DH rule gives AL pitchers free pass to strike back

October 14, 2003|By LAURA VECSEY

BOSTON - It's only natural that the Yankees and Red Sox are treating this American League Championship Series like a steel-cage match. Thanks to major league baseball's experiment that gave World Series home-field advantage to the winner of the All-Star Game, four of the seven games will employ the designated hitter.

Advantage, Big Boppers.

That means the Red Sox (with the best batting average and a franchise-record number of home runs) or Yankees (no slouches either) would appear to have an automatic edge against the National League not only with the home crowd, but also with the home rules.

Statistically speaking, the Florida Marlins and Chicago Cubs are both offensively inferior to both the Red Sox and Yankees.

The Marlins are the better NL club, with a regular-season team batting average of .266, scored 751 runs and hit 157 homers. The Cubs hit .259, scored 724 runs and hit 172 homers.

The Red Sox hit .289, scored 961 runs (first in the league) and hit 238 homers. The Yankees hit .271, scored 877 runs and 230 homers (third best in the league.)

With David Ortiz non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins, the Red Sox have been giggling all season - further angering the Evil Empire - because they were able to add the rock-solid DH to their lineup. He was so instrumental in the Red Sox's offensive onslaught, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner chastised general manager Brian Cashman for missing out on Ortiz.

For the Yankees, their designated hitter is $120 million man Jason Giambi, whose struggles in New York, at the plate, under the spotlight, have prevented the Yankees from asserting the kind of offensive dominance expected of the Bronx Bombers.

Still, if there was any other example of how far the American League teams will go to use that DH spot in the order, Giambi has to be the most amazing. No wonder The Boss is peeved.

The designated hitter debate has taken center stage in this ALCS. It makes sense, considering the way the Red Sox and Yankees figured in the inaugural moments in DH history.

Orlando Cepeda was the first player acquired as a designated hitter. The Red Sox signed the former NL Most Valuable Player on Jan. 18, 1973. The DH rule had just been approved as a three-year experiment, so the Red Sox went out to get a specialist.

Yankees lefty slugger Ron Blomberg walked against the Red Sox's Luis Tiant with the bases loaded in the top of the first inning on April 6, 1973, to become the first designated hitter to bat, reach base and drive in a run.

The more current Red Sox/Yankees and DH/let-the-pitcher-hit controversy is a lot more colorful. That's a result of Martinez's head hunting in that fourth inning of that Game 3 to remember.

Martinez's ill-advised actions have purists rehashing their lament about the bastardization of the game formerly known as the national pastime. The issue was bound to rear its head the moment Martinez attempted to decapitate Yankees outfielder Karim Garcia.

While Yankees starter Roger Clemens refrained from issuing a similar message on Saturday, Martinez's beanball did a lot to rekindle images of Clemens delivering chin music to postseason opponents like Alex Rodriguez and Mike Piazza. Clemens dropped the former Seattle shortstop during the 2000 ALCS and nearly killed Piazza during the Subway Series - of course that was with a bat barrel.

But you get the point. Pitchers in the AL don't have to stand up at the plate. So Martinez and Clemens have done their part to stir purists to rehash their DH lament.

Unfortunately, while purists have a right to argue for a return to the most essential, strategically challenging form of the game, this is the wrong issue on which to hang the argument.

First of all, Martinez snapped.

Manager Joe Torre said that without the designated hitter, "if the pitcher was coming up to hit, there would be a lot less of that going on."

Second, in the cowboy justice world of baseball, when a pitcher intentionally hits a batter, the opposing pitcher is more than likely going to hit the opposing team's big bat.

Baseball's time-honored code of honor can be carried to extremes in the AL, where the opposing pitcher has to decide whom to plunk - but someone must be plunked.

"I'm in a tough spot ... this is my second family, and to keep the respect from those guys in my dugout, it's good old-school, hard-school baseball, whatever you want to call it. But let's let us clean it up," said Clemens, who did not appreciate being warned not to throw at the Red Sox prior to taking the mound in the bottom of the fourth in Game 3.

The argument against the designated hitter should be Minnie Minoso, whom the White Sox sent out to the plate at the age of 53. The argument for eliminating the designated hitter is to emphasize the running game and situational baseball.

Even then, pitchers will take the inside corner. Some pitchers will still find themselves snapping after getting knocked around by a team they're aching to destroy.

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