x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Time for NL to step to plate with designated hitter rule

Enough is enough – the National League should just adopt the designated hitter rule already.

Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager, has to rearrange his regular line-up to get David Ortiz, above, to play in NL parks.
Terry Francona, the Red Sox manager, has to rearrange his regular line-up to get David Ortiz, above, to play in NL parks.

The designated hitter (DH) rule, first introduced in 1973, allows teams to designate a hitter to bat in the stead of weak-hitting pitchers. Nearly 40 years later, it remains controversial, and never more so than in the early summer.

The National League (NL) still does not use the DH, and that creates problems every June and July when American League (AL) clubs face the NL in inter-league play.

Under the current set-up, AL teams must play by NL rules when games are played in NL ballparks. That means AL teams, who build their line-ups around a DH for 153 games each season, suddenly must field an inferior line-up.

"It's not fair," said Terry Francona, the Boston Red Sox manager, of the arrangement.

In Francona's case, he was faced with a no-win situation. As the Red Sox found themselves in the midst of nine road games against NL opponents, he could either sit DH David Ortiz - the team's top home-run hitter - or have him play first while shifting first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to the outfield.

Neither option is without its problems. The Red Sox must either field a reduced line-up or risk injuring one of their best players at an unfamiliar position.

Francona is not alone in his protest. A number of AL teams annually voice their displeasure.

In essence, NL teams have a built-in advantage under the current set-up. When games are played in their home ballparks, they field the same line-ups they always do - eight position players and a pitcher. When games are played in AL ballparks, they merely upgrade from a pitcher hitting to another position player to bat.

"I'm not sure what can be done about it," one AL executive said of the current set-up, "because I know there are still National League owners who will never, ever [vote] to have the DH in their league.

"They're holdouts and they're not about to give in. But it's ridiculous the way it is now."

The solution seems rather obvious, and there is already precedent. Major League Basesball has changed the rules to allow for the DH in the annual All-Star Game, played by the best players in each league, even when the game is played in a NL ballpark. Remarkably, the sport did not crumble.

And, for those suggesting that the All-Star Game is an exhibition and the outcome unimportant, remember that the league which wins that game earns home-field advantage for the World Series.

Surely, the adaptation of the DH for nine home games is not going to hurt the NL.

If need be, when NL teams play one another, they can go back to their tradition-bound practice of allowing the pitchers to hit.

But when the leagues face-off, it is time to end the practice of "separate but unequal", which favours one league over the other.

sports@thenational.ae

The week in the MLB

Players of the week

• Shane Victorino, Phillies.
The “Flyin’ Hawaiian”, below, is igniting the top of the batting order. He scored a run per game last week with 10 hits, half of them for extra-bases.
• Michael Cuddyer, Twins. In the midst of a 12-game hitting streak, the outfielder hit a blistering .419 and added six doubles in that span.

Teams of the week
• Washington Nationals. The upstart Nats went 6-1 last week in inter-league play to climb to 39-37 and move into third place in the NL East. Who knew that such a hot streak would also include the resignation of their manager?
• Minnesota Twins. The Twins’ long road back to contention continued with an eight-game winning streak, but they still have a lot of ground to make up in the AL Central.

Dud of the Week
• Josh Hamilton, Rangers. Hamilton claimed that the reason for his poor daytime batting average (.122 day, .374 at night) is his blue eyes, which makes seeing in the bright sunlight difficult. Really?

Series of the Week
• Red Sox at Phillies, Tuesday-Thursday. At the start of the season, these two teams were heavy favourites to reach the World Series. After some stumbling, both are back on track. Could this be a preview of the Fall Classic?
• Indians at Diamondbacks, tomorrow-Wednesday. Anyone who said they knew, back when the season began, that both Cleveland and Arizona would be in first place in their divisions in the final week of June is not being honest.