Anna Hiatt argues for the DH to expand to the NL. We all know the parameters of this argument by now and have engaged in it many times, so allow me to offer up my opinion on the matter in a way that attempts to eschew the religious war vibe of this time-worn debate.
I am an NL partisan. I have been since I started following the Braves in the mid-1980s. I’m not a fanatic about it, and it matters far less now than it did back before interleague play, realignment and new ballpark construction blurred the distinctions between the leagues, but I still remain an NL guy. And part of that is, yes, I like pitchers batting.
I like pitchers hitting for the same reasons I like medium-rare steaks, pale-skinned brunettes, Batman, bourbon and a lot of regrettable 1980s synth pop: personal taste. These things just strike me the right way and make me feel just so. It’s not an objective thing. Many people are vegetarians, many gentlemen prefer blondes, like Superman, hate hard liquor and would rather die than be subjected to Human League’s “Don’t you want me.” They have their tastes and I have mine, and there is nothing more obnoxious than someone telling you that your subjective tastes are somehow, objectively, wrong, so I live and let live when this kind of stuff comes up and I hope they feel the same way.
With that in mind, it’s worth noting that, though I prefer pitchers batting, I don’t believe the National League’s rules in this regard are objectively better. Indeed, when I take my personal preferences out of the equation and look at the matter rationally, I cannot escape the logic of the DH in today’s game and the futility of pitchers batting.
The game is not played by all-around ballplayers anymore. Pitchers are just dreadful at hitting and, increasingly, are unable to even bunt particularly well. The strategy and gamesmanship my NL friends like to talk up is rather contrived when one thinks about it. Really, these machinations are more about the avoidance of pitchers batting than taking advantage of it. The whole dance in which managers spend so much energy to optimize minor matchups, often costing them their best pitchers and best hitters runs counter to the idea of my best nine playing your best nine and let’s see who wins.
And it’s not like this will get better. If anything, it will only get worse. In the absence of any expectation for pitchers to hit before reaching the NL combined with the absence of any financial pressures that might make adding a specialist to the roster problematic, there is nothing that will incentivize teams to make their pitchers better hitters. It makes no real sense to have pitchers batting now. We certainly wouldn’t set it up that way if we were starting from scratch today.
I think baseball will, eventually, expand the DH to the National League. It probably won’t be because one side of the great DH debate concedes defeat and the change is made for the greater good of the sport itself. Actually, I figure it will come as a result of some collective bargaining thing, in which the players give up something to the owners in exchange for 15 more high-paying roster spots. But it will happen. Probably within the next decade on the outside.
And when it happens I will be a little sad. But ultimately I must conclude that pitchers hitting is a lot like player-managers, automats, ornate bank lobbies, milkmen, drive-ins and any other number of 19th/20th century things which tickled my fancy. They were cool. I kinda miss them. But they are an artifact of history and today there is no logical reason to have them, even if it seemed natural and logical to have them once upon a time.