Pitching For a Better Game

It’s World Series time again. Is everybody ready to applaud the first television director to poke a camera’s busy nose into the dugout for a terrific action shot of a manager thinking?

And another thing: When are the dopes who run the National League going to get into the 20th century (never mind the 21st) and adopt the designated hitter rule? What budding Plato can think of anything dumber in baseball than a pitcher holding a bat?

The only rival to a close-up of a manager deep in thought (picture Tony La Russa, the human mask; ask yourself, is Joe Torre awake?) is an action shot of the infield-fly rule, in which when there are less than two out and runners on first and … oh, pul-leeze.

People who go to ball games in the flesh yawn when they see a manager, unless he’s kicking dirt on an umpire’s shoes while ranting over a bad call. So why are endless shots of him peering from the dugout thrust upon us folks at home – inning after inning, game after game, season after season, when we’re otherwise enjoying the evening with our feet up (except for commercials)? And why do the two major leagues play different rules? Specifically, how come the National League still insistshat a pitcher be compelled to carry a bat to the batter’s box and wave it at passing baseballs?


Everybody in and out of the game knows that pitchers can’t hit. It’s not just that they work only once every five games, but it’s also that their managers recognize their hopelessness, refusing to let them take batting practice even on days they pitch.

“They might get hit on the melon,” as the beloved former Yankee manager Yogi Berri used to say. Speaking of whom, once – a dozen or so years ago when Yogi was a Yankee coach – your agent stood beside him prior to a Blue Jays game while he batted grounders to second-baseman Steve Sax. The idea was hopefully to catch one of the off-the-cuff one-liners he was famous for (“It ain’t over ’til it’s over”, “Nobody goes there to eat anymore, it’s too crowded”). No such luck. During the 15-minute vigil – all the great man said was “naw” and “yea” and grunted an awful lot.

Baseball often proceeds in spite of itself. While banning the DH, it permitted guys with forearms as large as tree trunks (such as Mark McMcGwire) to stock up on muscle-building drug-store products banned by the National Football League and the International Olympic Committee (you wouldnÕt think those guys would have the gall to ban anything).

Even now, after 26 years, NL owners refuse to acknowledge that the DH is here to stay. Since it represents progress, they regard it with suspicion. The DH rule, introduced by the AL as an experiment in 1973 and adopted permanently three seasons later, allows pitchers to be found where they belong: sitting in the dugout with their feet up.

Replacing them in the batting order are muscular guys whose function is to knock in runs, which is why most fans go to ball games. The DH’s job is simply to sit and spit until it’s time to go and bat for the pitcher. NL pitchers, most of them, look more comfortable swinging a hungry cobra.


As far as is known, the NL is the only league in organized baseball that encourages pitchers to make fools of themselves in public.

All the minor leagues enjoy the DH rule and it is employed in Japan, Mexico and in Jack Dominico’s Inter-County League, a classy semi-pro circuit that embraces six cities across southern Ontario.

Indeed, Dominico’s wife, Lynne, a director of the Toronto Maple Leafs – a power in the Inter-County – points out that one reason pitchers rarely swing a bat with any authority is that they use different muscles than position players in performing their specialty.

Of course, there are occasional exceptions. Atlanta’s John Smoltz is a very good hitter, perhaps the best since the Montreal Expos employed the left-handed Bill Lee. One year, Bill hammered 13 hits in 65 trips to the plate for a .200 average.

That isn’t much but Lee was a mighty refreshing fellow who made up for it when he went out to throw his soft-looking junk. Out there at various times he wore a gas mask, a Davy Crockett hat and a beanie with a propeller on top.

But that’s the thing about the DH rule: If you don’t have it, you need something extra – a good book comes in handy.