Designated hitters have seen their better days
Posted: Friday June 21, 2002 12:35 PM
Updated: Friday June 21, 2002 1:58 PM
Brad Fullmer is fourth among DH's in total bases with 100.AP
By Jacob Luft, CNNSI.com
Excuse Bob Costas if he has an extra skip in his step lately.
For the past few days, purists like Costas have enjoyed baseball in its natural form -- without the designated hitter. Because of a scheduling quirk, all major league games have been played in NL stadiums since June 14. That will continue through Sunday, a span of 10 days of DH-free baseball.
Considering the sorry performances of DHs this season, the AL clubs haven't been missing much.
As a group, DHs are hitting .252 and slugging .398 since Opening Day. Both numbers are well below the league averages of .262 and .419, respectively. The only position hitting worse than the DH is catcher (.248).
The days of the big, burly, veteran DH strolling to the plate and striking fear into the pitcher are gone. Remember when DHs like Don Baylor, Harold Baines, Hal McRae, Chili Davis, Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor used to be a focal point of an offense?
Nowadays, a club is lucky to have Brad Fullmer. The non-spectacular Fullmer is fourth among DH's in total bases 100, followed by the equally unexceptional Scott Hatteberg at 99.
So what exactly happened to the prowess of the DH?
The retirements of the aforementioned Baines and Davis didn't help. Jose Canseco filled the role of aging slugger who couldn't field perfectly for a while, but injuries forced him to call it quits this season.
Edgar Martinez, the best in the business, has been sidelined for much of the season, although Ruben Sierra has put up stellar numbers in his place.
Slugging percentages of the DH vs. the AL as a whole:
Maybe the DH is just an idea whose time has passed.
It was added in 1973 to give the AL a badly needed boost in offense. In 1972, the AL hit .239 and averaged 3.47 runs per game. With the DH in 1973, the average shot up 20 points and there were 4.28 runs per game.
But is it really needed now during this era of explosive offense?
The emphasis on offseason conditioning has helped keep sluggers relatively svelte, giving them more years in which they can field their positions reliably.
Even without the DH, pitchers today game have the deck stacked against them in so many ways: Ballparks are smaller; hitters crowd the plate with impunity, knowing the pitcher may get fined or suspended if he tries to pitch inside; there is no testing for steroids and other performance enhancers, etc.
Realistically, the DH isn't going anywhere, especially if the players' union has a say. It's been around for 30 years, making it a bonafide tradition in the eyes of many AL fans. But for 10 days of this season, at least, we can imagine what baseball would be like without it.
Luis Castillo's 34-game hitting streak has been refreshing for the game, if for no other reason that it isn't a home run record he is chasing.
The remarkable feat also brings to mind some of the great stories surrounding streaks of the past.
When Joe DiMaggio failed to get a hit on July 17, 1941, ending his 56-game tear, he left the stadium with shortstop Phil Rizzuto. They walked to a bar together, but Joe D. realized he had forgotten his wallet. He asked for all the cash Scooter had -- about $18 -- and went inside to drink, alone. It's hard to imagine anybody breaking his record being able to find that type of privacy today.
That day also made a legend out of Indians third baseman Ken Keltner, who made two outstanding plays to rob DiMaggio of base hits. Keltner had a decent 12-year career with Cleveland, but would have been forgotten long ago if not for his part in ending the Yankee Clipper's streak. If not for Keltner's glove, DiMaggio's feat would be even more amazing, since the next day he began another 16-game hitting streak.
Joe's younger brother, Dom, put together a 34-game streak in 1949. On the day it ended, it was Joe who made the putout on Dom's final at-bat.
Paul Molitor had a bittersweet end to his 39-game streak in 1987. He was on deck in the bottom of the 10th when pinch-hitter Rick Manning singled to center, driving in the game-winning run. The home crowd booed Manning for ending the game before Molitor, 0-for-4, could hit again.
A crowd of 45,007 packed Atlanta Fulton County Stadium on July 31, 1978. Phil Niekro walked Pete Rose in his first at-bat of the series, drawing a chorus of boos. "I felt like I was a villain out there tonight," Niekro said. The streak would live on until the next day, when Larry McWilliams and Gene Garber combined to shut out Rose in four at-bats. After the game, Rose lashed out at Garber during a live television interview for not throwing strikes. "Garber was pitching like it was the seventh game of the World Series," Rose griped, to which Garber replied, "I had an idea Pete was hitting like it was the last game of the World Series."
Texas' Rafael Palmeiro returned to Wrigley Field this week for the first time since being traded from the Cubs to Texas in 1988. He celebrated his return by homering in each of the three games, passing Sammy Sosa for the all-time lead in interleague home runs with 31.
Expos righty Tomo Ohka quietly is putting together a nice season for the second-place Expos. He is 7-3 with a 2.89 ERA, including a 3-0, 1.61 performance in June. He has gone at least seven innings in each of his past eight starts.
Astros 2B Craig Biggio has snapped out of his doldrums of late, batting .390 during a 10-game hitting streak to raise his average from .230 to .256.
|Turning it around|
The much-maligned Julian Tavarez is unbeaten in his past six starts, and is 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA in June. The Marlins righty had an ERA of 9.82 in April and 8.55 in May.
So much for the humidor. The Yankees and Rockies combined for the most runs (70) in a three-game series in Coors Field history. New York's 41 runs were its most in a three-game series since scoring 42 against the St. Louis Browns in 1951. The Rockies avoided a sweep by rallying for a 14-11 victory on Thursday. Rockies third baseman Todd Zeile and Yankees third baseman Robin Ventura each homered in that game. As teammates with the Mets, they homered in the same game once all of last season. ... Who says you need a big crowd for a home-field advantage? The Expos lead the major leagues in home wins with a 25-11 record despite having fewer than 10,000 fans in attendance for all but seven of their games. ... The Mariners swept the Reds for their first three-game winning streak since May 15-17. ... Brewers second baseman Eric Young homered in back-to-back games after failing to go deep in the season's first 69 games. ... Jose Mesa blew four saves all of last season when he converted 42. He blew his
fourth this season Tuesday night.