Major League Baseball’s (MLB) concept of the designated hitter (DH) is one of professional sports’ longest-running debates. The rule allows teams to have one player, known as the designated hitter, to bat in place of the pitcher. In 1973, one of the MLB’s two divisions, the American League, adopted the rule, while its counterpart, the National League, rejected it. This lasted until the 2020 Major League Baseball season, when, for the first time, the National League started using DH; though it was a temporary measure that did not continue in 2021, it was officially adopted by the National League in 2022. Even while both leagues now use the practice, many fans still recommend dropping it altogether.
Here are three arguments for the removal of the DH rule and three arguments for keeping it.
Why MLB should get rid of Designated Hitters:
The DH takes away opportunities from younger players
The DH allows older players to extend their careers, especially those who have a history of injuries or whose defensive abilities as fielders have eroded. However, it simultaneously prevents new, younger players from developing their MLB careers. As the batting spots are taken by overpaid older players, who only bat and never take the field, talented young hitters yearning for an opportunity to display their batting abilities don’t get the chance to do so. Over the decades, the American League has most likely missed out on some talented players because of DH. The National League will now likely experience the same.
There is really no need for DHs
A look into the MLB proves that neither league has ever really needed DHs. Some past and current pitchers, like Madison Bumgarner and Steven Brault, among others, have the ability to bat well, and their stats prove that they don’t need a DH. Also, nowadays, players are expected to be more versatile and to bring value to both the field and behind the bat. Accordingly, up until 2020, there were fewer and fewer DHs in the leagues. David Ortiz, who may have been the most prominent representative of the DH era, retired in 2016. Sure, now that both leagues are using DHs there will be more demand for them, but only recently, around half of the full-time DHs in the American League were over 35 and seemingly headed toward retirement.
The DH ruins part of the game`s lure
Seeing a pitcher bat is part of professional baseball’s lure. Yes, pitchers aren’t the best batters the game has to offer, which is exactly why seeing them step up to the plate is so interesting for the fans. The hope that a pitcher will hit the ball spices up the game and offers the potential for surprise, which is a big part of what makes baseball so special.
Why MLB should keep Designated Hitters:
Different is good
Over the years, the difference in the DH rules between the American League (where the DH was adopted) and the National League (where it wasn’t practiced until 2020) created a different style of the game in both leagues. American League baseball is more offense-oriented; it`s a power game whose main strategy is to get runners on base and then have a batter hit a three-run home run. In contrast, the focus of National League baseball is not on home runs but on pitching and speed. This difference is great and gives each league separate and unique identities. As LA Angels general manager Billy Eppler once said to ESPN: “The qualities of each league are part of that (baseball) character.” It will be fascinating for fans to see how the use of the DH in both leagues will add to or minimize the difference between them – an additional intrigue to keep fans’ attention.
For the fans
Keeping the DH rule – and adding it to the National League – will make MLB more entertaining. Since most pitchers are below-average batters, using a DH increases offense, which the stats have long proven. Defense is crucial for winning baseball games, and pitching is an important aspect of defense. That being said, without offense, no team can win games. Most fans enjoy watching baseball hitters score more than defensive plays; for many, offensive games can be more exciting to watch. Therefore, keeping the DH in the American League and having expanded it to the National League is intended to increase the amount of good hitters at bat, thus making MLB more appealing for fans – especially during the World Series. Time will tell about the impact of the expansion of the use of DH.
Specialized players are part of most sports
Designated players are common in most team sports. In NFL football, there`s an offensive team and defensive team; some NBA basketball players specialize in shooting, rebounding or defending; and in hockey, the NHL has enforcers. So, MLB’s DH is common practice across professional sports. Also, unlike in the NBA and the NFL, in MLB, a coach can bring a substituted player back into the field. Therefore, it is acceptable to allow one player to play for another for only a few moves during a game, as a DH does. So, having denied the National League the use of DHs all those years was much like forcing a football coach to play his QB in defense.
The Bottom Line: Though the MLB expanded the role of Designated Hitters to both leagues in 2020 (temporarily in the case of the National League), and there’s talk of it returning in 2022, there are still many arguments for why it should be dropped altogether. Do you prefer or avoid watching games that include Designated Hitters?