The universal DH: “Evidence over ideology”

Bruce Hurst

As a hitter, Bruce Hurst was an excellent 1986 World Series pitcher.

Long before I got religion about the designated hitter, George F. Will did. I didn’t have a specific road-to-Damascus moment, merely a lot of re-thinking based upon a lot of evidence I’d ignored previously. Will’s road-to-Damascus moment came watching Game One of the 1986 World Series, which opened in New York’s Shea Stadium.

The ill-fated Red Sox (weren’t they always ill-fated from 1919 through the end of 2003?) were stripped of their DH playing in the National League ballpark. Their Game One starting pitcher Bruce Hurst was compelled to bat for, possibly, the first time since high school during the Ford Administration.

From the moment the Red Sox drafted Hurst in round one, 1976 draft, until that World Series game, he had exactly one professional plate appearance, in the minor leagues—and struck out. Now, in his first three major league plate appearances, Hurst struck out three times. Permit me to remind you of those three plate appearances.

Top of the third, two outs, against Mets starter Ron Darling: Three pitches, three swings, one strikeout, and one home plate umpire, John Kibler, laughing his fool head off over the absurdity of it.

Top of the fifth, two outs, a man on first (Dave Henderson, after a one-out base hit up the middle), also against Darling: A slightly miraculous 2-2 count, then swinging strike three. Runner stranded.

Top of the seventh, two outs, against Darling yet again: Well, what do you know. With Red Sox catcher Rich Gedman on second, after his grounder to second resulted in Hall of Famer Jim Rice scoring on an errant throw home, Darling walked shortstop Spike Owen—a .231 hitter on the regular season, but a .429 hitter while the Red Sox won the American League Championship Series—to pitch to Hurst.

After his well-reported harrumphing, “I’m serious,” Hurst on 1-2 swung and missed. Kibler really couldn’t help himself that time.

“Umpires are carved from granite and stuffed with microchips,” Will wrote then. “They are supposed to be dispassionate dispensers of Pure Justice, icy islands of emotionless calculation . . . Nothing that causes such a collapse of decorum can be in the national interest.” Neither was yet another rally killed by a pitcher with a pool noodle bat, in a game in which the unearned run Rice scored off the Gedman grounder was the game’s sole run.

A veteran ESPN writer, Tim Kurkjian, laments the advent of the universal DH because we will have a little less “magic” in the game: “The universal DH, for all of its uniformity, practicality, and Shohei Ohtani, saddens a small few of us, for it eliminates one of the game’s underappreciated elements: pitchers hitting, or not hitting, which, for 150 years, has provided great statistics, stories and smiles.”

Kurkjian’s roll of outliers—and, Ohtani to one distinct and extremely-extreme outlying side, outliers is what they are—kicks off with Michael Lorenzen, for seven years a Reds relief pitcher until signing as a free agent with the Angels last November. As pitchers go at the plate, Lorenzen is an outlier with his .233/.282/.429 career slash line at the plate. In 2018, he hit .290, and the entire 2018 Reds pitching staff hit .101.

Three years ago, as Kurkjian celebrates nostalgically, Lorenzen pitched and was credited with a pitching win, hit a two-run homer, and played center field in the same game, against the Phillies on 4 September.

Lucky for him. What Kurkjian omits is that Lorenzen got positioned for a win credit only because he’d served Jay Bruce a 1-2 pitch meaty enough to hit over the center field fence and tie the game at five in the top of the seventh. Lorzenen got the next five outs before getting to bat with a man on in the bottom of the eighth and hit Phillies reliever Blake Parker’s first service into the left center field seats.

You saw that how many times a season? A decade? A century? From how many members of the collective class that (ha! you thought you’d avoid me saying it one more time) has hit .162 from the end of the dead ball era’s final decade through the end of last season?

Now, riddle me this, and be absolutely honest about it for once: You saw how many more rallies destroyed by a pitcher who might as well have a cardboard paper towel tube on his shoulders when compelled to hit with a man or two on base in the early innings, because he was pitching too well to lift just yet—but rally dead because he struck out swinging or whacked into an inning-ending forceout or double play?

Smugger-than-thou National League-loving “traditionalists”—whose league once introduced carpet baseball, and who forget the DH concept was first conceived by a National League owner—love to harrumph about baseball’s diminishing entertainment thanks to managers bereft of “strategy” with the presence of the DH. Very well.

A lot of the same “traditionalists” kvetch concurrently about the alleged and unentertaining epidemic of strikeouts. (Funny how we hate strikeouts unless the pitchers we root for ring them up.) Guess which batters struck out in the highest percentages of their plate appearances last year? (44 percent.) And, a decade earlier? (37 percent.) That’s entertainment?

