Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Time for Central League to adopt designated hitter

by Wayne Graczyk

As the 2010 Japan pro baseball season draws to a close with its Climax and Japan Series, the thought occurred to me that maybe it is time for the Central League to join its Pacific League cousins and include the designated hitter rule in its games for next season.

Before going further, however, let me say I generally do not like the DH. If I had my way, I would do away with it in the Pacific League, the American League, minor and independent leagues and any leagues in other countries where it is used. The reality, though, is it’s apparently here to stay forever.

The American League instituted the DH 37 years ago, in 1973, and the Pacific League followed in 1975, so it is 35 years old here in Japan. It is one of many examples where Japanese baseball followed the major leagues in making changes and renovations over the years.

These include artificial turf, domed stadiums, post-season playoffs, the four-man umpiring system, interleague play, letting fans keep foul balls and games on cable TV. I would suggest to the Central League clubs they do not need to wait for the National League to go DH, which may never happen anyway.

The reason I am bringing up this matter at this time is because there are some CL clubs who would greatly benefit from a DH rule. The Yomiuri Giants could reduce a huge waste of talent, and the Tokyo Yakult Swallows would have a major problem solved if they could insert a designated hitter in their lineup.

A slew of players who could be starters — if not stars — on other teams rode the Giants bench or spent time on the Yomiuri farm team this season, because they did not have a position to play. These include Yoshinobu Takahashi, Lee Seung Yeop, Yoshitomo Tani, Yoshiyuki Kamei, Takahiro Suzuki and Kenji Yano.

Also, if — and that is a big if — Hideki Matsui opts to return home and play next season and wants to return to the Giants, having a DH slot would open the perfect situation for his re-joining his old team, and how exciting would that be?

As for the Swallows, manager Junji Ogawa has been quoted in the Japanese media as saying he would like to retain right-handed hitting first baseman Jamie D’Antona, but Yakult will also be bringing back lefty-swinging first sacker Josh Whitesell, who had an outstanding half-season after joining the team in June, and was one of the reasons the Swallows improved so much (see below) as the summer went on.

“I want to come back,” said D’Antona prior to leaving Japan for the U.S. on Oct. 11. “I’ll be sitting by the phone, waiting for a call from my agent or the team.”

D’Antona further said he likes and respects Ogawa and the job he has done. The manager even tried to play D’Antona and Whitesell in left field on different occasions, so he could get both their bats in the lineup at the same time.

Hey, get the DH rule in the Central League, and the problem is solved. They could alternate playing first and serving as the DH.

Other CL teams, too, could use the DH to their advantage by giving aging stars more of a chance to play and fans the opportunity to see them in action — offensively, anyway. The Hanshin Tigers with Tomoaki Kanemoto and the Hiroshima Carp with Tomonori Maeda immediately come to mind.

Hanshin outfielder Keiji Kawasaki was the first Cen-tral League designated hitter when he filled that role in the 1985 Japan Series against the Seibu Lions at Lions Stadium. This was 10 years after the Pacific League began using the DH and, prior to that, the rule was not used in any game involving a CL club, including Japan Series, All-Star Games and preseason exhibitions.

Over the years since Kawasaki broke the ice, the DH has been in effect in all games played in Pacific League parks, whether it be PL games, Japan Series or interleague contests. During the exhibition season, managers of all teams in both leagues may use the DH, even in games involving two Central League clubs.

They have gone that far; how about going all the way?

If the CL adopted the DH concept, it would end the silly system of playing under alternating rules during the Japan Series and the interleague season, depending on who is the home team.

I cannot think of any reason the Central Leaguers would still oppose the DH, except for stubbornness and pride, but I’ll bet the Central League teams’ general managers, presidents and field managers have not even thought about implementing the DH in their games.

However, what if the idea was brought up at a meeting during the offseason, and the advantages were discussed in a convincing way?

Maybe they could even be shown this column.

If it were put to a vote, I wonder what the result would be.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com