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Local coaches’ opinions split on DH rule

Michael Kiral / L’Observateur / July 6, 1998

LAPLACE – The designated hitter rule celebrates its 25th anniversary, and over those 25 years few things have generated more debate in baseball.

There are those who argue the designated hitter is what one of the best things to come along in the sport in years, while others will argue just as strenuously that it has ruined the game. Opinions continue to vary over theissue with public opinion changing as often as polls in an election year.

Public opinion current seems to favor abolishing the designated hitter. Arecent poll in Baseball Weekly had 60 percent of the respondents voting against the DH and 51 percent wanting to see it abolish next season.

There are justifiable debates on both sides of the issue. Having thedesignated hitter has allowed such stars as Minnesota’s Paul Molitor and Baltimore’s Harold Baines to prolong their careers. Edgar Martinez won theAmerican League batting crown in 1995 as a DH and Jim Eisenreich helped the Florida Marlins to a World Series title last year by hitting a crucial home run as a designated hitter in game three of the series.

On the other hand, such Hall of Famers as Ted Williams, Stan Musial and Babe Ruth may never have had an opportunity to demonstrate their hitting skills if the DH had been in effect during their playing days. All threestarted their careers as pitchers.

The designated hitter was adopted by the American League in 1973 and used that season on an experimental basis. The New York Yankees’ RonBlomberg was the first to appear as a DH in a regular season contest. Thedesignated hitter rule was adopted on a permanent basis following the season.

Locally, opinion on the designated hitter is split among the area’s American Legion coaches. St. Charles Catholic-based Cretin Homes coachFrank Monica is one who favors keeping the DH. He said people want to seehitting, pointing out the excitement that Mark McGwire is currently generating with his power.

“The designated hitter is great for baseball,” Monica said. “If I paid $10for a major league game, there is nothing more boring than to see a pitcher who has not batted since high school come in and strike out. Iwould rather see a more professional hitter.”Monica said the argument that the designated hitter limits the moves a manager has to make in the course of a game is overrated and that he would rather see players be able to extend their careers.

“The designated hitter in baseball has its place,” Monica said.

Destrehan-based East St. Charles coach Mark Willoughby said the rule isespecially beneficial at the high school level.

“The designated hitter is a good tool for the kids,” Willoughby said. “Itallows us to play one other person. It allows us coaches to work with ourlineups and develop strategies. I hate to see it abolished for the kids’sake.”Lutcher Dugout Club coach Matt Dornier said he has not had to use the designated hitter for most of his seven years as coach. He said on the highschool level, a lot of times the pitcher is a team’s best athlete and can hit as well, and that the designated hitter is used for another position player.

Britt Oubre, coach of Hahnville-based Otto Candies, said he sees both sides of the argument.

“I look at it two ways,” Oubre said. “Having the DH lets another personbat. It puts better people at the plate. But traditionally, nine people play.There are two sides of it and I don’t take sides. If they allow us to do it,we do it.”On the other hand, Tommy Fernandez of the Riverside Extra Inning Club said he personally does not like the designated hitter.

“Somebody who is 13, 14, 15 years old, we tell them they are good enough to play center field but we are going to let somebody hit for you,” Fernandez said. “On the major league level, it takes a lot of coaching outof the coaches’ hands.”The debate over the designated hitter may not wage much longer. This pastMarch, the major league owners notified the Players’ Association that they intend to eliminate the DH for the 1999 season. If that happens, themajority of the local coaches see it being abolished at all levels.

“If they do away with it in the major leagues, it will probably trickle down,” Oubre said. “Pitchers will have to spend more time in the battingcage.”Monica agreed, adding that he hopes the DH is retained.

“Whatever the major leagues do will filter down to our level,” Monica said. “We like to emulate the major leagues but I certainly hope it doesn’tget to that.”

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