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posted: 2/23/2013 5:52 PM

Why the NL doesn't need the DH -- ever

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  • Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano and Cincinnati Reds catcher Paul Bako watch Zambrano's solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

      Chicago Cubs' Carlos Zambrano and Cincinnati Reds catcher Paul Bako watch Zambrano's solo home run during the third inning of a baseball game Thursday, Aug. 21, 2008, in Chicago. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

 
 

Whenever I think about the National League adopting the designated-hitter rule, a couple of numbers come to mind: 19 and 24.

Nineteen is the number of home runs hit by former White Sox pitcher Gary Peters, and 24 is the number of homers hit by ex-Cubs pitcher Carlos Zambrano.

Being a lifelong resident of Chicago or the Chicago area and a 50-plus-year observer of baseball in this town, Peters and Zambrano are the best-hitting pitchers from each team that I've seen.

Fortunately for White Sox fans, Peters' career happened before the American League installed the DH in 1973. And fortunately for Cubs fans, the NL never has adopted the DH.

Peters and Zambrano are exceptions to the overwhelming majority of weak-hitting pitchers, and that's what made them so much fun to watch.

Back in the 1960s, Peters was a mainstay of a strong White Sox pitching staff. The tough lefty would rather buzz you inside than look at you.

At the plate, though, he was a bona fide threat in the pre-DH days. Peters was such a good hitter that 4 of his 19 career homers came as a pinch hitter.

In May 1968, Peters enjoyed quite a month. On May 5, 1968, Peters hit a grand slam off the Yankees' Al Downing at Comiskey Park to help the White Sox win 5-1. He also pitched a complete game, striking out nine.

On May 26 at Yankee Stadium, Sox manager Eddie Stanky batted Peters sixth, ahead of Duane Josephson, Luis Aparicio and Tim Cullen. The Sox were a poor-hitting team that would finish 67-95. Even though Stanky's move didn't please the position players, it was a tip of the cap to Peters' offensive prowess, and it gave Sox fans something to talk about during a dismal season.

As far as Zambrano goes, you just never knew, and that was part of the fun. Big Z loved nothing better than to take batting practice and hit home runs during games.

During a game in Houston on July 25, 2003, we wondered in the press box why manager Dusty Baker didn't pinch hit for Zambrano with the Cubs down 3-1 in the seventh inning with two outs and a man on base. It might have been the right move, but Big Z silenced us all and had us laughing as he crushed a pitch from Wade Miller and sent it into the right-field stands to tie the game. The Cubs went on to win 5-3.

I couldn't wait to get to Baker's office that night after the game.

"In that situation, he's throwing a great game," Baker said. "Plus, he (Zambrano) can hit. I played with good-hitting pitchers in the past. Fernando (Valenzuela) would have hit. (Steve) Carlton would have hit.

"I just took a chance right there. He was swinging as good or better than anybody I could have brought off the bench who hadn't seen him (Miller). You're open for criticism. Sometimes you go with what you think is best in that situation."

By now, I've accepted that the American League is the DH league, and the National League is where the pitchers hit, sometimes anyway.

That's not going to change. We can put all the "strategy vs. no-strategy" arguments aside when it comes to the DH; you've heard them all.

But I would have hated to miss Gary Peters and Carlos Zambrano hitting. And I would have hated to miss Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale and Jim Kaat and Fergie Jenkins batting. I also shudder to think of what might have been if the American League had the DH rule when a guy named Babe Ruth came up as a pitcher.

In recent years, Kerry Wood's homer in the ill-fated Game 7 of the 2003 NLCS still stands out, as does Mark Buehrle's unlikely homer at Milwaukee for the White Sox in an interleague game.

So keep the DH, if you must. But leave one league where we can be surprised by a pitcher knocking one out of the park every now and then.

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