Reporting Dave Wischnowsky
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By Dave Wischnowsky–
CHICAGO (CBS) On Tuesday night, Adam Dunn went 0-for-4 (with two strikeouts). On Monday night, he went 0-for-4 (with three strikeouts). And on Sunday afternoon, he was 0-for-3 (with two more strikeouts).
Although, I’ll cut him some slack on that last one. At least against the Arizona Diamondbacks, the White Sox’s would-be slugger played in the outfield.
And didn’t just DH.
Twenty-three years ago, Crash Davis was dead-on about baseball’s position-less position when Kevin Costner’s character in the 1988 classic “Bull Durham” famously declared that there should be a Constitutional Amendment outlawing the designated hitter.
Considering that Dunn is hitting a buck-seventy-five after signing a four-year, $56 million deal with the Sox, the career National Leaguer just might agree with Crash today. In fact, back in April, Dunn practically did when he told Sports Illustrated, “Let’s be honest. Being a DH these days – it’s like having one foot out the door. You’re one step from the retirement home.”
Judging by his performance in 2011 thus far, Dunn might be a step – or three – closer to Shady Acres than he originally anticipated. And if he is, I’d personally like to pack the DH position into the mothballs right alongside him.
It’s played out.
As a lifelong “National League” guy, I’ve always found the DH to be an abomination against baseball. During the 1960s, my dad pitched in San Francisco Giants farm system and gladly took his cuts at the plate. In fact, he believed strongly enough in pitchers also hitting that years later during his career managing youth baseball teams, he consciously avoided using a DH in games.
In my mind, baseball is meant to be 9 vs. 9, with every player capable of taking swings and fielding his position. Just like it was originally designed.
Not everyone agrees, however. And as realignment rumors swirl around Major League Baseball (I also say “nay” to 15-team, division-less leagues), some are even taking this time as an opportunity to attempt to force the DH upon the National League.
Earlier this week, for example, Barry Bloom, a columnist at MLB.com, wrote this about the issue of having a DH in one league and not the other:
“At the risk of alienating the traditionalists, there’s an easy fix to all of this: Institute the DH in both leagues. Despite the arguments for using one rule over the other, there is one argument that’s irrefutable. Only two professional leagues in the world currently demand that the pitcher hit – the NL in North America and Japan’s Central League. Like the AL, the Pacific League in Japan went to the DH nearly 40 years ago.”
Now, I really couldn’t care less what baseball rules they use in Japan – it’s our national pastime, after all – so I’m not buying into that. Nor am I swayed by Bloom’s other argument that the DH is good because it allows aging veterans a chance to play the game longer.
Why not use designated runners too, then?
When asked about the possibility of using the DH in the NL, Cubs manager Mike Quade said: “I’m an NL guy, so it makes me think that it will never happen. I’m not a DH guy whatsoever. It’s nice on those rare occasions. It’s also more relaxing to manage a game when all you have to worry about is your pitching. The NL is so challenging that I like it a lot.”
And so do I. To me, National League baseball – with managers required to strategize much more than their AL counterparts – is what the sport is meant to be. It’s more cerebral and, I think, more interesting.
Besides that, fact is the DH is overrated anyway. Consider this: Last season, the AL’s average production for the DH was a very pedestrian .252 average with a .436 slugging percentage and 22 homers. During interleague play, not even one NL team had its DH position perform up to the AL average.
I’d rather watch Carlos Zambrano take his hacks.
And, if you listen to current DHs, they sound as if they’d agree.
In April’s Sports Illustrated story about the decline of the DH, Albert Chen wrote, “Here’s the truth about the DH: Today’s ballplayers hate the gig. ‘I hear all the time about how much guys can’t stand it,’ says Mariners DH Jack Cust. ‘It’s not that DHs don’t make what they used to. It’s harder than people think it is. Guys would rather have the day off than have to do it.’”
Chen added, “It may seem like a dream job. And maybe in another era it was. You stepped up to the plate, took your best cuts against the opposing pitcher and retreated to the clubhouse, where you kicked back until your next turn. You were probably one of your team’s highest-profile players and certainly one of the most richly compensated. Once upon a time in the American League, when middle-of-the-order mashers with forearms the size of fire hydrants were the kings of the game, being a designated hitter was glamorous. But now? It may be the Worst Job in Baseball.”
I think it’s also the Worst Position in Baseball. And I’d prefer to see the DH go away completely. I know that’s not likely to happen.
But there’s no good argument for bringing it to the NL, too.
Adam Dunn would probably tell you the same thing.
Do you agree with Dave? Post your comments below.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.