Philadelphia Phillies icon Larry Bowa – despite playing his entire 16-year career in the National League – isn’t against the DH. However, Bowa is against one league having the DH and another not.
In a recent podcast interview, Bowa told The Athletic‘s Meghan Montemurro that if he had the ability to change one rule in baseball, he would examine what to do with the DH.
“I do think – and this is just my opinion – that you either have the DH or you don’t have the DH. I think it’s an advantage when National League teams go play American League teams [in American League Parks] during the course of interleague [play] and I also think it’s an advantage for the National League teams even though pitchers aren’t really considered good hitters when the American League teams come to the National League park.”
The American League has used the DH since the outset of the 1973 season. For the first 24 years of its existence, the only time that the inconsistency of it not also being adopted in the National League came into play was in the World Series. For as unfair of an advantage as it may be for the National League to not employ a player that’s job is to DH, it was easier to overlook when the dynamics only came into play during the World Series.
However, interleague play was introduced in 1997 and has since become something that’s scattered throughout the season. That’s made it even more glaring that National League teams aren’t equipped in many cases to go batter-for-batter with American League teams when they play in an American League Park and use the DH.
Heck, the 2009 Phillies had one of the five deepest lineups in the history of the franchise, with five players that hit 30 or more home runs. Still, when it came time to use a DH in the World Series when they played at Yankee Stadium, Charlie Manuel was forced to push Ben Francisco or Matt Stairs into the starting lineup. Were both Francisco and Stairs valuable role players? Absolutely. Did they belong starting in the World Series? Probably not.
But the Phillies didn’t employ a slugger to fill that role, because why would they? In the National League, you only play four series per year in an American League Park. If you carry someone that’s a strong hitter but otherwise a liability in the field, they become relegated to just pinch hitting if you’re a team like the 2009 Phillies with entrenched players at first base and both corner outfield spots. That simply isn’t a position you are going to invest heavy resources into if you play in the National League.
However, when you play in an American League Park in the regular season or World Series, you often are left unprepared to shift to playing American League baseball. Never was that more apparent than in the 2009 World Series. While the Phillies used Stairs and Raul Ibanez (with Francisco inserted in left field) to DH, the Yankees had Hideki Matsui, the eventual World Series MVP, to fill that role.
So there are quite a few baseball fans that are moderate on the DH one way or another that feel passionately about one thing – either you need to commit to it fully or eliminate it altogether.
Many old-school National League fans are unwilling to even consider the idea of the DH becoming universal. It increasingly feels like their voices are being drowned out, though.
Even the best starting pitchers are typically awful hitters when compared to any other player in the lineup. Meanwhile, American League teams are able to employ players like David Ortiz, Jim Thome, Edgar Martinez and Nelson Cruz – none of whom belong in the field on a regular basis – to add more thump to the middle of the lineup. Would you rather watch David Ortiz or Curt Schilling bat?
It is true, that having the pitcher bat creates an element of strategy that doesn’t exist in American League baseball. If Aaron Nola is pitching very well through six innings, but has thrown 96 pitches and probably only will pitch one more inning, do you leave him in for one more inning if his spot comes up in the batting order and there’s a runner in scoring position? Some like the manager having to make that tough decision. Others would rather see someone whose job it is to hit get a chance to hit to potentially decide the game, and allow the starting pitcher to stay in the game as long as he’s pitching effectively.
Jayson Stark of The Athletic wrote in January that some decision-makers in baseball have pondered the idea of the DH coming to the National League, but only being allowed to stay in the game as long as the starting pitcher is in. So if the Phillies employed someone like the aforementioned Cruz to DH, he would begin the game in that role. However, if Zack Wheeler needed to come out of the game after five innings, the Phillies would either have to take Cruz out of the game or have him play a position. Such a solution probably isn’t likely to be adopted, but it’s interesting because it seems to give you the best of both worlds.
The reality is there doesn’t seem to be a world where the DH is ever altogether eliminated. In fact, Jim Bowden of CBS Sports reported earlier this year that there’s “a growing belief” that the DH will eventually come to the National League in some form. The current MLB CBA expires after the 2021 season, so the 2022 season could be when it’s first implemented. As part of the Florida-Arizona plan for the 2020 season that USA Today‘s Bob Nightengale first reported on, the MLB would use a DH universally this season. If that plan is adopted, this season could serve as a test run for a universal DH. Of course, National League teams didn’t get to prepare this offseason with the expectation that they would have a DH on a full-time basis.
If a universal DH is adopted – be it in 2020 or the near future – the Phillies could actually stand to benefit from it. No. 1 overall prospect Alec Bohm could serve as the team’s DH. So too could Rhys Hoskins, J.T. Realmuto, Bryce Harper or Andrew McCutchen to occasionally to get them off their feet.
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