The age of analytics presents us with things such as the spectacle of its enemies stuck for answers when asked why they oppose more, deeper, truer  information about the game they profess to love. Long before the age arrived, however, baseball’s best managers did 90-95 percent of their “managing” before games even started.

Military pilots obtain encyclopedic, detailed knowledge of enemies and their aircraft before take off, but no conscientious air group sends them up without their parachutes. The universal DH means no baseball manager equipped with any level of knowledge before a game goes into it with the hole in his parachute that a pitcher at the plate normally proves.

In-game strategy isn’t going the way of the Pontiac yet. Like the military pilot, the manager still faces enough moments with minus one second to make the choice that proves the difference between survival and disaster.

I write as a man who was stubborn enough to ignore the evidence before him for a very long time, on the field and in the records alike. Even while watching pitchers wasting outs with sacrifice bunts that in only one out of six known “bunt situations” leave their teams a better chance of scoring after the bunt than before it. Even while watching nine and a half out of ten pitchers swing bats as if trying to swat flies with single sheets of paper. Even while watching poor Bruce Hurst at the plate in Game One of the ’86 Series.

“The real case for the DH is this: it represents the triumph of evidence over ideology,” Will wrote. “The anti-DH ideology is that there should be no specialization in baseball, no division of labor—everyone should play ‘the whole game.’ That theory is slain by this fact: most pitchers only go through the motions at bat. The DH is a way of facing that fact. It says: only serious batters shall bat.”

No one did what Lorenzen did on that 2019 day that since Babe Ruth did it in 1921. “I have a baseball card with only me and Babe Ruth on it,” Kurkjian quotes Lorenzen as saying. “It doesn’t get any cooler than that.” Reds fans bereft of the entertainment in winning a World Series since just after the death of freshly-retired conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein might beg to differ.

Hallelujah! Welcome the universal DH

William Chase Temple

The news that the DH will now become universal makes today the day William Chase Temple—the owner of the 1891 Pirates who first conceived the idea—dreamed of.

If this is true, we can only say thank God for small favours. The last thing on earth we should do is nominate Rob Manfred for a Nobel Prize. But if he’s not kidding, and the designated hitter will come to stay in the National League, he and his employers who’ve locked players out since December began deserve a single cheer. But only that.

There’s plenty to be said for the better-late-than-never side of the argument, of course. There’s just as much to be said for the what-the-hell-took-you-so-long side of it. Writing as one of the formerly stubborn, who long insisted that I’d rather have seen revival of the AMC Gremlin than the DH in the National League, I can’t decide either right now.

But it’s about time. It’s long overdue. And I’ll be a nice guy about it and say, yes, better late than never.

No longer will we have to watch the suffocating majority of pitchers swinging pool-noodle bats at the plate accompanied by the very outside prayer than one of them might poke a base hit—if he gets lucky. You tantrum-throwing “traditionalists” can just sit in the corner. Pitchers who could hit were, are, and would always be outliers.

I’m going there one more time. This is the batting average of pitchers overall from the end of the dead ball era’s final decade to the end of last season: .162. As a class, they’re the most guaranteed out in baseball. At the plate, they make Mark Belanger resemble Mookie Betts.

“Gotcha!” the “traditionalist” hollers when I mention Belanger. Meaning, what’s the big deal about pitchers hitting below the Mendoza Line if there might be a Belanger in the lineup, too?

Here’s the big deal: Mark Belanger only got to play eighteen seasons of major league baseball because he was a human Electrolux who remains the second most prolific run-saving shortstop in baseball behind Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith. The number one reason Belanger isn’t in the Hall of Fame is because he couldn’t hit even if it meant sparing his families’ lives from kidnappers.

The “traditionalist” who tells you so what, we’ve had how many middle infielders hitting that feebly, should be told one guy at or below the Mendoza Line in the lineup is pushing it already, but two for the sake of a “tradition” that should have gone the way of the Gremlin long before the Gremlin hit the road in the first place is malpractise.

I’m going here one more time, too. The DH wasn’t just a figment of a warped American League owner’s imagination. Almost a century before Charlie Finley persuaded then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn to let the American League give it a shot, Pirates owner William Chase Temple hatched the idea—after the key pitchers on his 1891 Pirates hit a collective .165.

The only reason Temple’s brainchild didn’t get signed into league law by his fellow NL owners was an incoming owner, Chris von der Ahe, bringing the original St. Louis Browns into the league after the collapse of the ancient American Association, reneging on a previous yes to vote no and deny the needed majority.

