I find it hard to believe that the designated hitter in baseball is 40 years old. I remember when the American League introduced the "DH" into baseball, there were many who felt it was just a matter of time before the harebrained idea was dropped and we'd be back to pitchers striking out.
But the rule lives on. Baseball purists insist the game was intended for everyone to bat, even the highest-priced pitchers. While football has evolved into a situational substitution format and basketball added the three-point shot, they contend Abner Doubleday always intended for pitchers to hit.
Having the pitcher in the lineup does infuse more strategy and puts a premium on pinch-hitters. Still, those who like the DH prefer a lineup infused with more punch and will remind you that baseball started with nine balls and five strikes per batter.
Don't expect any changes in the designated hitter any time soon. Some might say it's actually more popular since the rule has made its way down into the amateur ranks with area youth leagues using it in one format or another.
But the situation in the Major Leagues remains awkward since its implementation into the World Series and now inter-league play underscores the rules disparity between the two leagues.
Is there a way that this situation could be solved short of one of the leagues giving in?
Jim Szantor thinks there is. Some may remember I introduced my column readers to Jim last year on the topic of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). He is a baseball junky in the best kind of way. Now a Door County resident, his long tenure behind the editing desk at the Chicago Tribune and friendships with its iconic baseball writers only fueled his passion for the sport.
A self-professed "seamhead," Jim is also a regular at the YMCA where we cross paths on occasion and often talk a little baseball.
It was there a couple weeks ago that Jim dropped his idea for the DH on me. His remedy for the current situation seemed too straight forward and logical to gain universal support. And Jim has a platform to promote his ideas through a popular blog (www.jimjustsaying.com). His loyal readership spans 43 countries. His idea even garnered positive feedback from some distinguished national writers.
"It's simple," Jim told me. "Merely keep the DH and put it in both leagues."
But to satisfy the purists, including Jim himself, it could only be used in one game per series against a particular foe.
"Once in a series, a manager could elect to use the designated hitter - even if the opposing manager was not using it in that game," Jim explained to me. "You might have a crucial late-season Yankee-Red Sox series with the visiting New Yorkers using the DH in the opening game, hoping to get off to a good start and the host Red Sox saving it for the last game, just in case. Think of the second-guessing and strategic possibilities."
Jim's right, the possibilities are endless as the manager's use of the DH would be dependent on availability of players, opposing pitchers and even the weather forecast.
"At least the DH idea would have both leagues playing the same way," Jim said. "At the very least I think the idea merits a one-year trial."