In case you missed it, pitcher A.J. Burnett - recently traded from the Yankees to the Prates - injured himself in batting practice this past week. Burnett was practicing bunting - a skill required of National Lague pitchers - and fouled a ball into his face, fracturing the orbital bone around his right eye. Surgery was necessary, and Burnett will be out for 8-10 weeks.
It’s too bad, really, since Burnett was looking to recapture the kind of ability he’d shown prior to the last couple of years in the Bronx. But it’s not like he blew out his elbow or shoulder. Recovery from the surgery itself will only take a couple of weeks. After that, it’s a reconditioning program and starting the spring training process all over again. The Pirates expect he’ll be back in the rotation by early May.
Because he injured himself batting, there’s been a hue and cry from a number of fans who believe this is why the NL needs to adopt the DH rule.
Really? Have you forgotten that Burnett spent seven seasons in the NL with the Marlins? Oh, he’s a lousy hitter to be sure, but he does have three career home runs.
I can think of several major league position payers who are God-awful in the field, yet they still play defense. Anyone who would point to this incident as a legitimate reason to adopt the DH isn’t seeing the big picture here.
First of all, pitchers are far more likely to get hurt pitching than hitting. Secondly, has there been a rash of incidents recently in which pitchers have hurt themselves hitting? Sure, there are a handful of incidents over the past several seasons, but it’s far from an epidemic.
The American League has featured the DH since 1973. When the rule change was first proposed in 1972, AL owners voted 8-4 to adopt it - but they were coming off of a season where only three teams showed a profit. The NL turned it down, largely because most of their clubs made money in 1972.
My friend and colleague of the past 30-plus years, Tom Davis, believes that another vote should be taken now, since there’s been a total turnover in club owners. It’s not that simple. You’d first have to find a group of NL owners who wanted to adopt the rule, and I don’t think a real “group” exists. If you put the cleat on the other foot, I think you’d handily find a group of AL owners who’d happily vote it down, but that’s of no consequence, since it would be a collective bargaining issue with the players’ association.
For those fans who believe that “it’s inevitable” that the NL adopts the DH, consider this: 2012 will be the 40th consecutive season that the AL has used it and the NL has not. Inevitability flew out the window 25 years ago. If the NL thought that letting the pitcher hit was keeping fans away, they would’ve adopted it before the decade of the 70s ended. It’s pretty clear it’s not something that’s cost them any spins of the turnstile.
The easiest way for the AL to dump the DH would be to offer the union an extra roster spot or two, to compensate for the probable lower cost of a 25-man roster without a designated hitter. It’s unfortunate that Burnett got hurt, but it’s not going to provide any impetus to change the rules.