Now, concurrently, National League fans will no longer have to sit on edge because a pitcher at the plate might send himself to the injured list either swinging the bat or running the bases, doing what he’s not being paid to do primarily. Neither will they have to sit on edge over a rally in the making because the pitcher’s spot is due at the plate and that rally’s life expectancy might be zero.

Yes, I’m going there one more time, too, “there” being the wisdom of now-retired Thomas Boswell: “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out as if he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

You think Boswell was nuts? That very situation happened in the bottom of the second in Atlanta, during Game Three of last year’s World Series. Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud stood on second with a two-out double. The Astros ordered their starting pitcher Luis (Rock-a-Bye Samba) Garcia to signal Braves shortstop Dansby Swanson—a decent hitter—to first with a free pass . . . because due up behind Swanson was Braves starter Ian Anderson and his .54 cent regular-season batting average.

I’m sure you were (or will be, if you missed it) shocked, shocked, that Garcia struck Anderson out to end the threat and the inning. The Braves won the game 2-0 on a combined two-hit shutout. They might have had a shot at a precious third run if Anderson hadn’t had to hit in the second but a more competent bat was in the lineup as the DH in the National League park.

Last year’s pitchers batted a whopping .110 with a .150 on-base percentage. Scherzer, he who loves to run out his once-in-a-very-blue-moon base hits as if he thinks he’s Ty Cobb, went above and beyond contributing his fair share: Max the Knife went 0-for-2021.

Let’s just make sure, first, that Manfred and the owners aren’t going to pull a fast one and tie the universal DH to the suggested—and patently insane—idea of demanding a team surrender its DH if it has to lift its starting pitcher before pitching a minimum number of innings. Suppose the poor sap gets murdered early. Do you really want to force him to stay until he meets his minimum, because you can’t afford to lose your DH’s bat, and risk sinking your team so deep that the ocean floor will look like the ceiling?

Now, let me just say these, so you don’t persist in thinking I’ve gone totally and completely insane or been taken over by an invasion of a body snatcher:

Yes, it was fun learning as a kid that Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn surrendered the first of Hall of Famer Willie Mays’s 660 lifetime home runs (in 1951) and the first (in 1962) of only two homers Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax would ever hit.

Yes, it was fun watching Jim (Mudcat) Grant park one in the seats during the 1965 World Series, it was fun watching Tony Cloninger smack two grand salamis in a single game in 1966, and it was fun watching Madison Bumgarner hit a pair out on one Opening Day.

Yes, it was hilarious fun watching Bartolo Colon hit one out in San Diego . . . in his 247th lifetime plate appearance during the seventeenth season of his major league career. It was even funnier watching Colon run it out knowing he’d lose a footrace againt a trash truck on two flat rear tires.

It’s always fun watching the outliers. But rather than watch them while seeing the suffocating majority of their peers swinging bats that might as well have been made by Ronzoni, I’d rather listen to one of them speaking wisely about the long, long, long-established reality.

“I’m always late to the on-deck circle, just because I need to unplug for a minute,” Braves pitcher Charlie Morton (lifetime batting average: .127) told the New York Times last fall, “and I like to worry about the job that I have to do on the mound. That’s what I’m paid to do, that’s what I’m prepared to do, spend the vast majority of my time doing. They’re paying guys lots of money and guys are working their tails off trying to be good hitters, and I’m up there taking at-bats.”

And I, like Boswell, would rather surrender the pleasure of the outliers to the greater pleasure of seeing pitchers preserved for the job they were signed to do in the first place, no longer slaughtering rallies or sending themselves to the injured list doing what they as a class have never been able to do since P.T. Barnum opened his first circus.

When the Army Air Force was broken away into a stand-alone military service in 1947, the Air Force Association’s magazine proclaimed it “The Day Billy Mitchell Dreamed Of,” referring to the pilot whose stubborn and too-often-verbally defiant advocacy for air power as the wave of the future got him court-martialed and rousted out of the Army two decades earlier.

Manfred declaring the designated hitter will be universal starting this season, whenever the season may begin, could be called likewise “The Day William Chase Temple Dreamed Of.”

Postseason expansion: Strike this mother-of-bad-ideas out

Atlanta Braves

Freddie Freeman, Series MVP Jorge Soler, and William Contreras in the celebration crowd after the Braves downed the Astros last October.

You can point to any number of issues animating the current lockout that portend calamity, of course. But you can count on half your hand how many would bypass calamity into downright disaster. Expanding the postseason even further than it has been already is the big one.

As Deadspin analyst Sam Fels knows only too well, the fourteen-team postseason proposal is bad enough in and of itself, with the players “very hesitant, but mostly because they know it’s the biggest matzo ball they have to lob to the owners in order to get what they want in another area.”

