Having a hard stance on the designated hitter is one level below trying to stump someone with the infield fly rule. It’s embarrassing by virtue of it being a cliche. It feels like cheap dialogue in a movie about baseball set 30 years ago, or the topic chosen by a middle schooler whose English teacher has assigned a paper to practice persuasive writing.
For someone who covers the sport professionally, it’s also inherently biased when the job description tells you not to be. It’s well-trodden, to put it lightly, from an opinion standpoint and obvious as a subject of analysis. It’s partisan and needlessly undermines 50 percent of the subject matter. It’s mawkish sentimentalism about the sport masquerading as a hot take — like people who self-describe as “sarcastic” to give themselves an edge that’s undeserved.
Trying to internalize it as a fact — even compared to more complicated ones like the respective merits of revenue sharing versus abiding by the March 26 agreement — makes my teeth itch. Far worse is recognizing that this is likely a permanent shift in the making. Gerrit Cole’s strikeout to end the seventh inning of Game 5 of the 2019 World Series could be the last time a pitcher steps to the plate in Major League Baseball. The answer to a future trivia question that’ll make the next generation of fans marvel at the quirkiness of the game way back when.
For as classic a barroom conversation as it is, there are few who would go to bat for pitchers batting at the league or player level. It’s another job for aging sluggers, an easy line of defense against injuries and strikeouts, an inconsistency that was only ever going to be reconciled one way.
I don’t claim to be totally impartial in my coverage of baseball because I know that’s impossible, and I think the stakes are low enough to allow for unfettered honesty. But I do think I’m capable of recognizing and relaying the relativity of my opinion. I think my perspective is better, but I understand that it’s subjective and I’m happy to discuss it further and maybe even be swayed to see things your way.
This sense of empathy and altruism disappears when it comes to the matter of pitchers hitting. I don’t want to be sold on the merits of the DH — and not because Bartolo Colon hit that home run one time. Baseball is a game where the same nine people play defense and offense and substitutions are absolute and irreversible. This is part of the fabric not of the game but of my conception of the game.
That’s how they did it at Veterans Stadium where my family had Phillies season tickets. That’s how they still do it at Citizens Bank Park, when I get to watch a game at home. I grew up on National League baseball and the idea that even Jim Thome had to play the field and Madison Bumgarner had to learn to help himself. I’m not saying it’s better, I’m just saying it’s right.
The pandemic content cycle has reached the stage where writers across all industries have begun to prognosticate on what won’t “go back to normal.” Months of debilitating stasis and economic strain will permanently alter the way work is done in this country (and hopefully health care, too, although I’m not optimistic). Restaurants and offices and social norms will all be irrevocably altered — how could they not be? — by the same global upheaval that could spell a death knell for pitchers batting.
It’s not a very big deal when you put it like that, but maybe that’s the painful part.
It was never going to be cool to care that the universal DH is now almost inevitable. I’m not talking about caring enough to tweet, but about actually being made sad in a sustained way. To have this hokey, decades-old opinion about the game that ties us to our childhood rendered irrelevant by the same virus that has claimed thousands of literal casualties makes me all the more self-conscious. But we’re going to lose a lot of little things, too, through this pandemic. And I hate that the chance to debate the DH is one of them.
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