It’s time for baseball to scrap the designated hitter rule

Daniel Norris does something we rarely see from a pitcher: hit a home run.

Daniel Norris doing something we rarely see from a pitcher: hitting a home run.

It was exciting last week when Daniel Norris smacked a home run to deep center field at Wrigley Field in his first major league at-bat. The homer would have been impressive no matter who hit it, but considering it came off the bat of a Detroit pitcher, it was eye-popping. That home run illustrates why baseball needs to change their most controversial rule.

The DH has to go, but not for the reason you might think.

I’m not thrilled about watching pitchers hit, and baseball has a lot of great hitters in the designated hitter role, including our very own Victor Martinez, but ultimately the DH should be cast aside once and for all. The primary reason is to keep pitchers healthy.

Norris hurt while doing something he rarely does
Norris was hitting only because the Tigers happened to be playing the Cubs in an interleague game. The Cubs are in the National League where the pitcher hits and the DH has never been adopted. It’s the only professional league that doesn’t use the DH. The American League started using the designated hitter in 1973, meaning that for more than four decades Tiger fans have been watching baseball under that format. But Norris and his AL pitching brethren are at a distinct disadvantage when they are forced to put on batting gloves. They don’t swing the bat much at all otherwise, which is why most pitchers end up going 0-for-their-career for the most part. But worse than that, pitchers can get hurt doing something they aren’t trained to do, which is what happened to Norris later in that game. He left the contest in the fifth inning when he felt a twinge in his right side.

On Sunday the Tigers placed Norris on the 15-day disabled list with a strained right oblique, and reports are now circulating that his season is probably over. A pitcher hurt by a swing, not a throw.

How long will baseball keep playing by different rules in their two leagues? It’s time for them to stop.

Pitchers are players too
Baseball has been around a long time and the basic setup was the same for over a century: nine players to a side and nine players in the lineup, including the pitcher. When Major League Baseball instituted the DH in 1973 as a reaction to a low scoring environment, they radically changed the game. At first people weren’t sure what the DH was supposed to do. Early DH’s struggled to find a way to stag engaged in the game, and some pitchers complained that they didn’t get a chance to help themselves at the plate. As years passed, that changed. Now, most fans can’t imagine what the game would be without David Ortiz or VMart. But yet here we are in 2015 with AL teams having to send their pitchers to the plate when they play their NL foes. With 15 teams in each league, there’s an interleague game every day, which means one team is playing the game by rules they weren’t built for.

So you might think I would want the DH to be adopted by the NL too, so Norris and other pitchers can avoid the potential “boo-boos” that might occur when they pick up the bat and run the bases. But that’s not so.

Let’s abolish the DH for the safety of pitchers
It’s time to call for the abolition of the designated hitter. In my opinion, if pitchers were expected to hit they would practice it, which would lessen the change they would get hurt swinging a bat. Norris wasn’t hurt because he swung a bat, he was hurt because he rarely has to swing a bat. In his long career in the big leagues, Mickey Lolich never got hurt hitting or running the bases. Neither did Bob Gibson (ironically he famously broke his foot while pitching), Whitey Ford, or Warren Spahn, pitchers who spent years swinging the bat.

The Tigers are without their talented young left-handed pitcher, and now they may have to wait until 2016 to have him back in the fold. That’s a shame, and it could have been prevented if MLB had one rule that required all players to do what baseball players have been doing since the diamond was first laid out — swing a bat.