That plus suggestions of tying the overdue and very needed universal designated hitter to other things either side wants are the skunks awaiting their invitation into the room. The universal DH should be made so with no strings attached. The further-expanded postseason should be rejected likewise.

“The players know that the more playoff teams there are, the more teams will be aiming for the middle and the bottom seeds rather than going all out to win divisions and top seeds which deflates salaries,” Fels writes. “But the players might want whatever they can get in return for expanded playoffs.”

Players, don’t do it. You’ll live to regret it. You’re under no obligation to validate the owners’ tunnel vision. You’re under every obligation to take up your share in reminding one and all that the common good of baseball isn’t the same thing as making money for it, or trying to inflate the profits that the owners will likely do all in their power to keep you from enjoying your reasonable share of it.

The incumbent postseason structure has already diluted both the meaning of the regular season and the depth of a real championship. Someone, anyone, needs to remind his fellow players, competitors that they are, that there’s no genuine competition or metaphysical engagement in playing or watching the battle and the chills, spills, and thrills of fighting to the final breaths to finish . . . in second place, or even further back.

Baseball’s three-division leagues need to go. Proposals that should be heard include making each league a four-team, four-division, two-conference league, which would require expansion of one new team in each league to even things out. While we’re at it, let’s do away with regular-season interleague play once and for all except the two occasions on which it’s supposed to mean anything substantial: the All-Star Game, and the World Series.

And I’m prepared to get even more outlandish, if that’s the way you think of that basic idea. But hear me out. In two-conference leagues, assuming interleague play goes the way of the Louisville Grays*, the regular season scheduling should be strictly intra-conference.

You still want a none-too-short postseason, then? There’s a right way to do it, and that’s the sort of thing that will facilitate it, without further fostering the oversaturation that’s been the real killer of postseason interest.

That, and eliminating the wild cards entirely. There should be no postseason reward for finishing in second place or further back. (You say you want to put the brakes on tanking teams? There you have it. They shouldn’t be that willing to tank if they know it’s either finish in first place or wait till next year. ) Everybody with me? Good. Now here ’tis.

The two division winners in each league’s conferences can play a best-of-five division series. That’s eight teams, ladies and gentlemen, with a maximum possible ten games. Then, the two conference winners in each league can play a best-of-five League Championship Series. Five more games maximum. (Which is the way the LCS was played from its 1969 birth through 1985.) Then, your league champions would still meet in a still best-of-seven World Series.

That’s 22 games maximum possible as opposed to today’s maximum possible 43 postseason games. With such prospectively reduced postseason saturation, think of the broadcast dollars baseball and the broadcasters can still mulct from advertisers. They’d still be glandular enough. And championship legitimacy would be restored at long enough last.

A splendid time should be had by one and all watching the regular season mean something once again, the broadcast ratings return, the interest never flagging, and the bank accounts still swelling. (Not to mention reminding one and all, the owners especially, that fans don’t buy tickets, or tune in, because they want to watch the owners.) It would be depth triumphant over mere width.

Would that help begin settling such issues as service time manipulation or owners’ continuing bids to suppress player earnings? Would it help get out of Commissioner Nero’s head such nebulous things as three-batter minimums for relief pitchers and into his head that umpires require true accountability at long enough last?

Would it help awaken both the commissioner and his paymasters that the real cause of game delaying is the two minutes or more of broadcast commercials not just between innings but with every pitching change?

Would it help get into the thick skulls of today’s organisations that if they’re that dismayed with one-dimensional offenses they ought to seek the next prospective Henry Aarons and bypass the next prospective Adam Dunns? That they ought to demand a universal, no monkeying around baseball that gives the pitchers and the hitters at least the appearance of an even battle? (Remember: Good pitching is still going to beat good hitting—and vice versa.)

Those are questions for which the answers now remain undetermined. But that realignment toward the greater and more meaningful postseason might be a start. Take me out to the real World Series again.

What should be the proverbial absolute no-brainer is the universal DH. The evidence is established long enough. Pitchers as a class can’t hit and never could. It’s not worth the periodic thrills from the outliers among them to continue perpetuating the farce (not to mention the dangers) of pitchers at the plate.

It’s not. worth. it. to continue seeing rallies ending when pitchers on the mound pitch around their ways out of jams (thank you again, Mr. Boswell) by handing the batters ahead of them passes so they can rid themselves cheaply of that pitcher coming up to the plate swinging a Ronzoni Slugger.

And it shouldn’t be tied to any other issue. Especially not to the postseason that requires rethinking back to the point where a championship means something genuinely substantial.


* The Louisville Grays were charter members of the National League in 1876. They lived long enough to be undone by major league baseball’s first known gambling scandal in 1877.

