SMITH COLUMN: Not a fan of designated hitter in baseball

Published 10:30 am Friday, May 14, 2021

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The designated hitter rule is coming to the National League, but I don’t have to like it. And I don’t. It is not official, but you can easily predict that the National League will cave on the issue when the next bargaining agreement is negotiated.

If I sound like the caustic manager of yesteryear, Sparky Anderson, then I am proud to be in his company. I was not a friend or confidante of the first manager to win the World Series in both leagues, but I had a conversation with him years ago about the DH. He detested the rule.

While in Detroit, in the early eighties, I went out to Tiger Stadium for a game and wound up behind the batting cage in conversation with Sparky, the loquacious manager who would engage in baseball talk with most anybody. I asked if I could turn on my tape recorder for a couple of questions. He was obliging. During a brief Q and A session, I asked him about the American League designated hitter rule.

“I hate the (expletive) rule,” he said. Then he was off and running. “I know it is part of the game over here, but I will never accept it. It is not baseball.  They (American League officials) don’t like for me to talk about it, but I ain’t stopping. I will always speak out against the designated hitter. I am a traditionalist, and I think the game is better when the pitcher has to bat for himself.”

Interestingly, he managed the Tigers for 17 seasons, winning the World Series there in 1984 after nine years with the Cincinnati Reds where he won World Series titles in 1975 and 1976.   

When he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., Sparky wore his Cincinnati cap although he managed almost twice as many years in Detroit as he did with Cincinnati. My guess is that he went to his grave holding loud contempt for the concept of the designated hitter.

In the National League, when the pitcher is coming to bat that is the time most fans head to the popcorn stand. When the pitcher is batting, that is the time to take a bathroom break, but you better hurry. Three quick fastballs down the middle and in less than three minutes, the pitcher may be walking back to the dugout. That is why there is a legion of baseball fans, who think it is a joke to have the pitcher spend time in the batter’s box.

You would think that the DH would be offensive to Babe Ruth, who not only could hit (.342 lifetime average with 714 home runs), he could pitch. He won 89 games as a pitcher with the Red Sox and five with the Yankees to whom he was traded following the 1919 season.