Is there a more famous Major League Baseball moment than Bartolo Colon going yard off of James Shields over the last five years? Future generations will be robbed of all moments of similar greatness as the National League is set to adopt the designated hitter when/if baseball restarts.
For years, the National League has been a guiding light for how baseball should be played. Employing skill and strategy not found in American League parks. The bunt, the double-switch, the hit and run, have all been staples of the game. The manager means more. But these are all issues that have been argued ad nauseam for decades and this is not the time to rehash them. This has been inevitable as pitching contracts have exploded in value. Owners will not allow for $250 million dollar arms to get injured trying to leg out a drag bunt or sprain an ankle on the base paths going first to third.
What we’re going to miss the most about the adoption of the designated hitter are the highs of a pitcher driving in runs and taking their hacks. As a Mets fan, the rotation over the last ten years has been populated with excellent athletes who served as anchors to the bottom of the lineup. Harvey, Wheeler, Matz, Syndergaard, deGrom, and yes, Bartolo Colon all outhit their stereotype. In the National League East there has been a long tradition of great athletes.
Greg Maddux stealing bases and hitting homers. MLB on Fox on Sunday with Joe Buck retelling how great John Smoltz and Tom Glavine are at golf. The Marlins had Dontrelle Willis who in the lean Marlins years would hit sixth or seventh. The Mets gave millions of dollars to Mike Hampton who hit the most homers as a pitcher. The athletes making plays is something we all expected, but the highest of highs during the doldrums of the baseball season were when the apprehensive pitchers who stood in the back corner of the box made solid contact and changed the game.
Look at this moment. “This is the biggest give up at-bat of the year.” WRONG. This kind of excitement is what baseball needs. The unexpected. In a game where the sabermetrics have taken control of the future of the past time, where launch angles and shifts have changed the game, introducing an element of randomness can be a solution to baseball’s biggest problem.
Now we won’t get the memes of Colon’s helmet flying off after he gets WAY out in front of a breaking ball. We won’t see the next Dontrelle Willis hitting sixth or seventh. We will see more of old sluggers holding on to three glorified pinch hitting experiences per game. We will see more of the home run or strike out experience we have now. No more fun base running adventures, no more highest of highs of seeing a relief pitcher go the other way for a double.
This is what I’ll miss the most about pitcher at-bats. It’s not the strategy, but the human element of randomness in a sport that is rapidly losing its soul to the sabermetrics geniuses.
Baseball shouldn’t be a riddle to solve. It’s a beautiful game to be enjoyed. I wish Commissioner Manfred and the rest of the decision makers viewed it that way.