On Saturday evening, David Ortiz will lumber out to play first base for the Red Sox in Game 3 of the World Series in St. Louis. Due to the one major rule difference between the American and National Leagues, Big Papi can’t be in the lineup unless he actually takes the field on defense. During the World Series, games played in AL home parks allow the designated hitter, while the NL parks force the pitcher to hit for himself.
For Ortiz, throwing on a first baseman’s mitt and trotting out on the diamond is a special occasion in and of itself. Since 2007, Ortiz has played a total of 32 games at first base. That averages to a little more than 4 games a season. When one thinks of a full-time DH, Ortiz is the prime example. He is paid to bat 4-5 times a game and that is it. In fact, Papi is generally used as a reason why the DH is patently unfair and extends players’ careers that otherwise would have been forced to retire or have a much reduced role.
Let’s face it. There is no way David Ortiz would have made $100 million in his playing career if there was no designated hitter in the game. Perhaps he could have been a full-time first baseman for some team over this entire span. Maybe. However, considering his size, weight gain over the years and lack of proficiency at the position, it is highly doubtful. Yet, due to his offensive ability, and the fact that all he has to do is swing the bat a few times a game, he’s been able to carve himself out a very lucrative career that will quite possibly land him in Cooperstown.
This isn’t meant to be an indictment of Ortiz. He’s naturally taken advantage of the situation in the American League and prospered. However, it does bring up the silliness that we still have a major rule difference between the two leagues. Over the past few years, we’ve seen interleague play get expanded, to the point that each team now plays 20 interleague games a year. That is 1/8th the entire schedule. Also, while the interleague schedule used to be during a certain time of the season, it now goes on throughout the entire year, so we are now subjected to the rule difference basically every day of the season.
At some point, MLB needs to make a decision and stick with it. Either have the DH be the rule for both leagues, or get rid of it. Considering that the DH has helped extend or improve the careers or many players, it seems highly unlikely that the players’ union will go along with the eradication of the rule. Therefore, the league basically just needs to go ahead and extend the DH to the National League. Sure, it may piss off some purists of the game, but the game has evolved and changed a ton anyway. No point holding on to another relic of a bygone era.
But, it isn’t going away in the AL. It’s been there since 1973. Interleague play isn’t going away, either. In fact, we might see interleague play continue to be expanded. Considering the increased frequency of NL teams playing in AL parks, we just have to start getting used to the idea of the DH as part of the game and move forward.
Or, MLB can sit on its hands a little longer and continue to ‘study the matter’, which has been Bud Selig’s position on pretty much everything that involved any real decision making. As this seems to be the likely scenario, prepare to see more World Series games in the future where the AL manager has to sit a player so he can get his DH into the lineup somehow.