Should We Designate the DH for Assignment?

The designated hitter has been a part of baseball for more than 40 years, but people still argue about it. In and of itself, that’s pretty extraordinary. Realistically, a person has to be close to 50 to remember baseball without the DH. The two point conversion has only been a part of the NFL since 1994, and no one argues about it. The NBA introduced the three point line in 1979. While there was grumbling at first, by the mid 80’s, it was completely accepted. Why can’t baseball fans accept the DH in the same way?

The most likely answer, aside from the fact that sports arguments are fun, is that the designated hitter is not good for baseball. The two point conversion is good for football. It not only fits with the spirit of the game, it makes the point after touchdown more interesting. The extra point is virtually automatic, it always felt like a formality. But now, there’s genuine strategy involved. Fans can play along at home. What was once ho-hum is now exciting. The same is true of the three pointer in basketball. As players got bigger and stronger, it changed the way the game was played. Basketball was originally about shooting, not driving to the hoop and dunking. While the three pointer didn’t erase dunks, it helped keep some of the original spirit of the game intact.

The designated hitter is bad for baseball for a couple of reasons. It goes against the spirit of the game. One of the ways baseball differs from most other team sports is the way all nine players are expected to perform both an offensive and defensive role. Basketball is similar. The DH is similar to having a designated shooter in basketball, someone who only takes free throws for the center. Clearly, that’s an absurd idea.

The second reason the designated hitter is bad for baseball is that it makes the game less interesting. For the sports fan, one of the most entertaining parts of watching sports is trying to think along with the action. Everyone has an opinion about whether a team should punt on 4th and 2. The same is true in National League baseball.  The pitcher is throwing well, he’s only at 75 pitches, but his spot in the order is due next inning and his team is down by one.  Is it better to let him finish the inning knowing that a pinch hitter will be used, or go to the lefty reliever now to play the matchup?  That’s not even a question in the American League.  With the DH, teams just let the starter pitch until he’s no longer effective.

The other big problem with the designated hitter is that arguments in favor of it don’t work. The most common argument is that nobody likes to see pitchers hit. SB Nation makes a point of following every Bartolo Colon at bat, so clearly someone enjoys watching pitchers hit. However, that’s not really what this argument is about. It’s really about pitchers not being good hitters. While that’s generally true, it’s also generally true of shortstops and catchers. And just like shortstops and catchers, some pitchers can really hit.  Babe Ruth was a pitcher.  Zack Greinke is a good hitter.  Orel Hershiser was a good hitter.  When Rick Ankiel flamed out as a pitcher, he came back as a profession outfielder who hit for power. If the fact that many pitchers are bad hitters were a good reason for the DH, there might as well be separated offensive and defensive players. That way everyone can watch brilliant hitters hit and brilliant fielders field. Unfortunately, that wouldn’t be baseball.

The next argument in favor of the designated hitter is that batting and running the bases is too risky for pitchers. This argument has many problems. First, pitching itself is far riskier than batting and running the bases. Second, if those activities are risky for pitchers, they are risky for anyone. Why protect pitchers while letting everyone else get hurt? Pitchers are professional athletes. If they aren’t in good enough shape to swing a 34 inch stick and then run 90 feet, they ought to find another profession.

The other common argument is that the designated hitter is a way to prolong careers. First of all, that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s no good reason why keeping a veteran on the roster is good if there’s a kid in the system not getting a shot. Also, plenty of players play for National League teams when they get old. Jim Thome, Ricky Henderson, Dave Roberts, and Julio Franco all played for National League teams towards the end of their careers.  A veteran with power and a strong knowledge of the strike zone is very valuable as a pinch hitter. Also, often it’s bat speed and foot speed that go first. That makes it hard for a veteran to be an effective DH. At the right position, like first base, it’s likely that the player will remain an effective fielder longer than an effective hitter.

Since the designated hitter is bad for baseball, it should be abolished. Except it shouldn’t be abolished. It should never have been adopted, but it was. It has been a part of the American League for forty years. It is the key to differentiating the two leagues. In a world with the travesty of interleague play, that is vital for the health of baseball. Something that most people never really talk about is what the MLB playoffs are really about. They aren’t about finding the best team. A 162 game schedule does a nice job of that. The playoffs are about pitting the two leagues against each other to crown a champion. If there’s no difference between the leagues, there’s no point to the playoffs.  If the two leagues are the same, just crown the team with the best record.  Having different rules and different styles of play makes the World Series more exciting and more meaningful.

Now it makes sense why people still argue about the designated hitter.  It really is a silly rule that never should have been implemented.  Yet, it serves a real purpose.  It keeps the World Series meaningful.  The arguments feed off of that tension.  Hopefully, they will never stop.



And After That, Nothing Was Ever the Same Again

David: And after that, nothing was ever the same again. And after that, nothing was ever the same again. And after that, nothing was ever the same again.

Jen: Are you watching the second hand spin around?

David: Yes, but I’m also saying, “And after that, nothing was ever the same again.”

