The Grand Compromise

added 2/14/2013 by Bob Hulsey

Let me start by saying that I still stand opposed to the Designated Hitter rule and consider it a blight on the sport that is propped up by the union and certain folks who believe there is never enough scoring in the three hours of a typical major league game.

There are voices who say it is only a matter of time, now that there is season-long interleague play, that the National League will have to capitulate and adopt the American League rules and have a full-time DH. I tend to believe them as long as the MLBPA tries to run the sport. There are, however, some NL owners who refuse to accept a designated hitter even as it is forced down their throats gradually.

My first proposal to equalize the leagues would be offer a five-year transition that phases out the DH in return for expanding the regular season rosters to 27 players per team. Which is more important to the union - adding 60 more dues-paying members or protecting 15 highly-paid (Carlos Pena, at $2.9 million, might disagree) members? My guess is they would choose the 15 members but the offer might tempt them enough to allow common sense to prevail.

Assuming they turn down this offer (if the owners would even extend it), I have a second proposal that might be acceptable to both leagues. I am not claiming it as my own idea - it has been circulated elsewhere - but it might provide a middle ground for both sides.

I get the fact that some fans don't like pitchers coming to the plate. They aren't professional hitters and they often carry a batting average between .100 and .150 - numbers that would not stand up were the pitchers known only for their hitting.

But the presence of a weak link in the lineup, particularly late in games, adds a great deal of strategy that is lost when the pitcher is replaced by the DH. Managers and fans debate whether to keep the pitcher in, send up a pinch-hitter or double-switch to extend additional time for the pitcher before his place in the batting order occurs. It makes the sport more cerebral and less a spectacle of nine sluggers versus nine sluggers.

The second compromise would be to tie the presence of the designated hitter to the starting pitcher. As long as the pitcher stays in the game, so does the DH but if the starting pitcher is pulled for any reason, the DH has to leave the lineup also to be replaced by the relief pitcher that comes in to replace the starting pitcher.

In a sense, the normal game would then begin as an American League game and end as a National League game, preserving the strategy of both games.

For those who worry about the pitchers batting, you shouldn't. In a typical National League game, the late innings are filled with pinch-hitters and double-switches so the relievers rarely hit. You would get to see the managerial chess match at the game's most critical juncture.

This rule also puts a premium on starting pitchers going deeper into games because the longer he stays in, the longer the DH can stay in. It also changes the strategy so managers may not want to have their best hitter in the DH spot in case the starting pitcher makes an early exit due to injury or ineffectiveness.

And should Tony LaRussa make a comeback, the rule can be modified so a DH can be used to hide a weak-hitting shortstop or catcher if the starting pitcher is actually a better hitter but don't expect that loophole to find very much use. Maybe if you had both Mike Hampton and Adam Everett on your roster, you could try it but I don't see it being very popular. Still, if the next Babe Ruth showed up as a pitcher, why would we want to keep his bat out of the lineup?

I'd still like to see the DH held someday with the same scorn as steroid users but history seems to be against that. If the DH must be lived with, this compromise would at least be tolerable if not a little fun.

Also, the two managers could agree beforehand that neither team will use a DH that day and can have the extra bat on the bench as a pinch-hitter if they so choose. This would be another loophole I don't think would be used often but maybe on one of those throwback uniform days in the baggy pants they could add to the realism by dropping the DH for a day.

Traditionalists would still complain, just as they did with domed stadiums and artificial turf. The limited DH would still be an affront to the "way it should be played". But if folks have a problem with starting pitchers bunting, perhaps this is the best compromise.

Changing this rule allows for fuller participation of the entire roster. It increases the value of the versatile "utility" player that can be used at a number of positions even if he isn't quite the talent to be a full-time regular. It also devalues the DH position so he becomes, appropriately in my mind, of less value than the player who must take a position and perform in the field. The Edgar Martinezes of the world can still hit but they'll get fewer plate appearances than a regular who plays a position.

Should this spread throughout the baseball landscape the way the DH did, there should be more players utilized during a game which ought to be the goal of youth leagues where parents come to see their child participate, not sit on the bench all night.

While this sort of compromise is not ideal, I like it more than the American League rules that are likely to be shoved down the throats of the National League owners (and their fans) if some better alternative is not presented. What began as a gimmick is now threatening to make the natural game of baseball extinct and this compromise would give fans the ability to appreciate the best parts of it for a long time to come.

For the Astros, it won't matter until they find nine actual hitters but I'm thinking out into the distant future, just as the Astros are claiming to be.