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To DH or Not to DH

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Philadelphia Phillies v Pittsburgh Pirates
Consider the alternative.
Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

1980 was the last time the National League officially voted on whether or not to implement the designated hitter, as the American League had done seven years prior. According to an interesting article on MLB.com from last January, then-Pirates owner John Galbreath instructed GM Harding Peterson to vote as the Phillies voted. The Phillies’ owner, Ruly Carpenter, told his vice-president Bill Giles to vote for the DH. Carpenter then went on a fishing trip, thinking everything was in the bag. However, it was announced that the rule wouldn’t be implemented until the 1982 season. The Phillies were voting yes because they had some heavy hitters that weren’t that great in the field. Giles was unsure if the new information might change Carpenter’s view, so he abstained from the vote. Therefore, so did Peterson. It was a majority vote, and the final vote was five for the DH, four against, and three abstentions.

Moral of the story: as always, the Phillies are the reason we can’t have nice things.

As of this writing, MLB has told National League teams to proceed as if there was not going to be a DH next season, but that’s not set in stone, and there’s been no communication as to roster sizes. This uncertainty affects the two Pirates who were most used as DHs in 2020, Josh Bell and Colin Moran. Bell DH’d in 21 games, Moran in 26. I’ve been saying for a while that Bell might be better utilized as a DH since Moran can play first and third bases, is slightly younger, and definitely cheaper. If the National League does decide to adopt the universal DH, though, if the Pirates do want to trade either Bell or Moran, the field gets much bigger.

Just out of curiosity, I checked the batting stats for the 2019 Pirates pitchers. Steven Brault led the way with a .333/.349/.429 average in 42 at-bats. He actually had the best batting average of any MLB pitcher in 2019, so way to go, Squid. Jameson Taillon was the only other pitcher with an average above the Mendoza line, but that’ll happen when you only have eight at-bats in a season.

Another moral: no one goes to a baseball game to see a pitcher hit.

The DH is coming to the National League sooner or later, most likely with next year’s CBA. Much like it was with Greg Luzinski of the Phillies in 1980, though, it may come too late for Colin Moran and Josh Bell in 2021 to make a difference for the Pirates.