Sleepless in Hanover
Every night I have the same dream. I'm 20 years older, happily married in Grand Rapids, Mich., with a big brown dog and a six-year-old son named Timmy.
Two weeks before Timmy's seventh birthday I go to the local sporting goods store and pick out a big, beautiful, brand new baseball glove. I take it home and break it in. Rubbing oils and creams into the leather until it bends and softens under my fingers, forcing two baseballs into the stiff pocket, wrapping the glove in rubber bands and an old sock -- I work that mitt for two weeks until I'm satisfied with its "playability." The morning of Timmy's birthday I take it out from under my mattress and present it to him -- an expertly conditioned baseball glove, missing only the smells of freshly cut grass.
"Well, son, it's your first glove. Do you wanna be a shortstop like Jeter, ranging in the hole to scoop up sharply hit ground balls? Or maybe like Edmonds sprawling out for frozen ropes on the centerfield grass at Busch Stadium?"
It's at this point in the dream that he turns to me, with wide-eyed innocence and says:
"Thanks, Dad, but I won't need one of these. I'm going to be a DH when I grow up."
Horror creeps into the recesses of my heart and I jolt out of bed, sweat running down my face.
Ever since its enactment in 1973, rule 6.10(b), which allows for a hitter to bat in place of a pitcher (exclusive to the American League), has divided fans into those that support the DH, and those that vehemently oppose it. Pro-DH camps rightfully claim that Rule 6.10(b) extends the careers of aging hitters like Edgar Martinez and Harold Baines, while protecting fans from the ugly sight of watching pitchers hit. Those against the DH rule point to its existence as disturbing the sanctity of the game, lessening strategy (if by strategy you mean sacrifice bunts, pinch hitters, and double switches), and ballooning run production beyond an already over-inflated point.
The benefits of the DH have been futilely debated for 27 years without reaching any sort of consensus. The more interesting question is, what kind of effect does the DH have in the World Series, where the league affiliation of the ballpark determines if the rule is in effect? Is a National League team that has to scrounge up a ninth batter in AL parks at a disproportionate disadvantage to an AL team that has to hide an everyday player on the bench in NL parks? Or vice-versa? Are AL pitchers much more of an offensive liability than their NL counterparts who have more regular hitting experience?
The results are inconclusive. National League teams have a slight advantage in inter-league play since its inception in 1997. However, American League teams have won 16 of the last 27 World Series since the DH was instituted. For more concrete evidence of a "DH effect" on the World Series, look at this year's Fall Classic between the New York Mets and New York Yankees.
Game 1 at Yankee Stadium: With the designated hitter rule in effect, Mets manager Bobby Valentine opted to rest Mike Piazza in the DH spot and start Todd Pratt at catcher.
"Todd Pratt's been a big part of our team for two years and more," said Valentine. "I think he's as deserving as any person who's ever put on a uniform to play in a World Series game, and this might be his only opportunity."
By starting Pratt, the Mets were able to get their best right-handed hitter on the bench into the game and he responded by reaching base three times in five at-bats.
The Yankees started Chuck Knoblauch at DH, getting his .328 World Series batting average into the lineup and keeping his 15 errors in 82 games off the field. His replacement at second, Jose Vizcaino, went 4-6, including the game-winning bases-loaded two-out single in the 12th. Advantage: Yankees.
Game 2 in the Bronx: Since Piazza didn't have to crouch behind the plate in Game 1 -- the longest game in World Series history at 4 hours and 51 minutes -- he was well rested for Game 2 the next night. It showed in his two-run homer in the ninth off of Jeff Nelson. Both teams' designated hitters, Lenny Harris for the Mets, Knoblauch again for the Yankees, were hitless in four at-bats.
More interesting is the DH effect on the game's pitchers, Mike Hampton and Roger Clemens. The DH rule took the bat out of the hands of Mets' ace Hampton; one of baseball's best-hitting pitchers with a .274 batting average. The rule helped the Yankees again in keeping Clemens out of the batters box and possibly facing retribution (i.e. a baseball to the skull) for the evils he's imposed on Piazza this year. Advantage: Draw.
Game 3 at Shea Stadium: With the pitchers forced to bat, the Yankees' Orlando Hernandez (with a Ruthian career batting average of .053) was hitless with two strikeouts. Rick Reed of the Mets made the National League proud by singling in the third and successfully sacrificing a runner to second in the fifth. Advantage: Mets.
Game 4 in Queens: Yankees pitcher Denny Neagle struck out in the second, squelching a rally that could have potentially blown open the game. Likewise, the absence of the DH kept Glenallen Hill, with a .735 slugging percentage and a propensity for "Met-killing," out of the Yankee lineup. Advantage: Mets.
Game 5 at Shea: The Mets' Al Leiter reached base on a textbook drag bunt, spurring the Mets to a 2-0 lead in the second.
Yankees skipper Joe Torre was well-prepared for managing under National League rules, perhaps as a result of 14 years of prior managerial experience in the NL. In the eighth inning, Torre pulled a double-switch, bringing Mike Stanton in to pitch and batting Luis Sojo in the pitchers spot in the lineup. Lo and behold, with two outs in the ninth inning of a tied game, Sojo (who wouldn't even have been in the game if the DH rule were in effect) came up to bat with two on against Al Leiter. The result was a Series-winning base hit up the middle. Advantage: Yankees.
With two advantages going the Yankees way, two going for the Mets, and one draw only one thing is for sure: I should stop eating EBAs' pepperoni pizza before I go to sleep.