Baseball has been one of America’s most beloved pastimes for many generations, and it continues to grow in popularity both within its borders and beyond.
As with all popular sports, baseball is not free from its share of controversy. One of the biggest sources of contention concerns whether or not pitchers should be compelled to do more than pitch as part of their duties. Should all baseball pitchers have to bat?
Yes and no. The designated hitter rule allows pitchers playing in the American league to have someone else bat on their behalf. Pitchers participating in the National League must take up their bats while playing home games.
People on both sides of the divide hold strong opinions regarding batting for pitchers. Still, various factors and concerns influence the debate regarding this matter. In this piece, we’ll be taking a quick look at the history of hitting pitchers and the current status of debate about their place in the sport.
Let’s get right to it.
History of Hitting Pitchers
Until 1973, having pitchers take to bat for themselves was considered standard. This was the year that the American League instituted the designated hitter rule.
Initially, the designated hitter rule did not apply during the World Series, and it was only used during even years for the Series between 1976 and 1985. Since that year, designated hitter regulations have only applied when teams play home games in the American League.
The 2020 baseball season was severely impacted by the COVID pandemic, as the season itself had to be shortened for health and safety reasons. One of the measures taken by the baseball authorities was to make designated hitters mandatory for both the American and National Leagues.
In 2021, however, this action was reversed again due to the league authorities’ failure to agree with the players’ association during their CBA (collective bargaining agreement) deliberations.
From a purely historical perspective, those who advocate for hitting pitchers have a strong argument in their favor. Hitting pitchers have been part of the sport’s tradition for many centuries. In a world where tradition is fading from many aspects of our day-to-day lives, there are plenty of people who see the value in preserving some elements of their beloved game.
Do Pitchers Make Good Hitters?
One of the reasons the question of hitting pitchers continues to elicit debate is the fact that pitchers, for the most part, don’t make very good batters. There have been notable exceptions over the years, with pitchers such as Babe Ruth, Shohei Ohtani, Carlos Zambrano, and others making excellent batters as well, but these are few and far between.
Most pitchers will try to bunt the ball as a sacrifice whenever they have a runner with fewer than two outs on base.
Pitchers are notorious for their awkward swings and inexperience on the plate, but many fans of the game find that making them go through with it regardless is a way to stay true to the spirit of the game. Some just like to see them squirm under pressure, even if the result is fewer runs.
Should Pitchers Hit?
The poor showing from pitchers when it comes to batting duty is one of the biggest arguments for instituting the designated hitter rule across all leagues. Fans and commentators complain about the slower pace and lack of excitement hitting pitchers bring to the game.
Designated hitters will generally translate to higher offensive action and more runs, which is, undoubtedly, a significant portion of what makes the game enjoyable for fans in the stands and at home.
There is also a medical case to be made for those pushing for designated hitters. Pitchers who have not had to carry out any offensive batting duties for the past couple of years are at higher risk of injury when they pick up the bat and try to perform at the same level as pro batters.
The players union has tried to make the case that designated hitter rules for all Major League Baseball teams would make the game more exciting, thus increasing viewership and revenue for the league while providing 15 well-paid jobs for players within their ranks.
Baseball is a sport with a lot of historical significance for many of its players and fans, which is why the importance of tradition is always stressed when it comes to this All-American pastime.
Even so, the most relevant pointers tell us that the designated hitter rule is the most beneficial to players, the league, and most importantly, to the fans. Tradition has its undoubted place, but it might be time for us to let some things go for the sake of progress.