Commentary

Designated hackers

A good DH is easy to find and easier to love. How have so few teams gotten the memo?

Updated: August 13, 2012, 4:32 PM ET
By Peter Keating | ESPN The Magazine
World Series Timeline - 2009Jim McIsaac/Getty Images"No DH has ever won MVP award unless you count Hideki Matsui and his World Series MVP in 2009," writes Peter Keating.

YOU EVER NOTICE how excited everyone gets when pitchers and catchers report to spring training -- and yet nobody blinks an eye when designated hitters do? That's because nobody really cares about DHs.

Thirty-nine years after Ron Blomberg became the first one, most teams are reluctant to develop young players at the position or even to plug a talented slammer there and tell him to swing away. Exactly one regular DH (David Ortiz) hit more than 20 home runs in 2011, while four had slugging percentages below .400 (the league average was .408).

To put it mildly, this is freaking crazy. DH should be the easiest roster spot for any team to fill productively, because, you know, it requires no actual fielding ability. A good DH simply needs to get on base and/or hit for power. Many big leaguers can do this; many Triple-A players can do this. But there's still an old-school, NL-centric bias throughout baseball against sluggers who aren't "complete," and it's so powerful that it blocks the proper appreciation and deployment of designated hitters.


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Peter Keating is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine, where he covers investigative and statistical subjects. He started writing "The Biz," a column looking at sports business from the fan's point of view, in 1999. He also coordinates the Magazine's annual "Ultimate Standings" project, which ranks all pro franchises according to how much they give back to fans. His work on concussions in football has earned awards from the Deadline Club, the New York Press Club and the Center for the Study of Sport in Society.