Victor Martinez

Designated hitters have had impacts in the American League, and with the coronavirus pandemic causing changes, it may soon come to the National League.

As Major League Baseball continues to consider scenarios for how, if or when it’ll return, there have been a number of one-year situations that could be involved. According to ESPN, one of these possibilities is a universal designated hitter, a concept that’s been debated for the last several years.

The designated hitter is a position only used in American League ballparks where another player bats for the pitcher and doesn’t play in the field. The position, created in 1973, has become one of the most controversial aspects of MLB, with several arguments for and against it. 

On one hand, the designated hitter provides value to players who don’t have the physical ability to play any of the on-field positions. Edgar Martinez and David Ortiz became Hall of Fame-caliber players while almost exclusively playing the position. 

Also, a universal designated hitter would prevent injuries for pitchers while batting. In April 2015, St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles during an at-bat, causing him to miss the majority of the season.

There shouldn’t be a designated hitter in the National League because it takes away key strategies from managers. When the pitcher’s up and there are runners on base with less than two outs, the pitcher’s often told to bunt to move the runner into an easier position to score. The universal designated hitter may make bunting unnecessary and could change the way pitchers approach hitters with runners on base.

Also, a designated hitter in both leagues would almost eliminate any need for a pinch-hitter, who usually bats for the pitcher late in games. The designated hitter would make the hitters on the bench almost obsolete, as there’d be no need for them to bat for anybody unless of an injury or another circumstance.

A universal designated hitter would be less entertaining than a pitcher trying to hit the ball, such as Bartolo Colon. When Colon was with the New York Mets from 2014-16, he became an icon for his intriguing at-bats, which sometimes resulted in wild swings and misses and his helmet falling off. In 2016, he became the oldest player to hit his first career home run, which wouldn’t have happened had the designated hitter existed in the National League.

Also, there are several pitchers who’ve been elite hitters. Before the 2016 season, Golden Gate Sports said that some hall of fame pitchers like Cy Young and Bob Gibson — who combined for 897 hits and 42 home runs — were all great hitting pitchers and that current aces like Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner liked their opportunities to hit and tried to improve that aspect of their game.

“Of course it’s fun to hit,” then-Oakland Athletics pitcher Blake Treinen said before the 2018 All-Star game. “It’s every kid’s dream to swing the bat in a big league game.”

The designated hitter is one of the most debated topics in baseball, and there are rumors that it’ll be incorporated universally within the league with this unusual season on the horizon. However, the National League has existed without the designated hitter for over a century, and it’s one of its core identities. Adding it now could dramatically change the way baseball is played and its future.

Contact Joshua Gingrich at gingrihj@dukes.jmu.edu. For more coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.