Pitcher Jim Devlin, left fielder George Hall, and utilityman Al Nichols were caught throwing games for payoffs and banned from baseball for life. Shortstop Bill Craver was banned for life for refusing to cooperate with the investigation that unearthed the scandal.

To improve or not to improve, that is the question

Field of Dreams Game

The Field of Dreams Game in Iowa got boffo ratings on Fox Sports . . . but Iowans who don’t subscribe to Fox still couldn’t watch on other TV/streaming outlets. Blackouts are just one thing baseball needs to fix.

“Congratulations,” ESPN’s Website begins, “you’ve been named acting commissioner of Major League Baseball for a single day.” That’s the way the site presented eight of its major baseball writers presenting eight individual propositions answering the question of what they’d change to improve the game on field and off.

I’ve got some thoughts of my own about the eight and maybe one or two more that weren’t discussed during that symposium published Tuesday morning. It’s not that I’m angling for Rob Manfred’s job, never mind how often it appears that a paramecium could do it better than he does.

But here goes, with the ESPN writer who addressed the matter in parentheses:

1) Shortening the season. (Jesse Rogers.) I’m on board . . . with a 154-game season. The 132-game season suggested almost in passing is too short. I get the impetus: football arrives, other sports’ seasons begin during baseball’s postseason. Unless you have skin in a team’s game it’s no fun to watch them out of the race playing games with no real meaning other than watching the prospects.

Now, make the shorter season mean something above and beyond the necessary considerations of player health: fix the postseason. Be done with the wild card system. Make it mean real championship play again. More after taking on . . .

2) Expansion and geographic re-alignment. (Bradford Doolittle.) Thirty-two teams isn’t necessarily a terrible idea. Neither is the thought of two leagues with eight-team divisions aligned according to their home regions.

But there’s no need to change the names of the National League and the American League as the writer suggests. (I’m all in favour of doing away with “traditions” whose legitimate usefulness disappeared well before the Edsel came and went, but this one’s not exactly begging for extinction.)

I’m not on board, either, with two four-team “pods” within each division or with allowing what the writer suggests further: six teams per league playoffs. That’s knocking on the door of the postseason mishmosh polluting the NBA and the NHL.

Now we can talk about being done with the wild card system. In two-league, four eight-team-division baseball, we can return to the original divisional era postseason format: the division champions meeting at once in a best-of-five League Championship Series, and the World Series remaining its seven-game self.

Voila! You’ve also solved one of the main reasons why even thinking people become exhausted with the thinking person’s sport—saturation. By the time we get to the World Series now, even the most stubbornly die-hard baseball fans have all but had it for the year. Shorter season, shorter postseason with real championship play? All aboard!

You also have a fine reason to do away with regular-season interleague play once and for all. Save it for the All-Star Game and the World Series. Regular-season interleague play’s become a “tradition” even the most stubborn modernist shouldn’t mourn.

All the above might also put to permanent bed the idea of tanking teams. Let’s see how anxious they are to tank when they realise you now have only two choices: finish the regular season with your butts parked in first place, or wait ’till next year.

3) The pitch clock. (David Schoenfield.) Make it 25 seconds and I’m in. (It’ll keep the batters in the box, too.) But continue to refuse eliminating the broadcast commercials for every pitching change (one more time: it takes less time for relief pitchers to come in from the bullpen than to run those spots), and I’m out.

You can’t have one without sacrificing the other. The overall good of the game is not the same thing as just making money for it.

Hey, want another way to speed up the game that wasn’t born to be played according to a time clock? How about eliminating the eight warmups on the mound when a pitcher comes into a game in the middle of a jam?

Think about it: He’s already thrown the possible equivalent of a four- or even five-inning assignment getting warmed up. He’s already hotter than hell when he comes in from the pen. Let him get right to work, he’s ready. You’ve just shaved another 30 seconds to a minute off the time of the game. Incredible, ain’t it?

4) Bring in the robo umps. (Jeff Passan.) Too much has been too much more than enough. I’m sick and tired of watching a game, seeing too many blown calls, and umpires with their individual “interpretations” of the strike zone. The umps need to be reminded—with a ball-peen hammer to their heads if need be—that, pace the late Ron Luciano, they are not God out there.

There’s only one man on the field who actually does get to make an individual strike zone—the batter, with his stance at the plate. There’s no uniform batting stance. But there is a rule book definition of the zone. If Robby the Umpbot’s going to get right what Evil Angel Hernandez, Country Joe West, and their ilk can’t or won’t, then finish ironing out the bugs and put Robby on the job at last.

“It is not easy,” Passan notes, “because umpires who get 95% of ball-strike calls correct are considered the best of the best, and umpires who get 85% right remain employed, and every single day there are manifold examples of balls that are called strikes and strikes that are called balls.”

