Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The "Wild Card" DH

Looking through some of my older preview guides, I came across this interesting article. Written by Phil Collier, the "new president of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America", in the 1980 Street & Smith's preview guide, the article explores a few of the "new ideas" that were being tossed around baseball at the time, including the possibility of re-aligning the divisions along a geographical line to reduce travel costs and the idea, championed by Padres owner Ray Kroc, of opening the season with a series in Japan. The main focus of the article, however, was on a new idea to extend the seven-year-old DH rule:
"The next innovation in baseball may be the brainchild of the commissioner of the sport, Bowie Kuhn.

The American League, unhappy that the designated hitter rule is employed only every other year in the World Seris, is pressuring the National League to adopt the DH. The NL has consistently voted against it.

However, Kuhn is hopeful the NL might look favorably on his proposal for a 'wild card' DH. Here's how it would work:

A 'wild card' DH could be substituted for any hitter in the lineup and could be used three or four times a game, at the manager's choosing."
That's right: Bowie Kuhn was proposing, effectively, that the NL allow teams to use a pinch-hitter whenever they wanted without removing that pinch-hitter from the game. The pinch-hitter, then, could be used at only the most opportune points in the game and could be used to substitute for any batter in the lineup.

Imagine that: two outs in the 2nd inning, bases empty, the pitcher coming up - let him bat for himself. But one out in the third and your left-handed hitting number-seven hitter coming to bat with two on, no outs against a lefty pitcher? Send in the right-handed DH!

Of course, it's a ludicrous suggestion. Giving each team that much power would alter the flow of the game much more drastically than taking only the pitcher's bat out of the lineup. Offense would most certainly increase, but to what levels? They had their ideas at the time:
"Kuhn's plan would open up the sport and increase run production, something the commissioner seems to favor.

The 'wild card' would prolong the careers of some of the National League's older hitters, such as Willie McCovey, for example, and doubtless would have the support of the Major League Players Association.
Under Kuhn's 'wild card' DH proposal, it is conceivable that a 'wild card' might emerge to threaten the major league record Hack Wilson set in 1930 when he drove in 190 runs."
I don't know if Hack Wilson's record would be easily challenged even in this very pro-hitter setting (stats guys better than me might need to take up that challenge), but I have no doubt that the balance would shift even more than it is today. I can't imagine the pontificating that the anti-DH crowd would do with such a rule in place, though. If you think that their railing against the current DH setup is something...

Thankfully, the idea never took hold. The owners voted on expanding the DH to the National League in August 1980 (no word on what the specific details were), but it was soundly defeated, with only the Braves, Mets, Cardinals and Padres voting in favor of the expansion. It's a fascinating "what-if" scenario, though.

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