CHICAGO (CBS) — A routine pop-up sparked one of baseball’s oldest debates. An awkward foot plant by Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright ended his season with a torn Achillies and started the natural discussion. Baseball fans and personnel alike are asking the same questions.
Why was a pitcher forced to hit? When will the designated hitter enter National League lineups?
“I like the way this game sits,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “I hope they don’t change it.”
Surely, the Cubs’ first-year skipper isn’t alone. Maddon came over from Tampa Bay after managing 11 seasons in the American League, and his first lineup in the National League featured pitcher Jon Lester batting eighth.
To state it simply, Maddon enjoys the strategy involved with a pitcher batting. David Ross, the 14-year veteran catcher who has played all but two years with Boston in the National League, is in agreement with his manager.
“I like the strategy of the National League,” Ross said. “I came up in the National League, I’ve been in the National League most of my career. I like this style of baseball. But, I won a World Series in the American League, so I understand the appreciation for a great DH in a guy like David Ortiz. I love the game of baseball either way, but I like that there are two different styles and they do collide.”
With Wainwright’s gruesome Achillies injury, the discussion has returned. The Nationals’ Max Scherzer, who came over to Washington from the American League, jammed his right thumb during an at-bat last Thursday and will miss his next start. Prior to that ruling, the ace spoke openly in favor of a designated hitter in the National League.
Gripping a bat during his interview, Jake Arrieta downplayed the potential of pitchers getting hurt at the plate.
“Are pitchers at risk of injury? Everybody is at risk of injury,” Arrieta said. “Here, we hit every day. It’s not like we’re going to go up there and be 3-for-3 and put up great stats on the offensive side of it, but we put the time into it. Injuries happen.”
The debate has two simple sides. Maddon, Ross and many others enjoy the chess match that goes with a pitcher stepping up to the plate. Arrieta enjoys the appreciation he gains for pitching and hitting when he bats. But N.L. pitchers hit an average of .125 in 2014, an all-time low. Is it really more enjoyable to watch a pitcher swing away or lay down a situational sacrifice bunt, rather than a slugging designated hitter swinging for the fences?
New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred is viewed as a progressive leader for a new-age game, different from the traditional ways of his predecessor, Bud Selig. An important part of his job is to increase offense — and, as a result, interest — in baseball.
Realistically, a DH hitting in the Senior Circuit could come as soon as the current collective bargaining agreement expires after the 2016 season.
From the Cubs’ perspective, perhaps the most important figure in this potential change is President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, who declined to offer his opinion.
“I’ll save my comments for the league meetings,” said Epstein. “I always let them know what I think every year. It always comes up. We’ll see if something happens at some point.”
Should the DH be implemented in the National League, the Cubs may plug in Daniel Vogelbach, the slugging first baseman hitting .391 and slugging .913 with Double-A Tennessee, or maybe this could be the answer to the debates on Starlin Castro and Javier Baez.
Those are all hypotheticals for later on, though it’s certainly something Epstein must have in mind. A change from MLB could come soon.
“I think it should be uniform in whatever they decide to do,” said Arrieta. “I think that would eliminate some of the argument — it would be more even across the league.”
Arguing continues on for now, and the long debate will increase. Yet, after Wainwright’s injury, the discussion isn’t going away.
Follow Chris on Twitter @CEmma670.