The designated hitter should be celebrated, not condemned, by baseball

The designated hitter should be celebrated, not condemned, by baseball
Seattle Mariners designated hitter Edgar Martinez hits a sacrifice fly against the Cleveland Indians in August 2002. (John Froschauer / Associated Press)

I've been carrying a secret since 1973. It's not the kind of thing you mention in the gym, at a poker party, or around the batting cage in a National League city.

I love the designated hitter.


There, Dr. Phil, I said it.

I want to thank Washington Nationals pitcher Max Scherzer for giving me the courage to come out of the on-deck circle.

Scherzer, who came over from the American League's Detroit Tigers this season, told CBS Sports this week what I've been afraid to say since the wind-down from Vietnam.

"Who would people rather see," Scherzer asked, "a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper?"

First, thank you, Max, for being a print subscriber.

Scherzer said he wouldn't mind seeing the designated hitter in the National League and was treated by some "purists" as if he had suggested the Vatican be converted to high-rise condominiums.

It is not macho to like the DH. I remember slightly slinking in my movie theater seat during "Bull Durham" when Kevin Costner, as Crash Davis, gave his famous soliloquy that included calling for a constitutional amendment banning the designated hitter.

I remember, covering the Dodgers in the mid-1990s, manager Tom Lasorda railing against the evils of the other league not allowing pitchers to hit.

Then I looked up Lasorda's batting average during his cup-of-instant-coffee career as a lefty pitcher: He was one-for-14.

The "senior circuit" National League has always loved to flaunt its superiority over the "junior circuit" American League.

But the AL got it right, in 1973, when it benched pitchers in favor of seasoned professionals.

The NL has steadfastly (and stubbornly) refused to play along. The NL snob squad insists the DH has desecrated a sacred game by removing late-inning managerial strategies such as "double switches" and sacrifice bunts.

They say a pitcher who throws high and tight needs to stand accountable for his actions at the plate.

And I'll trade all those debatable points to see Adam Wainwright pitch again this season. The St. Louis Cardinals ace, though, suffered an Achilles' tendon tear Saturday after stumbling out of the batter's box.


It was as unnecessary, and as much a crime, as the NBA losing LeBron James to a ping-pong injury.

There is only one pitcher in baseball history I would have ever paid to see at the plate: Babe Ruth.

Most pitchers act as if they couldn't care less about their No. 9 position in the batting order…so why should I care?

I grew up an AL fan and was thrilled in 1973 when the DH came to the American League, and the Angels, hoping it would produce run support for pitcher Nolan Ryan.

The Angels averaged less than two runs per start in Ryan's eight seasons in Anaheim.

He spent his first year, in 1972, having to bat for himself. It wasn't pretty: Ryan struck out 48 times in 96 at bats.

Unfortunately, the Angels couldn't find many hitters better than their pitchers until 1979, the season the DH won my heart.

That was the year Don Baylor, in the DH role, won the AL MVP after hitting 36 home runs and driving in 139.

The DH saved Baylor, who had a weak outfield throwing arm caused by an old football injury.

Pitchers at the plate, in my opinion, are a complete-game waste of time.

What about Don Drysdale, the fine hitting pitcher for the Dodgers?

Drysdale's career average, actually, was .186. He did have power, hitting 29 home runs in 14 years. I did a random review of other Hall of Fame pitchers as hitters and came to this general conclusion: They stink.

Sandy Koufax was an even more fabulous strikeout batter than he was a pitcher, whiffing 386 times in 776 at bats. Don Sutton, a 324-game winner on the mound, did not hit a single home run in 1,354 plate disappearances.

Ryan batted .110 and hit two home runs in 27 years, one of them off Don Sutton.

Bert Blyleven (.131 avg) had a great curve ball, but couldn't hit one.

Bruce Sutter, in 12 years, collected nine hits in 102 at bats. They were all singles.

Whitey Ford won 10 World Series games for the New York Yankees. At the World Series plate, he was four for 49 (.082).

Lefty Grove (.148), for those wondering, was a slightly better hitter than Lefty Gomez (.147).

So, thank you, designated hitter, for allowing the marvelous careers of Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, David Ortiz, Paul Molitor, Hal McRae and Chili Davis.

The DH has enhanced, not disgraced, baseball. It has extended the careers or our heroes and made the game more enjoyable for the average fan.

Thank you, American League, for not forcing me to watch Pedro Martinez (.099 avg., no homers in 434 at bats) strike out after failing to lay down a sacrifice bunt.

The only baseball-watching benefit I can see to allowing pitchers at the plate: perfect time for a restroom break.