DH dilemma puts quality at risk

KEN ROSENTHAL

October 16, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

TORONTO -- It's World Series time, and the hot topic of discussion again is whether one of the game's top hitters will remain in the American League champion's lineup.

Did anyone debate if Charles Barkley would get enough minutes in the NBA Finals? Did anyone debate if Emmitt Smith would get enough carries in the Super Bowl?

Nope, this is a baseball exclusive.

No other sport maintains two sets of rules for its showcase event. No other sport compromises itself when fan interest is highest.

Toronto's Paul Molitor should play every game of the World Series. But because the DH is used only in the AL city, he's an endangered species.

It would be absurd for the AL's second-leading hitter to sit out games 3, 4 and 5 in Philadelphia. It would be even more absurd for him to try a position he hasn't played in three years.

Both scenarios are possible. And if Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston doesn't play Molitor at third base, he might use him at first -- in place of AL batting champion John Olerud.

When will baseball wake up? Either keep the DH or ditch it. That goes not just for the World Series, but with interleague play on the horizon, the entire sport.

If you're going to use the DH, then use it everywhere. Otherwise, you might as well just eliminate it and accept the fact that DH types such as Molitor won't stay in the game.

Granted, the Molitor dilemma makes for interesting conversation. But with the season reaching its climax, it shouldn't even be an issue.

"It's an advantage for the National League team -- they don't have to make an adjustment," Blue Jays manager Cito Gaston said yesterday. "To me, it's just not right."

Phillies manager Jim Fregosi disagrees. In fact, he sees the shifting DH as a disadvantage to his team.

Fregosi will use Ricky Jordan and Pete Incaviglia at DH in Toronto. But without pitchers batting, he probably won't pinch hit.

"Our pinch hitters have kept us in a lot of ballgames this year," Fregosi said. "The American League does not use its bench as much as the National League. Therefore, I think it's definitely in their favor to use the DH in four games."

Obviously, Fregosi would love to see the Blue Jays bench -- wouldn't we all? -- but Gaston faces a bigger loss with Molitor than Fregosi does with the Wes Chamberlains of the world.

Yes, Gaston had a similar predicament last year with Dave Winfield, and it amounted to nothing. His decision on Molitor, however, is far more perilous, far more complex.

Winfield started 26 games in right field last season, so it wasn't a stretch to try him there in the Series. Molitor, though, hasn't played third since 1990 -- and even then it was only for two games.

He did start 23 games at first this season, but that's Olerud's position. Gaston, meanwhile, knows Molitor outhit third baseman Ed Sprague .332-.260 in the regular season, and .391-.286 in the ALCS.

Still, Gaston doesn't want to jeopardize his defense. Sprague, a converted catcher, is preferable to Molitor, who had surgery on his forearm and shoulder in 1990.

Molitor started taking grounders at third toward the end of the season, but even if he's capable of catching the ball, that doesn't mean he can throw it.

"The last weekend in Baltimore, I thought about playing him at third, but I changed my mind," Gaston said. "That's all we would have needed -- for Paul to get hurt."

What about Molitor in left instead of the slumping Rickey Henderson? Gaston swiftly rejected that idea -- smart move, seeing as how Molitor hasn't played the outfield since '86.

"Unless everyone is dead on this team," Gaston said, "Molitor will not play left field."

So, what will Gaston do? It might depend on the outcome of the first two games. If Toronto wins both, he might simply keep his defense intact and sit Molitor.

More likely, Gaston will play Molitor at first against left-hander Danny Jackson in Game 3, then at third against righties Tommy Greene and Curt Schilling in games 4 and 5.

That's right, Olerud might sit out Game 3 -- even though Gaston benched him only three times against left-handers in this season, all against Randy Johnson.

True, Olerud batted "only" .291 against left-handers, compared with Molitor's .363. But for heaven's sake, this is the World Series, not the Grapefruit League.

The AL's leading hitter shouldn't be anywhere near the bench. And a potential Hall of Famer shouldn't be at a position where he might embarrass himself, and his sport.

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