Say Goodbye To Pitchers As Hitters

IBWAA

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Houston pitcher Zack Greinke poked a surprise pinch-single during the 2021 World Series.Arturo Pardavila III, Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0

By Dan Schlossberg

With his pinch-hit single in Game 6 of the World Series at Atlanta’s Truist Park, Zack Greinke probably carved a niche in the baseball record book.

Pitchers as hitters will soon be as extinct as the dinosaur, buffalo nickel, or rabbit-ears television antenna.

That’s because the one thing virtually certain to be part of the next Basic Agreement is the expansion of the designated hitter to both leagues.

Since April 6, 1973, when Ron Blomberg of the Yankees drew a bases-loaded walk in the first inning of the opening game at Fenway Park, hitters have batted in place of pitchers without having to play the field. But that applied only to the American League.

The tradition-minded National League used the DH only during the virus-shortened season of 2020, when teams played 60-game schedules, but reverted to previous rules once the full slate returned for 2021.

Max Fried suffered a groin pull running the bases, missed three weeks from Atlanta’s schedule, and other pitchers suffered various aches and pains as well.

On the plus side, however, Fried actually won a game with a timely pinch-hit single when Braves manager Brian Snitker needed a left-handed bat in his lineup.

With the notable exception of two-way star Shohei Ohtani, managers are always reluctant to have pitchers do anything other than pitching. They regard pitchers as fragile creatures whose routines and between-innings plans should neither be shaked nor stirred.

It hasn’t always been that way.

Though most pitchers turned into 98-pound weaklings at the plate, there were more than a handful of notable exceptions.

Think Babe Ruth, a pitcher whose bat was so good that the Boston Red Sox played him in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching. By the time he got to the Yankees in 1920, he was a full-time outfielder, in the lineup every day.

Then there was Terry Forster, described by David Letterman as “a fat tub of goo,” but actually pretty proficient at the plate. Of all players who appeared in at least 500 games, he had the highest lifetime batting average: an unbelievable .397 !!

Wes Ferrell had 38 home runs, a record for a pitcher, while Warren Spahn had 35, the most by a National Leaguer, and actually homered for the Braves in 17 consecutive seasons. Don Newcombe and Don Drysdale both had tremendous power, even more so than the still-active Madison Bumgarner.

Lew Burdette punished Sandy Koufax, beating him three times with home runs and getting the Dodger lefty to name him his toughest out.

Ken Brett, brother of one-time AL MVP George Brett, had more power than his sibling but didn’t get to show it as often.

And how about Rick Wise, the only man to pitch a no-hitter and hit two home runs in the same game?

We could go on and on about the pros and cons of the DH but its arrival is as certain as the sun rising in the east every morning. Fans like high-scoring games, hate watching most pitchers flail away without success, and have even accepted the advent of designated hitters into the Hall of Fame (Edgar Martinez, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas, and Paul Molitor for starters).

Zack Greinke won’t join them in the gallery but the bat he used to plunk his hit in the 2021 World Series probably will. Hall of Fame president Josh Rawitch was in Atlanta when it happened and has probably staked his claim already.

Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ covers baseball for forbes.com, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Sports Collectors Digest, Latino Sports, Ball Nine, and more. E.mail him at ballauthor@gmail.com.

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