Jen: Why?

David: It’s the truth.

Jen: Yeah, but why?

David: It’s meditative.

Jen: Why do you need to meditate?

David: At work today, someone called something “very unique.”

Jen: I see.

David: Then Jason corrected her.

Jen: And you wanted to be the one to correct her?

David: No.  I wanted to punch Jason in the face.  I needed something meditative because I don’t like wanting to punch someone in the face.

Jen: I’m confused.  Wasn’t Jason right?  Why would that anger you?

David: It bugs me whenever anyone corrects anyone else.  Unless you’re a person’s parent or teacher, you have no business correcting them.  And he’s wrong, which just puts me over the top.  If you’re rude enough to correct someone that you have no business correcting, the least you can do is correct them correctly.

Jen: I guess the first part makes sense, but unique means one of a kind.  How can something be very one of a kind?

David: Does it mean “one of a kind?”  How do you know?

Jen: The dictionary says so?

David: Does it?

Jen: According to my dictionary, it means, “existing as the only one or as the sole example; single; solitary in type or characteristics: a unique copy of an ancient manuscript.”

David: And?

Jen: And what?

David: Don’t make me want to punch you in the face, too.  And what else does it mean?  Almost every word in the dictionary has more than one definition.  Why stop at the first one and accuse people of being wrong when they use one of the others?

Jen: Ah, “not typical; unusual: She has a very unique smile.”  I guess you’re right.

David: Because of the dictionary?

Jen: Yes.  The dictionary proves it.

David: The dictionary has never proven anything.  I’m right because a moment’s reflection lets you know that literally everything that is, was, and ever will be is unique.  If you use unique to mean one of a kind, then it’s redundant.  If you don’t allow for degrees of uniqueness, there is no need for the word to exist at all.  And on top of that, real people say things are “very unique” or “really unique” all the time, and you and I and everyone else knows exactly what they are saying.  If a word or phrase successfully communicates its intended meaning, it can’t be wrong.  A dictionary should always follow real usage.  The dictionary is wrong if it doesn’t.

Jen: That may be, but it still doesn’t seem like a good reason to punch someone in the face. Especially for a member of the grammar police.

David: I may be a grammar nerd, but I’m certainly not a grammar pig. Down with the grammar pigs!

Jen: Really? You’re the only person I know that uses who and whom correctly.

David: I’m sure that’s not true, and a person could go a whole lifetime without using whom and not have any trouble being understood.  Grammar pigs make me want to be more violent than people who don’t know what words mean, but correct other people anyway.

Jen: But doesn’t it bother you when people break the rules and you know it?

David: It might, if there were rules.

Jen: No rules? Me no wait to hearing this.

David: Grammar is nothing more than convention.  It has more in common with etiquette than the law.  Breaking a “rule” might be inconvenient or confusing, but that’s the worst of it.  And the “rules” change depending on usage.  The only sin a person can commit, grammatically speaking, is to be confusing.  And half the time, the “proper” construction is more confusing that the “improper”.

Jen: Like what?

David: Which is easier to follow, “To boldly go,” or, “To go boldly?”

Jen: They’re about the same.

David: How about, “About whom are you talking?” or, “Who are you talking about?”

Jen: The second.

David: So, why bother correcting if they are easily understood?  And besides, half the time, the corrections have nothing to do with grammar.  If someone types Y-O-U-R on Facebook when they mean Y-O-R-E. . .

Jen: Y-O-R-E?

David: Sorry, I’m trying to bring yore back.  It’s a great word.  So, if they type Y-O-U-R when they are saying, “you are,” it’s clearly just a typo, not a grammar mistake.  Let it go.  Making the correction makes you look dumber than the person who made the mistake.  Anyone with half a brain knows what was meant.  If you’re genuinely confused, you’re an idiot.  If you’re not genuinely confused, you’re just a jerk.

Jen: I never would have guessed you were so passionate about this.

David: It’s just a thinly veiled form of snobbery.  It’s a way for people to feel superior, even when they’re not.

Jen: Still, all this from unique.  I wonder what else is buried in there.

David: Just know that you don’t want to get me started on spelling.



A Bowler Hat, a Broken Guitar String, and a Jelly Sandwich

A bowler hat, a broken guitar string, and a jelly sandwich are three things that don’t seem to have much in common at first glance.  Yet, there is a string that binds them.  They are all things that make me sad.  And what’s more is they are all representative of categories that make me sad.

A bowler hat doesn’t seem sad.  I’d imagine a lot of people think it’s quirky, or maybe even jaunty.  I can’t see it that way, though.  For the only people who might wear a bowler hat are hipsters.  There is very little as sad as a hipster.  For one thing, they feel a pressing need to define themselves.  It’s like some weird perversion of Socrates’ saying about the examined life.  You don’t learn anything of substance from defining something.  You learn from experience.  A constant need to define only gets in the way.  For another thing, they define themselves as being different, outside, and strange.  I don’t care if someone is different, outside, and strange, as long as they are honestly different, outside, and strange.  Choosing to be different, outside, and strange makes me sad precisely because of all those people who are honestly different, outside, and strange.  Bowler hats are representative of the category of things that make me sad because they are all about image rather than substance.  Hugh Hefner and Punk Rock make me sad in the same way.  Aside from the clear affectation, there is a sense of wasted potential.

