The independent Golden Baseball League has abolished the DH rule for 2010, and will let pitchers take their shot at the plate every 9th hitter. Not only is this a terrible idea at the independent level of professional baseball, but I would argue that the National League should get with program and add the DH, too.
In case you aren’t familiar with independent baseball, the majority of the players have been drafted and played for a Major League organization at some point in their career. Upon their release, notices are sent to all other MLB clubs and all indy clubs, which total somewhere above 80 these days, with their contact information and expressing their interest to continue playing the game. A feeding frenzy for the services of these players ensue for a couple of reasons – first, independent baseball, unlike the affiliated minor leagues, is all about winning and the best players get jobs first whereas raw ability and “upside” have no value; second, players can be purchased from indy teams back into the minor league affiliates for a couple thousand dollars. While it doesn’t sound like much, selling two or three players for five or six thousand bucks can make a big difference for these teams (team salary caps in indy leagues range from $60k – $120k total, for the entire team, for the entire summer).
The appeal of these leagues for Major League scouts is that some players develop at different rates and you never know when a rash of injuries will decimate one of your minor league teams. Independent leagues offer a pool of talent that is in-shape, playing to win on a nightly basis, and begging for an opportunity. It is relatively cheap for MLB clubs to buy out their independent contract and while there usually isn’t much potential for improvement, they will compete as well if not better than the younger, unpolished top prospects around them.
The reason for the absurdity of the Golden Baseball League’s decision to remove the DH from play in 2010 is two-fold. First, you not increasing the value of pitchers to Major League scouts – if a pitcher can’t pitch, he won’t get picked-up, regardless of his batting average. Second, you are taking at-bats away from your current position players at the DH role as a means for a day off as well as completely eliminating the possibility of signing the defensively inept minor leaguer who still might be good enough to get signed just because of his bat.
Case study – OF/2B Jake Whitesides was drafted in the 5th round out of high school in Missouri, but was released after just two seasons in the Houston Astros system. He spent the next seven years bouncing through independent baseball, mostly as a DH, and was picked up three different times by the White Sox, Cubs, and Marlins. Two of the three teams were National League clubs, who don’t have a DH at the Major League level, but saw the hitting ability in Whitesides was significant enough to help him work on his defense. Without the DH at the independent level, he would have had a much more difficult time finding a job and getting at-bats at the indy level (Whitesides DNP in 2009 after separating his shoulder playing for Traverse City in the Frontier League in 2008).
The National League, aside from the Golden League, is the only organized baseball league in the world that has the pitcher bat. All international leagues and international competitions, including the Olympics, has the DH. The DH, like it or not, is part of the game, and it is good for the game. The players and coaches in baseball don’t like it mainly because they have to watch 162 games per year and would much rather have a two-hour game over a four-hour game. However, the DH is good for the business of baseball and puts fans in the stands.
The modern game has become so advanced and so specialized that there are no longer pitchers that can help their club with the bat in their hands. So few, in fact, that you can name them right off the top of your head. The roster size is so deep that even when the bench guy who gets kept on the club just to be a pinch hitter gets into the game, he has to face the lefty-specialist who throws off his shoelaces.
Traditionalists can cry all they want about the changes in the rules of baseball, but the facts are that the way the game is played was changed long before the rules. Pinch hitters used to be able to face a worn down starter, 150 pitches into his outing, and on two-days rest. Now the game is played internationally, with all countries contributing their own players, cultures, and styles of play. The roster carries 25 players, often with 13 or more pitchers, at least 3-4 of which have the sole assignment to get out one or two hitters on the other team. Where is the outcry for these specialized pitchers?
In the 2009 World Series, The Yankees do not win the without LHP Damaso Marte and his dominance of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Raul Ibanez, etc. You want to ban the DH? Then ban the DP – designated pitcher, who only has a job because they can get out hitters from just one-side of the plate.