Luddites who refuse to allow technological assistance on behalf of getting it right—especially when championship advance or consummation is squarely on the line—are hereby invited, with apologies to the late William F. Buckley, Jr., to send their complaints in stamped, self-addressed envelopes.

5) End streaming blackouts and loosen video rights restrictions. (Joon Lee.) Sound as a nut. Ancient history teaches how trepiditious owners then were when broadcasting came to baseball in the first place. Their fears were proven unfounded.

But the blackouts remain, wrongly. There’s no reason why Iowans who couldn’t afford to trek to and buy their way into the Field of Dreams field for last week’s Yankee-White Sox game there should have been denied the chance to watch live on or any other network.

There’s also no reason why Iowans still can’t watch the White Sox, the Cubs, the Twins, the Brewers, the Cardinals, or the Royals. Or even the Tigers. There’s no reason why people in Vegas can’t watch the Dodgers, the Angels, the Padres, or the Diamondbacks. It’s not like they can just jump in the car and make that quick-and-dirty four- to five-hour trip to the ballpark.

Let television and the Internet ring. Let any fan anywhere watch any game he or she damn well pleases. While we’re at it, Lee is right about this, too: Social media’s here to stay, for better or worse. Baseball should “make creating baseball-themed videos using game content as seamless as possible by loosening its reins on copyright violations — similar to the NBA, which treats user-generated content like free advertising for the sport.”

It also helps baseball solve knotty problems in the bargain. Or did baseball’s government forget how social media’s more deft denizens helped provide incontrovertible corroboration for what became Astrogate?

6) Allow trading of draft picks. (Kiley McDaniel.) Why the hell not? If you thought this year’s draft got more attention than prior baseball drafts, imagine the attention (and the concurrent revenue jolts) when you can see baseball teams dealing picks the way they do to a fare-thee-well in other team sports.

It’d also give scouting a badly needed booster shot and pump up even more interest and intrigue around the College World Series.

7) Pay minor leaguers a living wage. (Alden Gonzalez.) There should be no argument here. It’s one thing to insist players need to make their bones and put in their development time, but it’s something else to continue insisting they should do it while starving to death in roach motels. Especially with the pan-damn-ic exacerbating minor leaguers’ housing issues.

The romance of the long bus trips and the cheap sandwiches is long gone. We don’t have to make what’s left of the minor leagues life on the Riviera to acknowledge reality and compel baseball’s government to break the synonymity between dues-paying development and depraved deprivation.

8) Rethink the commissioner’s role. (Tim Keown.) The commissioner shouldn’t be just the owners’ manservant. On the other hand, neither should he or she (and if Kim Ng can do a grand job in her first year as the Marlins’ general manager—she did boffo business at the trade deadline—who says a woman can’t oversee the entire game?) be anyone’s man- or maidservant?

To do that, of course, would require a shift in the choosing: There’s no reason on earth why the commissioner shouldn’t be chosen from a vote of the owners, the players (through their team representatives), and the umpires. They’ve all got the skin in the game; the commissioner should be the steward of the entire game, not just its owners and administrators.

And who should be the next commissioner? Keown says it better than I could: a man or woman “whose relationship to the game goes deeper than financial concerns, someone who stands for something other than sponsorships and real-estate deals for billionaire owners. Someone who understands there are constituents–in the game’s operations departments, in the clubhouses, in the stands–who actually like the game for what it is, and not for how much can be extracted from it.”

It sounds a lot like A. Bartlett Giamatti, no? Well, we can’t bring Giamatti back from the Elysian Fields, but if we can’t find a man or woman who comes close enough to that spirit, then we’re as hopeless as this year’s Diamondbacks, Orioles, and Pirates.

I’ve got a ninth proposition. Sorry, but you knew I wasn’t going to let this one pass:

9) Make the designated hitter universal, once and for all, no looking back. The pitchers’ 2021 slash line as of this morning is .107/.147/.138. Since the last decade of the dead ball era, they’ve hit .154 overall. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: they’ve made Mario Mendoza and Willy Miranda resemble Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.

One more time, from the now-retired Thomas Boswell: “It’s fun to see Max Scherzer slap a single to right field and run it out like he thinks he’s Ty Cobb. But I’ll sacrifice that pleasure to get rid of the thousands of rallies I’ve seen killed when an inning ends with one pitcher working around a competent No. 8 hitter so he can then strike out the other pitcher. When you get in a jam in the AL, you must pitch your way out of it, not ‘pitch around’ your way out of it.”