A broken guitar string is more obviously sad.  It’s sad because it used to be useful and fun, but it can never be useful or fun again.  This sadness is akin to nostalgia.  I remember the good times we had, but I can’t help but be aware that they won’t come back.  This isn’t a crushing sadness, mind you.  I know I can replace my guitar string.  There will be good times again, but they will be different.  It’s a kind of wistfulness.  A broken guitar string represents the category of nostalgic sadness.  Scooby Doo makes me sad in the same way.  It is this kind of sadness that makes Puff the Magic Dragon the saddest song I’ve ever heard.  They are reminders that you can’t go back.

A jelly sandwich makes me sad because it has no peanut butter.  I am aware of how close to greatness it is, but it is not great.  To approach perfection, but not reach it makes me sad.  A jelly sandwich is representative of the category of so near, but so far sadness.  Every album T-bone Burnett produces makes me sad in this way.  The Hobbit movies make me sad in this way.  You can see perfection, you just can’t get there.

A bowler hat, a broken guitar string, and a jelly sandwich make me sad.  I hope it’s just me.

Institutional Bias and Power

A short time ago, Doug Glanville published a piece about being profiled in his own driveway in Hartford. I read it, was annoyed on his behalf, and went on with my life. A short time later, the police chief of West Hartford published an Op Ed piece claiming that Doug Glanville was not profiled and that the police officer in question did everything properly. I read it, was infuriated, and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

The facts, as far as I can tell, are that someone tried to make some money by shoveling driveways in a West Hartford neighborhood. One of the people solicited by this person called the police. The description of the person was black, male, wearing a brown jacket, and carrying a shovel. The police officer took that description across a city line into Hartford and found a black male, wearing a brown jacket, and carrying a shovel. The officer asked the black male a question, returned to his car and left.

According to Mr. Glanville, the question was accusatory. According to the Police, the question was simply an attempt to gather information about a complaint. I wasn’t there, so I have no way of knowing, but neither Mr. Glanville nor the Police suggested that the officer explained why he was asking the question, thanked Mr. Glanville for his time, or apologized for the trouble. In and of itself, that’s a bit rude, but it’s not the reason for my outrage.

There are many reasons for my outrage. The first is the least valid and that’s the fact that Mr. Glanville’s description is completely consistent with my own experiences with the WHPD. I know that’s anecdotal evidence, confirmation bias, etc., but in the interest of honesty, I have to mention it.

The second reason is the ordinance banning door to door solicitation itself. I’m no lawyer, but doesn’t that pose a problem for all the town’s girl scouts? It seems a rather obvious case of classism. If you’re in West Hartford, you shouldn’t need to go door to door looking for work. And you shouldn’t have to be bothered saying, “No thanks,” to anyone. It just helps West Hartford’s reputation as the snobbiest town around.

The third reason is the fact that it happened in Hartford. It was a complaint made in West Hartford. I can understand crossing into a new jurisdiction if an assault or murder happened, but door to door solicitation? That seems a bit overzealous. The WHPD says that the man was aggressive, but when he was found, no arrest was made. That seems odd, given that the offense supposedly justified crossing city lines. The police chief also mentioned that the suspect had a criminal record, but they couldn’t have known that before finding him. Otherwise, they would have had a much more accurate description and a name to work with.

The fourth reason is the description that the officer was using: a black man, wearing a brown jacket, and carrying a shovel. Seeing as it had snowed that morning, the description fit hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Hartford at that time. If the description had been exactly the same, but white instead of black, would the officer have approached one of Mr. Glanville’s neighbors?

Finally, the fifth reason is where my biggest beef comes from, and that’s the overall tone of the Op Ed. When the police chief started talking about all of the languages spoken in West Hartford, all I could think was, “I’m not racist, I have two black friends.” But, more importantly, the police chief seems to be missing some key information about the sociology of this country. When it comes down to the individual level, it is great to treat everyone the same. However, the second a person assumes a position of power, whether it is a supervisor at work, the chief of police, or a Supreme Court justice, treating everyone the same is no longer great. I know that sounds counter-intuitive. We’ve all been taught our whole lives that, “All men are created equal.” They may have been created that way, but once people enter society, that equality is gone. If a person is in a position of power, and fails to recognize inequality, that person is committing an injustice.

This country is racist. Because of that racism, innocent individual actions are often warped into something bad. Black people have been given myriad reasons to distrust the police. I’m not accusing the officer that spoke to Mr. Glanville of being a bigot, nor am I accusing the West Hartford police chief of being a bigot. What I am saying is that when you have a vague description of a person that has committed an unbelievably minor offense; don’t give a black man another reason to be suspicious of the police.