what they prefer is somehow invalid and inferior. That while we can make our occasional knowing jokes about the superiority of one form of baseball over another, that we never truly take such arguments seriously, for they are inherently offensive to personal aesthetic choice. That, to put it simply, we live and let live on this matter, just like most of us would live and let live on any other matter that entails such subjectivity. It seems like common decency to me.
Besides: there are true issues of right and wrong that are far more worth our time and mental energy. For example: the inherent superiority of pie over cake, which only fools would dare contradict lest they show the world just how ignorant and deluded they truly are.