It’s also not. fun. to see them drop sacrifice bunts that waste precious outs to work with, give the other guys a little extra breathing room, with no guarantee that the guy who was just pushed along one base is going to come home. (Prove Keith Law wrong, too: “I have yet to meet the fan who bought a ticket to a major league game,” he’s written, “because she really wanted to see guys drop some sac bunts.”)

Not when you’re sending about 99.9 percent pool-noodle bats to the plate to kill rallies when their counterparts can pitch around good number-eight bats to strike their asses out for the side under normal circumstances.

And forget the idiot who commented in The Athletic‘s comment section that the most “exciting” thing in baseball in the five years was Bartolo Colon’s home run in San Diego five years ago. (Clearly, the idiot slept through a few postseasons, 2016’s and 2019’s in particular.)

It was unlikely. It was once in a lifetime, literally: Colon ordinarily couldn’t hit with a telephone pole. It took him from the beginning of the second Clinton Administration to just before Donald Trump’s consecration as the 2016 Republican presidential nominee to hit it. It was a laugh and a half, watching Colon run the bases at the speed of snail resembling a beach ball with legs.

And it was no more a mic-drop reason to keep sending pitchers to the plate than it is to drop Nolan Ryan’s or Warren Spahn’s outlying names whenever you mourn the loss of the complete game that began dying before the end of the Berlin Airlift. (Think back to the so-called Good Old Days when you read those words “arm fatigue,” “shoulder fatigue,” or “dead arm.” Those were code words for injuries, often as not injuries that shortened and ended far more careers than the “purists” have the will or the common sense to acknowledge.)

A few of baseball’s best pitchers—especially Jacob deGrom and Jack Flaherty this year—have missed major season time due to injuries that began with those incurred while they were at the plate where they don’t really belong. Was it really worth it to see them at the plate when their teams ended up losing them for long enough to matter in the pennant races?

Please tell me you’re not answering yes to that.

Roots and Blues

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr.

Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. takes Corbin Burnes across the Colorado state line in the All-Star Game. Manfred wants baseball back to its roots? How about also knocking off these hideous All-Star uniforms and letting the All-Stars represent their teams in their own uniforms again? It was good enough for the Home Run Derby, it should stay good enough for the All-Star Game.

Who are the faces of baseball today? Put the current injured lists to one side. Barring unforeseen complications or corollary issues, one and all on those lists now will be back either this season or next. Barring, too, one player of extraterrestrial achievement—you should spot the one most likely to produce it the rest of the year, too—it shouldn’t really be a singular face.

They should be players like Ronald Acuna, Jr., Pete Alonso, Mookie Betts, Shane Bieber, Kris Bryant, Nick Castellanos, Jacob deGrom, Rafael Devers, Freddie Freeman, Vladimir Guerrero, Jr., Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Clayton Kershaw, Trey Mancini, Shohei Ohtani, Max Scherzer, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis, Jr., Mike Trout, Brandon Woodruff.

Instead, the face of the game, singular, seems to be its ten-thumbed, two-left-feet, too-lawyerly-for-his-own good commissioner, a man who seems almost never to let pass a chance to let the stars shine in baseball’s sky without sending up a homemade cloud.

On Home Run Derby Night, the Coors Field audience and baseball nation transfixed upon Ohtani (the prohibitive favourite), Soto, Mancini (the sentimental favourite), Guerrero, and Alonso (the eventual winner), among others. During the All-Star Game—which the American League won, 5-2—Ohtani and company were at least as watchable and discussable as those missing in action due to health concerns might have been.

So, perhaps naturally, Rob Manfred stepped all over himself yet again. Asked whom he thought the face of baseball is today, Castellanos named Manfred. Informed of that designation, Manfred said no. Then, he dropped a few matters to indicate his lips said no-no but there was yes-yes in his eyes.

He told a Baseball Writers Association of America meeting the day of the All-Star Game, “I think anything that distracts from the attention being on what goes on in the field is a bad thing.” Unfortunately, Commissioner Nero—who’s spent too much of his commissionership fiddling while baseball seems to burn—went on to do just that.

Manfred could well enough have waited until after the All-Star Game, confined his remarks to the BBWAA to just his thought on “distraction” from the All-Star field, then said he’d talk a little more the day after if they were willing to listen. (And who wouldn’t have been?)

I’ve already discussed his thought that the doubleheader of seven-inning games might disappear after this season. (And, why I think keeping the idea is sound as a nut.) Manfred also spoke of disappearing the free cookie on second base (known to wags as “Manfred Man”) to open each extra half-inning, a disappearance devoutly to be wished. As would be the three-batter minimum for relief pitchers. (Unless they enter during a jam and get rid of the side before batters two, three, or both appear.)

