Interleague play has concluded for another year, and next year's format has yet to be revealed. With the Houston Astros moving to the AL West -- resulting in two 15-team leagues -- an interleague series will be happening virtually every day.
What a perfect time to begin the process of dumping the DH rule.
The American League implemented the designated hitter rule in 1973. That's right, it's 40 years old. They did so because pitching had become so dominant that the game's moguls feared the public would get bored by low-scoring games. Baseball undertook a minor league experiment with the rule in 1969, and four years later the leagues voted on whether or not to put it into practice in the majors. The AL voted yes, the NL voted no, and thus was born the one significant rules difference between the two leagues.
In theory, the DH rule made some sense. Pitchers were notoriously bad hitters, so take your hurler out of the batting order and replace him with a player who only hits. It was a way to extend the careers of some aging sluggers who had lost a step, guys like Orlando Cepeda, Tommy Davis, Frank Robinson and Tony Oliva. It also gave poor fielding prospects who could swing the bat a shot at a big league gig.
The results were immediate. The AL raised their league batting average from .239 in 1972 to .259 in 1973. The league ERA ballooned from 3.06 to 3.82. Mission accomplished.
Forty years later, however, it's not so simple. Fewer teams use aging sluggers at DH, and with so few complete games, a starting pitcher in the NL rarely bats more than twice a game. As a result, we now see that the DH adds almost nothing in the way of additional offense to the AL game. Entering this weekend's schedule, the AL cumulative batting average was .254, while the NL checked in at .253. The cumulative ERA in the AL was 4.01 and 3.96 in the NL. Even taking the entire 2011 season into consideration gives no more ammo to the case for the DH. Last year, the AL hit .258 to the NL's .253. League-wide ERA's were 4.08 in the AL and 3.81 in the NL. It's the smallest of differences, virtually negligible.
The Players Association has resisted any talk of a rules change, based on the premise that a DH earns more than the 25th man on a roster. That's less true today than in the past. The way to get around that issue would be to add a 26th roster spot, occupied by another bench player or more likely an extra arm in the bullpen. I believe the players union would find that prospect palatable.
There's no evidence that having the pitcher hit has cost a single fan at a NL turnstile. The DH has run its course; the numbers don't lie.
Examiner columnist Phil Wood co-hosts the "Mid-Atlantic Sports Report" and is a regular contributor to "Nats Xtra" on MASN. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.