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Owens: Eliminating the DH is an overdue change (Feb. 1)

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What would I do if I were sports dictator for a day?

Where do I start? The first thoughts that pop into my head involve adjusting the NBA’s one-and-done rule so that ‘student-athletes’ stay in school longer and college basketball’s talent pool rises to what it once was.

I would implement meaningful reform in college football that would lead to fewer NCAA scandals and more integrity for a game that has little of the said integrity its amateurism would suggest.

Oh yeah, I’d get rid of the BCS in favor of a playoff as well, but that argument is not exactly new.

But No. 1 on my list of changes I’d like to see in the world of sports is to completely even the playing field in baseball by eliminating the designated hitter rule.

Commissioner Bud Selig has instituted realignment with equal 15-team leagues and five-team divisions, which is a huge step forward for a sport that has finally sacrificed some tradition for some practicality.

Now, I know it is much likelier that the National League adopts the designated hitter rule than it is for the American League to drop it. Why?

Two reasons: Money (fans dig the long ball) and the fact that the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) is unlikely to sign off on any rule change that would decrease the career lifetime of some of its greatest players, many of whom are able to hit but not field when they age.

Eliminating the designated hitter would be the final step in restoring baseball to its pure form, a time before the Steroid Era, when the sport effectively sold its soul to increase home run numbers and, as a result, fan attendance in the gloomy post-strike stretch.

Many (probably most) consider a 450-foot home run by a designated hitter to be a thing of beauty. While I’m not saying it isn’t, you lose a lot of what makes the game great when you opt for designated hitters over having the pitcher bat, double-switches and the general chess-game mentality National League managers must possess.

Watching retired manager Tony LaRussa out-smart the other manager in late-game situations was part of what made him so great. Did he over-manage at times? Certainly. It’s safe to say his teams won more games than they lost as a direct result of his moves.

So what happens to players in the American League who no longer play positions and are slotted into a designated-hitter role in their respective manager’s lineup card each day?

Amazingly, I think life will go on and the game will be better with the change.

Sure, it would not exactly help my favorite team, the Tigers, if the DH were eliminated. They have one locked up through 2014 (Victor Martinez) and potentially two future DHs in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder (signed through 2015 and 2020, respectively). The game, however, would be better off.

Red Sox fans would bemoan the loss of David Ortiz, a staple in the organization for the past decade. But, hey, should you really be a baseball player if you can’t even take the field anymore?

White Sox fans should definitely be in favor of this change. Maybe Adam Dunn’s bat will pick up if he takes the field everyday, like he did during his time in the National League. After batting .159 in 2011 (the worst average during the live-ball era by 20 points), it certainly can’t hurt.

So, baseball, even the playing field and have both teams play under the same rules. Now that realignment is about to be a reality in 2013, it’s time to completely balance the leagues and eliminate the designated hitter.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.