Designated hitter belongs in both leagues
As game progresses in many ways, one archaic rule remains
CHICAGO -- And so we're back at it again in Interleague Play, where American League teams can't use their designated hitter in National League parks. It's time for that to change.Nobody is going to sob for the Yankees, but on a six-game roadie through Wrigley Field and Cincinnati, they must keep Jorge Posada on the bench, save for perhaps one pinch-hit appearance a game. A month ago, Posada was hitting .165 and caused a minor crisis by asking out of the lineup instead of batting ninth that night. Recently, the soon-to-be 39-year-old former All-Star catcher has been on a roll and is hitting .405 in June. But right now, Yankees manager Joe Girardi can't hit Posada fifth, sixth or ninth because it's against the rules. Just as Posada has begun to hit, New York runs the risk of him cooling off. "Yeah, you always worry about that a little bit," Girardi said. "What we tried to do with [Hideki] Matsui was get him an at-bat every day. If we don't start him, we'll try and get [Posada] an at bat in all six games as a pinch-hitter. That's the one thing you can do. He's a nice guy to have on your bench because he's a switch-hitter. So you have to pick your poison."
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Posada did pinch-hit in the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss to the Cubs on Friday and struck out looking. Starting pitcher Freddy Garcia laid down two perfectly executed sacrifice bunts, which means that a Yankees offense that amassed just five hits had to give up a pair of outs to generate nothing.At the risk of alienating the traditionalists, there's an easy fix to all of this: Institute the DH in both leagues. Despite the arguments for using one rule over the other, there is one argument that's irrefutable. Only two professional leagues in the world currently demand that the pitcher hit -- the NL in North America and Japan's Central League. Like the AL, the Pacific League in Japan went to the DH nearly 40 years ago. The DH is used in international play and will be the norm when the World Baseball Classic gets going in its third edition with a new qualifying round next year. Most development and amateur leagues also utilize the DH, which means that pitchers aren't being taught to hit. Love the DH or hate it, baseball isn't going backward. The DH is here to stay. Thus, it's high time to move forward and unify the rule everywhere. "I like the DH, because I like the difference in the two leagues," said Girardi, who has played and managed in both leagues. "I think what it does is it gives great aging veterans who have been good for our game a chance to play longer." Bingo. With the DH having already been formalized for all future All-Star Games, the timing is perfect right now to take the full step forward as the owners and players are trying to decide how to expand the playoffs by another two teams, with perhaps a bit of realignment tossed in. Expanding the playoffs to 10 of the 30 teams is expected to happen. Commissioner Bud Selig has suggested that it will, and the players seem to agree with it. It just depends on what form it takes and what rules will change to accommodate it. For precisely this reason, the Commissioner formed his blue-ribbon committee last year to evaluate how to best move the game forward on the field. The DH, adopted by the AL in 1973, was a product of another era, when the two leagues were different entities, led by their own presidents. They voted separately on everything from ownership changes to rules changes. Thus, though the NL shunned the DH, the AL could vote it in and did. That's not so today. Under Selig's guidance, the leagues were dissolved under the umbrella of Major League Baseball. The league presidents are honorary positions. A 75 percent vote of the combined owners from both leagues must occur to pass any major rules change. The DH discussion still largely breaks down along league lines. But even Cubs manager Mike Quade -- making his first foray this season through Interleague Play -- said he sees some value in the DH. And no wonder. Quade utilized Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano as his DH in a three-game series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park last month, and the spot yielded five hits, a run scored and an RBI in 13 at-bats. "I enjoyed having the DH in Boston," Quade said. "It gave me a chance to play an extra guy and let me give someone at-bats and rest him defensively." As far as utilizing the DH in the NL, Quade added: "I'm an NL guy, so it makes me think that it will never happen. I'm not a DH guy whatsoever. It's nice on those rare occasions. It's also more relaxing to manage a game when all you have to worry about is your pitching. The NL is so challenging that I like it a lot." For all its intrinsic value, flip-flopping the pitcher and worrying about how to utilize what is for most teams now a four-man bench is the least problematic part of the issue. The greatest part is making sure the DH is available to play in every game.
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.