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MLB Power Rankings Week 4: Wainwright's injury should change how we talk about the DH

It isn’t easy to change the game of baseball.

Think of how long it took for instant replay to become a thing. Or how long it took for pace-of-play rules to start getting implemented. Or how its cardinal sin still seems to be looking happy after you hit a home run.

Baseball is stubborn. It is old-fashioned. It is defined by tradition and nostalgia and keeping things the same. This is why it always seems to answer one question the wrong way: Should baseball honor tradition or get better?

After St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Adam Wainwright’s achilles injury on Saturday ended the season of one of the game’s best pitchers, that question is on the table once again.

The question about the designated hitter vs. batting pitcher has existed since 1973, when the DH rule was established, and is typically a harmless, if sometimes heated, debate. Pitchers should have to grab a bat and hit just like their teammates. Pitchers are athletes too. Forcing pitchers to bat is real, old-fashioned baseball.

But including an automatic out in your lineup is stupid. Some of the game’s most exciting players are designated hitters. Watching pitchers bat is torture.

There’s plenty of cliche argument that come from both sides, but it ultimately doesn’t seem to have a real concrete answer, or even a reason to debate in the first place.

Until a pitcher like Adam Wainwright ruptures his achilles trying to run out of the batter’s box.

This isn’t just a harmless “Boxers or briefs? Coke or Pepsi?” debate anymore. This is a real issue that needs to be addressed. And not because this just now became an issue -- every pitcher who has stepped into the batter’s box has ran the risk of injury. It’s because now we have a concrete example to use, a launching pad for this matter to get serious attention in Major League Baseball’s rules committees.

It’s unfortunate that we needed a sort of sacrificial lamb in Adam Wainwright to get this started. But that’s how things work when you’re trying to change something as stubborn as baseball.

Wainwright is going to make 19.5 million dollars this season, according to The St. Louis Cardinals are not paying him one penny of that because of his hitting. They are paying him to pitch. They are paying him to miss bats and eat innings and win them games by not allowing the other team to score.

One of the biggest and most confusing obstacles to setting up the universal designated hitter are those who, for some reason, refuse to admit that pitchers are different. They want to lump pitchers in with the rest of the field for the sake of preserving tradition.

But pitchers are different. If someone asked you whether you’d rather start Yasiel Puig at shortstop or pitcher, where are you more likely to put him? At shortstop, where he’s likely to have maybe eight or nine fielding chances in a game, and could probably field routine ground balls with ease? Or on the mound, where the ball is in his hand on every pitch and everything he does controls the entire game?

What if every game required one inning to be pitched by a position player?

Babe Ruth isn’t playing anymore. Pitchers are meant to be separate from their teammates. They are meant to do one thing on the field, and not be forced to swing, in the words of Nationals ace and DH advocate Max Scherzer, “wet newspapers” at the plate.

Once you brush aside the obsession over tradition, this rule has no downsides. A DH gives you an extra hitter, while allowing your team to put a more capable fielder in their place on defense. It means more offense, better defense, and less needless managing headaches late in close, low-scoring games.

Whether you love the Cardinals or despise them, Adam Wainwright missing the rest of the season means one of the best pitchers in the world isn’t playing, and that sucks.

Stop making pitchers bat. Stop giving extra opportunities for crappy injuries to happen to some of the club’s most important players.

Tradition is awesome, but not when it’s making baseball worse.


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