As salaries rise, so does NL's need for DH
DENVER -- Since we live in an age of money, an age of offense and an age of power, it is time for the National League to stop worrying and start loving the designated hitter.
But money is also one of the reasons the NL prefers things the way they are. Adopting the DH would force NL teams to raise payroll at least $10 million per season on players who might be everyday players but who no longer require a glove. The DH is no longer just an extra bat. It is a big-ticket item. Seven of the top 10 teams in payroll are from the AL.Meanwhile, six of the nine teams in the middle of the payroll pack -- teams that spend between $70 million and $90 million -- are NL teams. One of those teams, the Phillies, makes for an interesting case study. The Phillies are 14th in payroll at $89 million, but their biggest decision this decade was whether to keep or trade Thome. Their young slugger, Howard, was ready, but only one could play first base. Had the Phillies been in the AL, a 3-4-5 combination of Howard, Thome, and Pat Burrell would have been pretty fearsome. In the 1960s, the San Francisco Giants were in a similar position with Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey, both first basemen. Cepeda was traded to St. Louis. Of course, Philadelphia would have had to pay both players, too. One way to keep the rules the same and live with the differences in the leagues is to scratch the All-Star Game formula and return to alternating home-field advantage each year. The last year the NL held home field was in 2001, when the Diamondbacks won all four home games to beat the Yankees in seven. Another way is to alternate the DH rule each year in the World Series, forcing the AL to deal with the disadvantage every other year, a format baseball used from 1976 to 1985. But none of these compromises addresses the sheer difference in the caliber of hitter an AL team can afford to use. If the days of the $15 million DH are here to stay, it is time for the NL to swallow hard and get with the program.
Howard Bryant is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He is the author of "Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston" and "Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball." He can be reached at Howard.Bryant@espn3.com.