Another Year, Another Arguement

By Bob Ford
Updated: October 20, 2008

PHILADELPHIA — Imagine if two teams advanced to the Super Bowl in the NFL and, upon getting there, one of the teams discovered that half of the game would be played with 12 men on the field for each team, and the other discovered that for half of the game, there would be five downs to get a first down.

And each team also discovered that the other team had been playing that way all season long.

Well, that sort of thing can’t happen in football. Only baseball, under the slumbering stewardship of commissioner Bud Selig, would be dumb enough to play by two sets of rules – with those very different games colliding each fall in the World Series.

Bud has only had 16 years in office to solve the problem of the designated hitter rule, so maybe he’ll get around to it eventually.

One of many fashion mistakes of the 1970s, the designated hitter was put in place by the American League because its team owners believed in creating false offense more than they believed in the intrinsic beauty of the game.

The National League came close to joining the American League, but fortunately never did. As a result, because pitchers still must bat for themselves, the strategy that makes managing such a difficult profession in the NL is still alive. And the wonderfully unexpected, as when Brett Myers had three hits in Game 2 of the championship series against Los Angeles, is still possible.

American League managers don’t have to worry about when to pinch-hit for the pitcher, don’t have to sort through the possible double switches that will save their bench players, and really don’t have to do much but write a lineup and then push the buttons.

It’s an inferior game, and the Phillies will be playing it in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series this week and, possibly, in Games 6 and 7 as well. The American League holds the home-field advantage for this year’s Series, thanks to a 15-inning, 4-3 win in the All-Star Game in July, the only loss suffered by Brad Lidge this season.

At any point in his tenure, citing the “best interests” of the game, the commissioner could have said, “All right, three seasons from now, the DH is done.” And it would have been. That would have given teams plenty of time to plan for the change, and it would have made baseball a better sport.

It’s a toss-up whether the NL teams having to play with a designated hitter are at a greater disadvantage than AL teams that suddenly can’t use one – which will be the case in the Phillies’ home games at Citizens Bank Park. Either way, it’s just a silly situation.

Manager Charlie Manuel hasn’t said who will be his designated hitter or hitters for the Series. Against righthanded pitchers, it would be a reasonable guess that he would use Greg Dobbs, although he could play Dobbs at third base to have a very stacked lineup of lefthanded hitters and use Geoff Jenkins as the DH.

Against lefthanded pitchers, the options aren’t as plentiful. Manuel could put Eric Bruntlett in left field and use Pat Burrell as the DH. He could ignore the left-right logic and use a lefty as the extra hitter, regardless.

In the six interleague games they played on the road this season, all in a bunch at the end of June, the Phillies used Dobbs, Jenkins and Ryan Howard in the designated hitter role. They were a combined 2 for 24. Manuel has said Howard will stay at first base in the Series.

So, who knows? All we know for sure is that it will be different and playing by different rules at this important juncture doesn’t seem fair to either team.

At least real baseball is still alive in the National League, and for that, we can thank former Phillies owner Ruly Carpenter, who was fishing on the Atlantic Ocean one day in 1977 when the DH came up for a vote among the NL teams. (The American League had begun playing with a designated hitter in 1973.)

Carpenter instructed then-executive vice president Bill Giles, who would be representing the Phillies at the meeting, to vote in favor of adding the designated hitter in the National League. The Phillies had two very good hitters in the organization, Greg Luzinkski and minor-leaguer Keith Moreland, neither one of whom could catch a cold.

“But when I got to the meeting, I was informed that even if it passed, the DH would not become effective until the [following] season because the players’ union had to approve it,” Giles said, in the book Change Up: An Oral History of 8 Key Events That Shaped Baseball.

“The National League needed seven votes [out of 12] to pass the DH. There were six teams in favor and four against when the vote came around to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh,” Giles said.

“Harding Peterson, general manager of Pittsburgh, was told by owner John Galbraith to vote the same way as the Phillies because the teams were big rivals at the time. I tried to reach Ruly by phone but was told that he was out on the ocean fishing.”

Not sure if the year’s delay would affect Carpenter’s opinion, Giles abstained, which counted as a no vote, and so did the Pirates. The addition of the DH was defeated by a single vote. It was never brought up for vote again. Good thing it didn’t rain that day, ruining Carpenter’s fishing trip and the National League at the same time.

Now, if we could just find a way to stop the DH from messing with the World Series.