(Note: This was written in April but baseball fans might enjoy it, nonetheless.)
This week is opening day for major league baseball. I wrote ‘week’ because Major League Baseball, the organization as opposed to the game, determined that there should be a number of opening days. For example, there was the opening day for the Mariners and A’s which occurred last week in Japan. Then, last night was opening ‘Day’ (more irony) for the Cardinals and Marlins because the Marlins have this new ballpark requiring its own opening day. Then of course we have opening days on Thursday and Friday. Life used to be simpler and so was baseball so I guess we have to get over it. What some baseball fans can’t or refuse to get over is the designated hitter or DH. To them I say, get over it.
The DH came to the American League back in the ‘70s when baseball was dying. Football became king and attendance at baseball games was dropping. The Yankees no longer had competitive teams and pitching was dominant. Since only the true purist likes watching grass grow or pitching duels as they are more commonly called, the AL initiated the DH at the same time when both leagues lowered the pitching mound to give some advantage to hitters. No one had thought about steroids at this time. The NL did not want the DH and if you listen to baseball analysts or fans of the NL you would think that the DH has ruined baseball.
Forget for the moment that at the time that the DH came into the AL that the NL was putting in Astro Turf all through the league, and in my view, this had a greater, negative impact on the game than the DH ever did. Even the NL has walked away from artificial turf but they still hold true to their anti DH bias. The thought is that the DH takes all the strategy out of the game, leaving the manager with nothing to do. They are right of course.
There is nothing like being at a NL game when in the fourth inning in one of those white knuckle, pitcher’s duels we finally have a rally as the number eight hitter draws a walk. The stage is set. The score is 0-0, bottom of the fourth, man on first, and no out. The number nine hitter, the pitcher, is in the on deck circle. He wipes some pine tar on his bat, kicks off the weight that he used to make his bat seem lighter when he gets up, and he approaches the batter’s box. What will he do? What will happen next? I am on the edge of my seat trying to anticipate what the manager will call here. What happens next is simply amazing.
The pitcher looks over to first just daring the base runner to take off. He toes the rubber and pitches from the stretch. WAIT, IT’s A PITCHOUT! What a sneaky bastard! He wanted to see if the batter would tip his hand while at the same time trying to catch the base runner in a preemptive pickoff. Man, can it get better than this?
Well, the batter did not tip his hand because he, being a pitcher himself, knows all the tricks of the game. Then, with the second pitch on its way, the batter/pitcher squares to bunt! I couldn’t believe my eyes what a call that was! Now, with the ball dribbling towards the first baseman the base runner scampers all the way to second as the pitcher/batter successfully returns to the dugout being high fived and backslapped all the way in. Baseball is such a cool game. But it gets better.
The next batter hits a hard grounder to the second baseman giving the base runner the opportunity to run to third. Now there are two out and the runner is stranded after the next batter strikes out looking. It was exciting and ever so close to seeing a run but the pitcher’s duel continues.
Then in the seventh inning and our pitcher who so expertly executed the bunt is now facing the heart of the order but there is a problem. His pitch count is up to 80 and he just doesn’t have the same zip on his 85 MPH fastball. What do you think the manager will do? I was going over this very question in my mind and I was coming up empty. It’s a perplexing problem that only the most seasoned strategist could solve.
Just when you thought there was nothing that could be done, the manager hops out of the dugout and heads for the home plate umpire. What IS he doing? He talks to the ump for a minute at most and then heads to the pitcher’s mound. He takes the ball from the pitcher and pats him on the ass. I’m making no judgments. Then he motions to the bull pen for a lefty, a crafty lefty no doubt because this is one crafty manager. But wait! What else is he doing? He’s bringing in a new first baseman! The DOUBLE SWITCH! Oh MAN! This is BASEBALL BABY!
You see, the original pitcher is due to lead off while the original first baseman was the last man up in the previous inning. So, by bringing in two players at the same time the new pitcher will take the place of the old first baseman in the batting order thereby taking the pitcher out of the lead off spot next inning and substituting the new first baseman in his stead.
This is unbelievable. I always tell my kids that you never know what you are going to see at a baseball game, history is only one swing or, in this case, one of the most clever strategies of all time, away.
You see, in the AL we don’t have this type of excitement. The only time we bunt is when the players are really, really tired. The pitcher never hits because pitchers never hit. We let the DH hit rather than putting up the pitcher who winds up looking like a complete Nuttsy Fagin with a broom in his hand.
The pitcher gets to continue to do what he does best which, of course, is pitch. Now granted the AL has sacrificed the thrill of the double switch in favor of, oh I don’t know, exciting baseball, but we have learned to live with its shortcomings. But next week when I go to my first Yankee game I will think back to those exciting NL moments when the pitcher bunted and the manager double switched and I will think:
THANK GOD ALMIGHTY I WAS BORN A YANKEE FAN