In Part I of the State of the Game feature, I showed my disdain for the expanded playoff format which was introduced last year. Today, in the second installment, it’s time to look at enhanced interleague play, and the ever increasing problem with the use, and non-use, of the Designated Hitter.
Everyone knows by now that the Houston Astros are part of the American League. On a side note, was anyone else disappointed the Astros didn’t move from the NL Central to the AL Central? It would have been fun playing them 18 times per year, right?
Bad jokes aside, the move to the West made sense. It gives the Astros, a team stuck in a chronic rebuilding mode, a chance at multiple series per year against their in-state rival Texas Rangers, and it evens up the leagues at 15-15. While the good folks in Houston can debate whether or not the move is good for their franchise, baseball fans will have to get used to having interleague play every single day of the regular season (barring off-days), whether they like it or not.
Interleague play was met with excitement and interest at first, but eventually some of the luster was lost. It is especially tiresome for fans without a natural rival from the other league, like the Detroit Tigers. For many years, Comerica Park has seen the frequent likes of the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arizona Diamondbacks, and Colorado Rockies–teams that have no geographical, historical or emotional attachments. So for every White Sox-Cubs and Yankees-Mets, there is a Tigers-Pirates and Mariners-Padres.
Perhaps if baseball did not have to bend over backward to accommodate rivalries, interleague would be a little more tolerable. In the NFL, the Giants play the Jets once every four years. The same goes for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, and other rivalries that would be considered “natural.”
Baseball had the perfect opportunity to roll back the rivalry games when creating 15-team leagues. Instead, it decided to continue to promote certain rivalries. By doing this, the debates about the “fairness” of the schedule remain.
For instance, now that the Orioles and Nationals have both become contenders, those in Baltimore can whine about the Yankees being able to play the woeful Mets every year while they are stuck playing the up and coming Nationals.
Of course if MLB eased up on the interleague rivalry games, that would mean less Yankees-Mets games to televise. In other words, a non-starter for ESPN and Fox who salivate like rabid dogs at the words “New York, New York.”
The next problem that will need to be answered with the daily interleague game is what to do with the designated hitter.
The DH is baseball’s version of higher taxes for the wealthy. Either a rich person is “unfairly overtaxed” or “not paying their fair share.” In baseball the DH is either, “the best thing ever” or “an abomination to the sport.” On each of these issues, the middle ground is as poisonous as having the other position.
In years past, when interleague play was nestled together in May or June, AL teams were able to prepare their pitchers for upcoming plate appearances by giving them batting practice–something that is usually not done. AL pitchers will now need to be in hitting shape practically all season, and the fear is they may get hurt doing so.
I am not sure I buy that last argument. Most pitchers today are tremendous athletes and won’t get injured by simply taking batting practice and striking out two to three times per game. Talking as a Tigers’ fan, however, and knowing how they often wait until the final weeks of the season to wrap up a playoff berth, how nerve wracking is the lack of the DH going to be when Detroit faces the Marlins in Miami in the last series of the season? After all, the Tigers have not done very well without the DH the last couple of seasons (both regular season and World Series).
So here is my controversial suggesting for the DH–every team chooses. I don’t mean to say that the home team gets to say “pitchers hit,” like is the system now in National League parks, I mean each team decides if they want the pitcher to hit or a DH to hit for him.
It’s simple, really, put it in the hands of the manager. Jim Leyland, Sparky Anderson, Tony LaRussa, and others have all expressed their preference for the “National League-style.” So if they want to play that way so bad, then let them. American League or National League, it doesn’t matter, pitcher or designated hitter–manager’s choice!
Of course this will probably lead to every manager implemented the DH, crying unfair matchups, but so be it–a team should have that option.
Of course, this idea could backfire when Jim Leyland drops the DH from his lineup.
So what do you all think of my DH idea? Innovating or preposterous? Are you a fan of interleague play? Does it need further fine tuning?
Join us Friday as we tackle the third part of The State of the Game and discuss PEDs, the rise of another evil empire–the Dodgers Regional Television Network, and instant replay.