Unfortunately, Manfred didn’t address that third part, so far as I know. He must have been asleep at the switch the night Bryce Harper and Didi Grigorius got hit back-to-back by a fresh Cardinal reliever whose control took the night off but whose manager couldn’t relieve him legally until he faced his third batter.

The law of unintended consequences too often escapes Manfred’s lawyerly ways.

He also suggested he’d like to ban defensive overshifting, formally, as part of what he says is part and parcel of returning baseball “to its roots.” He suggests the owners are all in on that return, though long experience tells you that with most owners changes or restorations have less to do with the game itself and more to do with whether something means making money for it, which usually means for themselves.

Never mind that the shifts could and would be neutralised if teams start instructing their batters to take advantage of all that free real estate. Screw the unwritten rules. Just hit the ball onto it. Take first base on the house before the shifters can scramble for the ball. Even if the other guys have a no-hitter going to the final outs. I’ll say it again: you hand me that free territory with a no-hitter going, let your pitcher hold you to account when I show up on first on the house.

I’ll say it again: that, or an infield you know to be full of butchers enabling such base hits, should be the only time you want to see a widespread return of bunting. In all other situations, a bunt is a wasted out. Outs to work with are precious. Why waste a third of your inning’s resources and do the other guys such a favour?

You guessed it: I’m all in if Manfred really does bring the universal designated hitter back to stay in 2022. Guess which defensive position sports the Show’s worst slash line this year? (.109/.149/.142.) The worst OPS? (.291.) The most wasted outs? (No other positions show more than the catchers’ 40; these guys show 221.) A real batting average (RBA: total bases + walks + intentional walks + sacrifice flies + hit by pitches, divided by plate appearances) of .167?

Hint: Since the final decade of the dead ball era, they’ve hit a collective .166. Tell me how long a catcher, an infielder, or an outfielder would survive in the Show—if he was lucky enough to get to it at all—with that kind of hitting. Even if he was the defensive second coming (based on runs saved above their leagues’ averages at their positions) of Ivan Rodriguez, Keith Hernandez, Bill Mazeroski, Ozzie Smith, Brooks Robinson, Barry Bonds, Andruw Jones, or Roberto Clemente.

Manfred should consider the Pirates owner of 1891 who first proposed what we know now as the DH. About whose proposal a journal of the time, The Sporting Life, said in concurrence:

Every patron of the game is conversant with the utter worthlessness of the average pitcher when he goes up to try and hit the ball. It is most invariably a trial, and an unsuccessful one at that. If fortune does favor him with a base hit it is ten to one that he is so winded in getting to first or second base on it that when he goes into the box it is a matter of very little difficulty to pound him all over creation.

It wasn’t an invention of that nefarious American League. And if it hadn’t been for Chris (I am der boss pressident of der Prowns!) von der Ahe, reneging on a previous commitment to support William Chase Temple, when the idea came up at the next National League rules meeting, the NL would have had the honour of introducing what Pirates catcher-turned-Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack tried but failed to introduce to the AL fifteen years later.

If you want to see a little more leveling out between pitching and hitting, be advised that when the DH is used this year (by AL teams, and by NL teams playing interleague in the AL Park) the DHs have the best OPS (.767) in Show at this writing. If you want more “strategy”—and you won’t throw things at me when I remind you that 95 percent of all “strategy” is plotted before the game begins—you should prefer that number-nine batting order slot go to either a second cleanup type or an extra leadoff type.

“Returning baseball to its roots” can be tricky. Even if it suggests Manfred might finally be willing to quit trying to prove that the birth child of that backstreet affair between Rube Golberg and the Mad Hatter should be a baseball executive.

It depends on the roots to which you want to return. How about eliminating regular-season interleague play? How about eliminating the wild card system that’s produced the thrills and chills of teams fighting to the last breath to finish . . . in second place?

How about a best-of-three division series with each league’s best first-place finisher having a bye while the other two winners slug it out? How about returning the League Championship Series to the best-of-five of its birth and childhood? How about thus eliminating October saturation and restoring the World Series to its proper primacy?

Unfortunately, those beg one further question right now: Since Manfred can’t seem to find the right way to make serviceable, field-leveling baseballs (easier to look into an acceptable stickum for pitcher grips, as he’s also doing), how far above his pay grade would those and other reasonable moves really prove?

Back to baseball’s roots? Be gone, hideous 2021 All-Star uniform! The threads (especially the American League’s “road” blue) made the horrific 1970s single-colour pajamas of some teams resemble something from Pierre Cardin. If players wearing their own uniforms, representing their teams, is good enough for the Home Run Derby, it’s still good enough for the All-Star Game.

Where have you gone, Bart Giamattio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.