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Tyranny of the DH complete
National League fans, a few of us at least, grew up loving watching pitchers hit just to see the rare few who knew what they were doing … alas, no more
I’m convinced I saw a Padre pitcher go deep twice against the Braves during one of the 1,500 or so games I watched Atlanta play in the 80s and 90s.
I thought it was Atlee Hammaker, or as ESPN’s Chris Berman used to call him, “Atlee if I had a Hammaker.”
But it wasn’t.
Baseball-reference.com is great for stuff like that.
Then I thought it had to be Tim Lollar, only Lollar never hit two home runs in a game. He went deep against the Braves on April 23, 1982, allowed two runs on four hits over eight innings, too, but collared a no-decision, the game going 12 innings.
I didn’t know it, but on May 15, 1984, Lollar went six innings, taking the loss in a 6-4 setback against Montreal in which the Padres scored once in the second inning, twice in the fourth and once in the fifth.
Can you guess the rest?
Lollar drove in all four runs with a home run, a double and an RBI groundout. So, it probably was Lollar I’m remembering from April of ’82, I just gave him a second home run.
I mention it this Super Bowl week, because I’m in mourning the comments of baseball commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday.
Though the owners and players have yet to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement, “We’ve agreed to a universal designated hitter,” the commish said.
It would appear then, the only way we’re ever going to see a pitcher hit again will be via the Shohei Ohtani rout, in which he hits for himself because he’s among the game’s great sluggers, or when a pitcher pinch hits, which almost never happens.
Look, I’m a National League guy.
The first team, any team, I really rooted for was the Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds — Bench, Perez, Morgan, Rose, Concepcion, Griffey, Geronimo, Foster, if you’re scoring at home — and my first clear sports memory is the 1975 World Series*, Reds over the Red Sox in seven.
*My second is the 1976 Orange Bowl, two-plus months later, Oklahoma over Michigan, the Wolverines quarterbacked by freshman Rick Leach … who wound up spending 10 years in the big leagues with Detroit, Toronto, Texas and San Francisco. Aren’t sports great?
Then came the Braves, and because I devoured the game, the Cubs, too, because they were on when I’d get home from school. A 13 year-old baseball fan, long before interleague play, could know the NL like the back of his hand in about a month in those days.
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I loved that Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz and Steve Avery, the Braves’ FOUR-man pitching staff, could handle the bat.
Leave one over the plate and they’d be standing on first base. Need to move a runner, great, because they knew how to bunt.
I loved, too, that an NL manager could use the lack of a DH to in-game strategize, double switching to push the pitcher’s spot further back in the order or what Tommy Lasorda used to do, bring a pitcher in to face one batter, put him in the outfield for the next batter while another pitcher came in, then bring the first pitcher, having not left the game, back to the mound for the next batter.
Who doesn’t love Tommy Lasorda?
Zack Greinke, for Houston (AL) last season, went 2 for 3 in the World Series, having to hit for himself in Atlanta (NL).
Why rob us of that?
Lollar hit eight career home runs. Grienke has nine.
For 40 years I’ve heard smart baseball people explain how nobody enjoys watching a pitcher hit, and every time they say it, I think about how much I’ve loved watching a pitcher hit who knew how to hit.
I pitched and hit.
Why can’t they?
Until 1973, pitchers always hit, because it made all the sense in the world. You’re a baseball player, there are nine positions, everybody hits.
But the AL wasn’t scoring runs (or making money) and though the AL and NL were both “major leagues” they really were separate.
There were separate league presidents, there were AL umpires and NL umpires. The All-Star Game was serious freaking business. And the idea one league might play with one rule and the other with another, though unusual, still made more apparent sense than putting the leagues together.
They weren’t formally put together until 2000, like the AFL and NFL before the merger.** Or, really, like the AFL and NFL before the merger, but with a Super Bowl.
**Fun fact, the Super Bowl wasn’t even called the Super Bowl until Super Bowl III. The first two were called the called the AFL-NFL Championship Game. Hard to believe it didn’t stick.
So it will be the end of an era and, for some of us, the end of a quirk that made baseball more fun, more interesting, even more tangible because didn’t all of us young pitchers grow up hitting, too?
Maybe the move will give rise to something else, to DBs: designated bunters, when you absolutely, positively have to move a runner from second to third base with nobody out, like the top half of every 10th inning nowadays.
Pitchers might line up to be that guy in an age nobody else knows how to bunt and what an irony that would be, the killing off of an old part of the game spurring the comeback of the lost art of another old part of the game.
Oh, to dream.