The designated hitter is unnatural. That is both fact and opinion. To many American League fans, the DH is as much a part of the game as specialized relief or pitch counts. What can’t be disputed is that it’s presence causes odd quirks in the game.
For example, should AL teams issue caps to their full-time designated hitters? Since they never play the field, they should only need a batting helmet. Distributing caps to DHs would be an unnecessary use of the teams resources. I am being a tad bit silly here, as nowadays most AL teams don’t have one full-time DH, instead opting to use it to rest players by giving them a “half day off”, or to play partially injured players. For the remaining full-time designated hitters (Travis Hafner comes to mind), I have often wondered what they do with their cap. I suppose it can be worn in the dugout in between at-bats.
Another subtle but significant quirk brought on by the DH rule has to do with mound opponents. So much of what makes a great ballgame on paper is the pitching matchup. It’s what Las Vegas uses to determine the betting line. It’s what fantasy baseball owners use to determine their lineups for the day. Think of the old baseball clichĂ©: “momentum is only as good as your next day’s starting pitcher”. It’s a pretty significant part of getting the fans not only to the ballpark, but to watch the games on television. “We’ve got a good one tomorrow night. Tune in for Verlander versus King Felix!” As a National League fan with no rooting interest in a Mariners-Tigers game, I would be extremely excited to watch those two aces square off.
“Tune in for Verlander versus King Felix!”. Well, not exactly. It’s more like Verlander versus the Mariners while King Felix battles the Tigers. And two extra guys who won’t be playing any position on the field. But Felix Hernandez and Justin Verlander, who may sit side by side in Cooperstown someday, will never directly compete with each other on the field. When asked to rate their counterparts, American League pitchers have a worse perspective than the guy with season tickets behind home plate. Think about that. . Think of all the pitchers in the AL from the start of the DH rule (1973) until the start of interleague play (1997), who never experienced what it was like to see their peers pitch from closer than the dugout. Ron Guidry, Dennis Martinez, Roger Clemens (Boston), Nolan Ryan (California & Texas), Bret Saberhagen, Jack Morris, Dave Stewart, and dozens of other elite pitchers could not effectively rate even their own place in history because they never stood 60 feet 6 inches away from their peers and attempted to hit, bunt, or at the very least, gain additional knowledge of what that day’s umpire was calling a ball or a strike.
To fairly respect the mound opponent, one must stand in the batters box, dig in his spikes and be able to say, “He’s got his good stuff today. I’d better not give up too many runs or I’m gonna lose.” Until this 40 year old gimmick is phased out, American League pitchers will have to rely on the testimony of their teammates and highlights on television to guesstimate where they rank amongst their contemporaries.