Thursday, October 28, 2010

The DH Inequity

      By Ross Newhan

      It is a useless spiel that I have made dozens of times, but watching Game 1 of the World Series drove me back to the computer to voice it again:

      For a major sport to allow it's two leagues to play under different rules is madness.

     By now, of course, you know I am referring to the designated hitter rule and the fact that it is used fulltime in the American League but not at all in the National League.

     So, in the World Series, on the game's biggest stage, the American League team must take the DH out of the lineup when in the National League park and possibly play him or another player at a position basically new or foreign to them.

    The American League champion Texas Rangers, playing the first two games in the home park of the San Francisco Giants, knew that putting their DH in right field could lead to problems.

    It isn't so much that Vladimir Guerrero is 34. it's that both knees are worn down from playing the equivalent of eight years on the concrete carpet of Olympic Stadium in Montreal (along with other knee injuries). I mean, it is painful to watch a player who was once one of baseball's premier outfielders try to run and to play a position he had played only once in the last eight weeks.

    For the Rangers, however, It was either risk defensive lapses with Guerrero in the outfield or lose his potent bat.

    The Rangers chose to take the risk and paid a price.

   Guerrero made two errors on balls that got past him. Also, in one of the most difficult parks in the majors for right fielders and center fielders, Texas center fielder Josh Hamilton was forced to shade toward right to give Guerrero protection, opening up a wider gap in left center field. The Giants got six doubles--three by Freddie Sanchez. Not all were driven through the wider gap in left center. Some were down the left and right field lines.

     Nevertheless, it remains a bizarre and inexcusable situation to play under two sets of rules during both the regular season and World Series, where the American League team has to pay a bigger price.

     The AL team can either put the DH and his bat on the bench while playing a better defensive player in the field, or, as the Rangers did and will apparently continue to do, risk defensive lapses by keeping the DH in the lineup at a position he no longer plays well.

    In the meantime, the NL team, playing in the Amrican League park, has a distinct advantage.

    It simply has to bring one of  its better hitting reserves off the bench and give him four or five at bats as the DH, benching the pitcher.

    The NL team doesn't sacrifice anything defensively.

    The Rangers not only had to put the limited Guerrero in the field, but they had to move Nelson Cruz from right field to left and they had to bench one of their usual third outfielders: Jeff Francouer, David Murphy or Julio Borbon.while also batting a pitcher who probably hasn't batted all season.

    Why has this been tolerated since the DH was introduced in 1973 to stimulate offense?

    Why do the two leagues have separate rules?

    The answer at this point is that it's simply too late to change what had been a one league experiment that turned permanent.

    Now, the players union will argue strongly against dropping the DH because he is generally one of the team's highest salaried players, raising overall salaries.

    And National League owners don't want any part of the DH for that very same financial reason and they will argue that the more tactical NL game, featuring double switches and pinch hitting for the pitcher, is a better game.

    All of that would not prevent the commissioner from ordering the same set of rules in both World Series parks.

    That, too, is not going to happen, so enjoy Vladimir Guerrero in right field.  


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