stoner steps

    Spring is here, and the 2002 Major League Baseball season has begun full throttle.

    Right now ERAs soar in the 100s, Bonds is paced to hit over 200 home runs, the Giants are set to win 162 games, nobody is out of the race and everyone is happy.

    Of course there are some serious issues already being raised in this young season. The effect of Sept. 11 on attendance, the possible elimination of teams, the disputes between players and owners with Bud Selig, the surprising low-scoring offense the teams have shown so far, whether Nomar will regain his pre-wrist injury hitting form, if the damn Yankees will finally fall apart … the list could continue for days.

    However, there is one overarching issue, one that needs to be addressed as an integral characteristic of the sport whose importance extends beyond the mere game to affect all segments of our society.

    They need to get rid of the damn designated hitter.

    The designated hitter, established in the American League in 1973 in an attempt to boost offense, is a joke.

    I am a National League fan. Not merely because my home team is from the National League, but because I can’t stand the idea of the designated hitter.

    Some lardass gets paid $10 million a year to sit on the bench, occasionally trot up to the plate, swing from his heels and try and hit a home run, then trot back to the bench until his next attempt to smack the crap out of the ball. Because that’s all designated hitters are responsible for – they just have to try and hit the ball.

    Now, I’m not saying that’s an easy accomplishment. It’s probably one of the hardest things to do in sports: hit a ball going over 90 mph while having only one-tenth of a second to react.

    However, offense is only half of the game. There’s also this little thing called “”defense”” that’s pretty key to winning, too.

    Yet the designated hitter doesn’t have to worry, care or learn how to play defense. The DH only has to play half the game — how does that conform with the ideals of sports and fair play?

    There are other issues. How can you compare two players if one has more responsibilites (i.e., has to play both offense and defense) than the other? What if the DH is a better hitter, but the athlete he’s being compared to is also very strong defensively?

    And is someone who only plays half a sport even an athlete? Not having to play defense excuses DHs from a lot of required speed and agility. Look at Cecil Fielder, the former DH for the Detroit Tigers. While his official weight is 261, at some point he swelled to 300 pounds and could only hit. He practically died every time he was forced to chug around the bases, and probably the most entertaining thing about watching the Tigers was waiting for him to have a coronary on the basepaths.

    I would not call Cecil Fielder an athlete. He was a disgrace, and while yes, he did hit a lot of home runs, I think limiting baseball to hitting home runs trivializes the game and its storied history.

    What about the Hall of Fame? Should DHs be selected over players who busted their asses on both sides of the field? I don’t think so.

    Sure Al Kaline DH’d his last year to reach 3,000 hits, but the majority of his career was as an actual position player.

    The most common counter argument is that no one wants to see a pitcher hit. Admittedly, it’s often a painful thing to watch, but true baseball fans should love watching pitchers hit. Not actually watching them hit, I guess, but the whole strategy that is involved when pitchers have to hit. Coaches have to consider pinch-hitting, sacrificing, hit-and-run, doing a double-switch — the opportunities are endless.

    Meanwhile, in the American League, a coach would get fiercely criticized for having his best hitter bunt or hit and run.

    Lastly, consider interleague games and the World Series. There’s always the confusion of when the pitcher is going to hit, when he isn’t, and there is no consistency.

    Disbanding the designated hitter would combat the disturbing trend in baseball on focusing on offense, and shift the focus more on strategy and multi-dimensional athletic ability, instead of reducing America’s pastime into a single-faceted game.

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