For those not in the know, there are certain strategic anomalies in baseball’s primary leagues that serve to differentiate them from each other. This is a distinct peculiarity unique to baseball which doesn’t exist in any form in any of the other major sports. Not football. Not hockey. Not soccer. Not basketball. Only baseball has an instantly discernible difference between their two major brackets.
Forgive me for being a semi-purist. Baseball is a sport with a great history. While some will say baseball has changed dramatically over the past one hundred and forty-five years, I would vehemently counter-point. You see, included in their list of major changes will be the inclusion of minorities as players. The inclusion of night games once sufficient lighting was developed for evening play. Even the simple idea of the wildcard being added to the playoff race is likely to be made to the list. But what their lists often overlook is that those didn’t fundamentally change the rules of the game.
When baseball started, everyone who took the field also had a spot in the “lineup” in which they were called in order to hit the ball in an “at bat.” Pitchers were on the field and therefore also had to bat.
This changed in 1973 when the American League added the designated hitter rule. The rule allows for a player with a special role who bats in place of the pitcher on the roster of American League teams. Aside from other minor rule differences, this change provided a very visible distinction of play style between the two league’s “styles” of baseball.
This distinction allows us to enjoy different styles of play. The NL games require more strategic nuance during gameplay because pitchers (Babe Ruth being an exception) aren’t particularly well-known for being great hitters. The rest of the lineup (hitters 1-8) is generally stacked in a way in which to optimize run-producing opportunities. In the AL, the addition of a hitting-only position meant someone with a sweet bat, but poor fielding could still make it in baseball, but also provide a greater number of run-producing opportunities in any given lineup.
To compensate, NL teams will tend to “bunt” the ball more frequently to move runners to the next base while “sacrificing” the pitcher’s spot to a “productive out.”
Over the decades some of us have come to love this differentiation. No other major sport enjoys such a strategic rule difference in its major leagues. It remains an extremely unique draw for me to NL-style baseball. Quite frankly I couldn’t imagine baseball without watching to see what a pitcher does when they come up to bat. Or how they approach a given lineup.
It used to be that the NL and AL would only meet in the World Series a sacred face-off between two styles of play. The later addition of the All-Star Game meant only the best from each team would make it to face each other in a fun but meaningless game. More recently inter-league play gave birth to NL vs. AL baseball during the regular season. The All-Star Game received a boost in importance when home-field advantage for the World Series was granted to the team from the winning league starting in 2003. The DH is typically only used when playing in an AL team’s stadium.
There are a great many arguments for why the DH should be used in the NL. I think they’re all rubbish. Partly because I’m resistant to change in what remains the only sport to capture my imagination. Partly because I see the NL as being truly superior baseball. But mostly, adding the DH to the NL removes one of the most unique aspects of any professional sport and dilutes the history of baseball as a whole.