Where's the cleanup hitter? Sorry, this is a DH-free zone
The two leagues have been playing under different rules for four decades. They've played interleague games under different rules since 1997. But with interleague play expanding this year so that it's going on nearly every day, we have crazy sights like the White Sox being forced to bench their cleanup hitter in the seventh game of the season.
WASHINGTON -- Went to see the White Sox Tuesday night.
Saw them send 40 men to the plate. Saw them score seven runs.
Never saw their cleanup hitter.
Seven games into the season, their cleanup hitter got a night off.
Not because Adam Dunn needed it. Simply because the rules of the game demanded it.
We've come to accept interleague play, either as a great innovation or as a necessary evil that's not going away. We'll accept interleague play every day of the season, even if it feels strange this year, the first time around.
It's harder than ever to accept the idea that the rules of the game depend on where the game is played. It's harder than ever to accept the idea that one team doesn't get to use its cleanup hitter.
Oh, the White Sox could have used Adam Dunn Tuesday night against the Nationals. In fact, manager Robin Ventura said Dunn likely will play one game of this three-game series, probably Wednesday, in left field.
Dunn, who hit cleanup in each of the first six White Sox games, is a designated hitter. The White Sox are playing this week's three-game series with the Nationals at Nationals Park, which by virtue of being in the National League is considered a DH-free zone.
So in Tuesday's 8-7 Nationals win, the only time Dunn showed up on the field was to go to the on-deck circle in the ninth inning. He never got to the plate, because Paul Konerko (Tuesday's cleanup hitter) made the final out.
Konerko reached base three times and hit a three-run home run while batting cleanup. The White Sox lost because starter Jake Peavy gave up six runs, and because Matt Thornton allowed an Adam LaRoche homer that proved decisive.
The Nationals, of course, also played without a DH.
That doesn't change how silly this is, or how silly it was that the Royals had to sit their third-place hitter (Billy Butler) last Friday in Philadelphia, or that the Angels sat their starting center fielder Peter Bourjos on opening day in Cincinnati.
With interleague play going on every day, a necessity now that each league has 15 teams, the two leagues have less individual identity than ever. And yet they continue to play the game under different rules, which gave baseball a cute feeling of variety in the days before interleague play, and wasn't even all that offensive in the days when interleague play only served as a midseason diversion.
But now we're seeing it nearly every day, and it makes less sense than ever for the leagues to play with separate rulebooks.
This isn't about fairness. AL teams are only competing with other AL teams for playoff spots, and every AL team faces the same issue. By season's end, the White Sox will have played 10 games without a DH, the same number as the Tigers.
"At the end of the day, it comes back to that it's a level playing field," Konerko said.
This isn't even about whether the game is better with the DH or without it, because the DH isn't going away in the American League. The union would never go for that, and American League teams with long-term money invested in guys who can (or soon will be able to) only DH aren't going for it, either.
For now, people in the game say, there's no momentum towards adding the DH to the National League. And yet, more and more people seem to believe that eventually, that's the way this is going to end up.
For now, the White Sox are stuck benching their cleanup hitter in the seventh game of the season.
"Spring training was so long that it feels like it's June, anyway," Ventura said. "[Dunn] needed a day off. That's what we're pretending."
We're pretending that playing baseball with two different sets of rules makes sense.
It doesn't. It probably never did.
It certainly doesn't now, when we're seeing the results every day of the season. And when we show up to watch a team, and the rules dictate that the cleanup man doesn't come to bat.
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