Rule limiting DH to AL parks may chop Twins to size


October 22, 1991|By MIKE LITTWIN

ATLANTA -- No sooner had I flown into the Atlanta airport, which is only slightly smaller than the entire Northeast corridor, than I picked up a newspaper and saw it was all Jane's fault.

The headline over the words of a semi-famous local columnist said: "For Braves' Sake, Ted, Bench Jane." Jane, if you'll remember, had vowed never to tomahawk-chop again because she remembered that she used to stand for something besides standing beside Ted. (OK, characters: Jane is Jane Fonda, actress, exercise maven, former radical; Ted is, well, you know who Ted is.) But, according to the folks here, who never did like Jane, they don't want her chopping with them anyway. As soon as she started chopping, the theory goes, things went badly for the hometown team.

So, the battle lines are drawn. The Braves come home, down two chops to none, literally wrestled to the floor of the monster Metrodome and ready to return to a city where all the streets are named Peachtree.

And, you know what, getting out of Minnesota just might do the trick. It's not just the please-won't-somebody-blow-it-up Dome. It's not the protesters. It's not Jane. It's not even altogether the Twins.

Home, in this case, is where the designated hitter isn't.

Does that make sense to you? Me, neither. But it's the truth. Here's the deal: In the American League, they have the DH rule; in the National League, they don't. You knew that. But did you also know that the Solomonesque way of resolving this difference in the World Series is to let the home team set the rules?

Is that, as Alan Simpson would want to know, fair?

Of course not. It's not only not fair, but it's also dumb. What if the American League decided you couldn't have a shortstop? What if the National League decided the center fielder had to balance a ball on his nose between pitches?

And now you've got the Twins, who have Chili Davis (29 homers, 93 RBI), who can't play because he's the DH. He is reduced to being, in his words, the world's highest-paid cheerleader. You take Davis out of their lineup, the Twins are cut down to size. You throw pitchers Steve Avery and John Smoltz at that reduced-sized lineup, you might just have a 2-2 Series. It might have gone that way with Davis in the lineup, too, but we'll never know.

Why can't they do something about it?

I'll tell you a story about that. I was engaged in a recent conversation with this nice man who was saying so many thoroughly intelligent things about baseball that I thought he ought to be the commissioner. And then I found out he was the commissioner, which should tell you something.

Maybe you thought the commissioner runs baseball. He does not. The commish's actual duties, as far as I can tell, are basically limited to keeping Pete Rose away from the game and tucking all the owners in at night.

His job clearly is not to reduce the length of the season (as he wisely suggests they do) or to bring Sunday day games back to the World Series (as any fool knows they ought to do) or to come to an agreement on the DH. No, what the commissioner can do is to make sure nobody's chateaubriand gets overcooked at the owners' meeting. The owners, meantime, make the decisions.

Fay Vincent is against the DH. But, more important, not being a zealot, he wants the two sides to agree, one way or the other. All I know is that the Israelis and Arabs are about to sit down for a peace conference to try to settle thousand-year-old antagonisms, but the National and American leagues can't decide between them whether the pitcher ought to get to hit.

Davis, whose career was reclaimed in Minnesota this season, understands the situation but isn't that happy about it.

"Obviously, I'd like to play," Davis said, "but the rules don't allow it, and I didn't make the rules."

Davis, you might recall, hit a two-run homer in Game 2, which ended in a one-run victory for the Twins, who lead the Series, two games to none. You don't need to be a math major to figure out where the Twins would be if he couldn't have played.

Tonight, we get the added treat of watching American League pitchers, who never hit, have to try. These guys generally step up to the plate with the same enthusiasm that certain French royalty once had when they stepped up to the guillotine. There are some grins here, mostly sheepish, and everyone's good-natured about it, but is it baseball?

In any case, it's a break for the Braves. They have pitchers who have hit, and, more important, they lose Brian Hunter while the Twins lose Davis. The Braves need some good news. After fighting back against the Dodgers and fighting back against the Pirates, they might not have much fight left.

But overcoming 2-0 leads is now almost routine. Nine times in the previous 36 Series, a team has come back from 0-2. On the other hand, none of the past three Series has gone more than five games.

I think everyone is looking forward to tonight. We get to see Ted and Jane among the Atlanta 50,000. Aside from Jane, everyone else in Atlanta will be in war paint doing the chop, which (I never thought I'd say this) makes me nostalgic for the wave.

And then there will be Avery, who seems to be the best young pitcher to have come along at least since Dwight Gooden. The way Avery pitched against the Pirates, it may be instructional to recall, there were no designated hitters of any kind.

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