With interleague play now an everyday occurrence in major-league baseball, the topic of the designated hitter is front and center again.
The DH came into being 40 years ago in the American League, and it has divided purists and progressives ever since.
One national story last week caused a minor tempest. Cubs president Theo Epstein was quoted — whether he wanted to be or not — as saying he believed the National League would adopt the DH sooner rather than later, and Epstein sounded like he was all for it.
That certainly won’t endear Epstein to traditional Cubs fans who enjoy the strategy inherent in the National League game.
We’ve been through all those “strategy” arguments before, and one side is never going to convince the other, so let’s put them aside for now.
There is one good reason not to want the DH in the National League, and that’s the over-homogenization of MLB under Commissioner Bud Selig to the point where one league is indistinguishable from the other.
(The late, great Bob Feller used to sign autographs only in blue ink because, according to Feller, that was the color of the American League while black ink was the color of the National League.)
Granted, there were some good things about Selig and Co. eliminating the inefficiencies associated with MLB. Having one set of umpires is a good thing, and league presidents had become mere figureheads.
But fans have loved arguing about the relative merits of his or her league since 1901, when the American League declared itself “major” and challenged the established National League.
The AL rose to prominence, thanks largely to the New York Yankees. The NL then took over, thanks to its aggressiveness in signing black and Latin American players.
The DH helped to give the AL a much-needed jolt when its game was seen as staid and boring when compared with the fast-paced game played in the NL from the 1950s through the 1970s.
Fans who embraced the DH rejoiced over not seeing pitchers try to flail away at the plate. NL fans lamented the loss of strategy in the AL, as managers no longer had to make tough decisions about whether to leave in or pull an effective starting pitcher because his team was down a run in the sixth or seventh inning.
Interleague play came along in 1997 and started a new set of arguments. American League fans and some teams claimed that they were at a disadvantage in NL parks because their pitchers now had to bat.
Cubs manager Dale Sveum made an opposite argument the other day, when he talked about NL teams being at a different disadvantage in AL parks.
“It works both ways,” Sveum said. “When we go to an American League and have to use the DH, but we didn’t build our team for a DH. They pay people a lot of money to DH and that kind of thing. That’s part of their game. We’re fortunate. Our pitchers can swing the bat pretty good. That’s an advantage to us, as well.”
Once again, let’s leave things the way they are.
Rough days ahead?
The Cubs have kicked off a grueling part of their schedule, with 19 straight games against teams that finished above .500 last year. The stretch also includes 13 games against playoff teams from 2012.
After the Cubs get done in Atlanta, they’ll come home to play the Brewers, Giants and Rangers before going to Milwaukee and Cincinnati.
With the way the Cubs’ offense has struggled to start the season, the pressure clearly will be on the starting pitchers to hold down the other lineups.
“We a got a tough homestand against some really good starting pitching, everybody who has good starting pitching, for the most part,” Sveum said. “Major-league baseball now, every series, every team has their starting pitching — one, two, three, some (teams) have four (good starters), some in the bullpen.
“That’s part of the game. You’ve got to find ways to win those games.”
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