Commissioner Rob Manfred announced yesterday that the Designated Hitter will be implemented in the National League, thus, as Yasi Khan so succinctly put, ‘ending a history that stretches back to the 1880s.’
Sometimes history must end. Traditions erased and reset. Maybe the Universal DH is progress. A key step in the master plan of the MLB owners to Make Baseball Great Again. Studies have shown that an addition of 0.14 more runs in half of the games on any given day will topple the NFL hegemony and strip the NBA of its cultural clout.
On school playgrounds, there will be empty basketball courts. No more ‘Kobe!’ shouted before releasing a 15-foot jumper, no ‘Curry!’ before heaving up a ridiculous three beyond the arc—just raucous applause around the sandlot as a fourth grader works a bases-empty walk, muttering a quiet ‘Soto’ before trotting up to first.
I’m getting snarky—but a universal DH is not going to precipitate a momentous cognitive shift in the American psyche, nor completely alter the type of play we watch on the diamond.
The rule change is an aftershock, a tremor, post primary quake. How players and coaches approach hitting and pitching has already changed drastically in recent seasons. Pitchers-without-bats have been an institutional position in the minor leagues for years. The way the MLB rewards certain types of batters/pitchers has trickled down to all aspects of the game.
It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that pitchers are bad at hitting. It is a business decision. It is also a statement that is paradoxically true in broad terms and refuted by a handful of dominant starting pitchers like Jacob DeGrom or Max Fried or *cough* reigning American League MVP Shohei Ohtani who can swing a bat.
But the DH implementation is a rule change that MLPA advocated for and if it keeps players employed for longer, if it keeps them safer, if it lets pitchers focus more on the craft they are compensated for than, as a fan who leans labor, I can’t really knock it. Players do the heavy lifting, they should rightfully run the show
I prefer the aesthetics, “the symmetry” (again, thanks Yasi) that was pitchers hitting, but I’m not going to stop watching baseball because they don’t anymore, and I’d passively roll my eyes at anyone who said they would.
But no matter where you land on this political divide—pro or con, X-Box or chess, philistine or aesthete (I’m joshing, of course)—the unexpected joys that peak from the flat-lining mediocrity of pitchers hitting in recent years will be missed.
Here are some of my favorite moments from the past decade-plus of San Francisco Giants pitcher at-bats. This list is not exhaustive by any means. I’m sure you, good reader, have many moments good, bad, and ugly that you’ll treasure: a Tim Lincecum triple, Johnny Cueto fitting into a batting helmet, a Madison Bumgarner homer off Clayton Kershaw, a horrific Madison Bumgarner swing-and-a-miss at a Kershaw curveball…please share!
Logan Webb’s home run in the division-clinching game 162 from this season is probably in my top three favorite moments from 2021. Brady highlights its significance here. I wrote about the at-bats that led to Webb’s 5th inning blast here.
But Logan Webb’s performance was an echo of another: Jonathan Sanchez’s in 2010. Another final regular season game against San Diego. Another National League West flag in jeopardy.
While Sanchez delivered 5 innings of shutout baseball, working around three hits and five walks, it was his triple in the third off—and this is so beautiful—Mat Latos that started a two run rally that won the game for the Giants.
It was relatively early in the game, the time when quality starting pitchers started to settle into a rhythm. Latos had already recorded an out and the Giants order was about to be turned over. You can tell Latos was thinking ahead, starting the premature merge over to the inning’s off-ramp. Sanchez recognized that—he would’ve been thinking the exact same thing. Latos wasn’t going to mess around, the first pitch would be straight and over the plate and Sanchez jumped on it.
I love the call from Duane Kuiper on this one. The fans absolutely erupt as that ball lands in the sunlit Triple’s Alley and Kuiper feeds off the energy.
We weren’t aware of it at the time, but Sanchez’s hit kicked started a dynasty.
But the Giants can’t boast the term dynasty if they don’t win in 2012.
Barry Zito’s bunt in game 5 of the NLCS was what put the Giants in the driver’s seat for the rest of that postseason. It wasn’t a run they needed, having scored three already in the fourth—but the Giants, down 3-1 in the series, needed to win that game. Any run brought in was valuable because any type of lead was fragile.
A couple batters earlier, Lance Lynn had bounced a throw off second base that brought in the first run for the Giants. Brandon Crawford then brought in two more with a single. With two outs, runners on second and third, and thrid baseman, David Freese playing deep, Barry Zito put the game in his back pocket, legging out an RBI bunt single.
Lance Lynn was immediately yanked. For the rest of the game and series, the Cardinals scratched out only one run. The Giants scored 16. Then they swept the Tigers.
You can have your home runs, for me, this one takes the cake.
I’ll end on Will Smith’s RBI single against the Philadelphia Phillies in 2019.
This hit has none of the significance of the other pitcher at-bats we’ve talked about. There is no division race, no stakes. It is August and the 2019 Giants are not good. Fans are coming out to the games to say goodbye to Bochy and if San Francisco happens to play well, then that’s just icing.
This hit is the icing.
It doesn’t prove the capability of pitchers at the plate, refute the extensive decline in offensive numbers, no ounce of real intellectual stimulation—it’s just goofy and unexpected and nonsensical. It’s a one-off stroke that brings nothing but a shrug and laughter. It’s a perfect example of what baseball will miss with the universal DH.
A quote from professional pitcher Will Smith after hitting a single: “That was probably the peak of my funness on a baseball field.”