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The DH Debate - Again

Commissioner Bud Selig has created a 14-member committee to consider all on-field issues, which some are calling the MLB version of the NFL's Competition Committee. It looks like this committee is a response to the call for instant replay after the poor umpiring during the playoffs. But others say it could possibly mean that MLB will finally settle the decision on the DH.

Baseball has had one league with the DH and one with the pitcher hitting for 34  years now. There's always a cry from some that baseball must finally make up its mind! And every few years the issue gets a lot of media attention with columns for the DH and against the DH. But you rarely see a column saying this:  baseball is great as it is.

That's my take. I love how one league has the DH and one doesn't. There are pluses and minuses of baseball with the DH and without. It's fun watching that rare pitcher who can hit (Dontrelle Willis, Micah Owings, etc). The strategy behind the double-switch adds a great element to the game. But the DH reduces the number of worthless at bats by pitchers who can't hit. And for every late-inning tough decision about when to pull a pitcher for a pinch hitter, there are thousands more mindless and routine decisions. Bill James made the case that there's actually more decision making with the DH:

"I'm not an advocate of the Designated Hitter Rule; I'm only an advocate of seeing the truth and telling the truth. What the truth comes down to here is a question of in what does strategy reside? Does strategy exist in the act of bunting? If so the Designated Hitter Rule has reduced strategy. But if strategy exists in the decision about when a bunt should be used, then the DH rule has increased the differences of opinion which exist about that question, and thus increased strategy...[the research shows] that there is more of a difference of opinion, not less, in the American League." - Bill James in The Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract (1986) [quote courtesy of Baseball Almanac].

And in the larger context, one of the things that gives baseball an advantage over other sports is that we get to see teams and players in different conditions. All ballparks are different. I'm a big fan of when an AL or NL team has to adjust in the World Series by the change of the DH rule in ballparks - or in interleague play. All of the other leagues have moved to a cookie-cutter format where the courts, field or ice (the NHL used to be much more interesting when rink sizes could vary) are all the same.

So the DH debate looks set to rage again with the formation of Selig's new committee. We'll see tons of pro-and anti-DH articles. Let me be one of the few who says .. I love it just the way it is.