Imagine, for a moment, that you’re a boxing fan. Your favorite fighter has agreed to a title bout with the reigning champion. Except, of course, that one of the fight’s conditions is that throughout the months leading up to the fight, your favorite fighter is not permitted to practice with a left jab, while the reigning champ is. Further, during the forthcoming title fight’s evenly-numbered rounds, left jabs by either fighter are not allowed, whereas in odd rounds left jabs are allowed, despite the fact that the challenger hasn’t used one in months. Would one ever be able to form a respectable argument that the rules of the championship fight are fair to both parties?
And yet, these are close to the circumstances that the Major League establishment places on the World Series and on inter-league games each year. For the six months leading up to the championship-crowning event, the National League will use 8 regular hitter/fielders and one pitcher; meanwhile, the American League will use 9 regular hitters, 8 of whom will regularly field, plus one pitcher. When the two leagues’ champions meet in the Fall Classic, the hosting team’s rules will be used. However, when the National League team is the host of a Series game, playing under their rules is no advantage to them; both teams merely play with 9 chosen starters. Contrast that against when the American League team is the host, playing under their rules is a considerable advantage, as all 9 of their regular hitters will get to play, while the National League team must promote an otherwise bench player to their starting lineup.
Of course, in any one game, it will be hard for the objective viewer to tell the difference. Clearly though, over the course of a large sample of games, the American League team’s representatives should be expected to win more than what we might expect from a fair fight. Why? Because the fight isn’t fair.
I believe that baseball using the designated hitter is not the optimal way to play baseball. I believe that baseball where inferior-hitting pitchers are expected to bat is not the optimal way to play baseball. Even more so than either opinion, though, I feel most strongly that the practice of playing with two sets of rules compromises the athletic integrity of the contest between American and National League teams, when in fact teams from both leagues meet in a game or series of games.
Over a large sample of inter-league games, it is reasonably predictable that:
a.) When playing in a National League stadium, American League teams will have superior options to choose from when constrained to eight hitter/fielders, by virtue of their having nine regular hitters;
b.) When playing in an American League stadium, National League teams will have inferior options to choose from when expected to field nine hitters, by virtue of their having only eight regular hitter/fielders;
c.) That these disparities will make for a mismatched contest between the two teams;
d.) That this mismatch will cause over a long sample of games a noticeable edge toward the American League teams.
Pitchers being expected to hit is foolish. Giving a starting job to a has-been compromises the game. Neither do as much damage to the game’s competitive balance, though, as each half of the league playing under two sets of rules whilst both teams compete for the same title.