The time has come for baseball to get its act together: either adopt the designated hitter in both leagues or get rid of it entirely.
A dramatic shift in offensive fire-power toward the American League in the last two seasons has made the days of an asymmetrically split sport obsolete and unnecessary.
Conditions are finally right for reuniting the two leagues; play the game one way.
With either all-DH or no-DH, the leagues would be in nearly ideal offensive balance.
As matters sand now, however, the two loops are as unbalanced as they were eight years ago when the AL adopted the DL as a drastic restorative measure.
Now, the tables have turned. The American League has suddenly and unexpectedly become the vastly higher-scoring league. New statistics show that even with any DH rule, the AL would now score more runs than the NL.
The summer meetings in two weeks would be a perfect moment to begin getting baseball back on one track again.
If there is movement, it will be from the National League, which is now the worried league. Hitting is the baseball equivalent of heroin: fans get hooked on it. How long can the AL monopolize this DH connection?
The time is coming, and may already have arrived, when the NL must face the fact that it needs the DH to reestablish run-scoring parity with the junior circuit.
The stats of the offensive shift during the DH era are simple, starting and incontrovertible.
In 1972 the NL outscored the AL by 12.7 percent, with an average NL team holding a large, 605-537 edge in runs scored per season.
The AL, in a desperate reaction to the common perception that more run scoring was synonymous with "better baseball," searched for an instant offensive hype.
The DH proved to be the perfect fiscal, if not artistic answer.
Over the first five seasons of the DH rule, the two leagues were in almost absolute run-scoring balance, with the AL -- thanks entirely to the DH -- actualy scoring a tiny 1.6 percent more runs during the '73-'77 period.
In none of those five years did either league outscore and other by more than 3.3 percent. Since the AL still needed its trick rule to stay even, the public, probably correctly, assumed that the National League had better top-to-bottom talent.
Then, things started to change -- fast. The public hasn't begun to catch up yet.
In 1976, the AL scored an infinitesimal 0.1 percent more runs. In 1977 the figure was 2.6 percent. Then, in 1978, it jumped to a significant 5.3 percent.
Finally, last season, the big change was becoming obvious. The AL out-scored the NL (per team) by 10.3 percent with AL clubs averaging 143 homers and 752 runs scored compared with the NL's 119 homers and 682 runs per club.
This season, the gap has widened even more. The AL has scored 10.7 percent more runs per team, almost as great as the 12.7 percent NL superiority that precipitated the DH rule in the first place.
Even a cursory glance at last Sunday's averages tells all.
The Boston Red Sox are a mediocre seventh in runs scored (450) in the AL, yet they would be leading the NL in scoring, with only four teams within 50 runs of them.
Both Milwaukee and New York had 30 more homers than any National League team, 121 to 91, while the pathetic Toronto Blue Jays -- last in the AL in both runs and average -- would stand third in the entire National League in homers.
Batting averages have risen so high in the AL that the median (midpoint) of all players with 175 or more at-bats was .273. The highest team average in the whole NL is .273.
The Baltimore Orioles, for instance, have only the eighth-best average in the AL .268. Yet that would make them the third-best hitting team in the NL.
This is exactly the sort of humiliating difference that gave the AL the shivers a decade ago and sent it scurrying to the warm arms of the DH
Of course, the payoff question is this: How much of the AL's current offensive superiority is due to DH and how much is due to improvements in the league's personnel?
Well, how much of team's offense can we credit to the DH?
There is no proven formula (no matter what anybody says), but we can make a sensible estimate.
At the absolute maximum, one DH could not be worth more to a hypothetical "average" team than one-ninth (11 percent) of its total-run scoring.
Even this one-ninth DH factor is almost certainly generous. A DH's contributions are not pure gravy,since the pitchers (and pinch-hitters for the pitcher) that he replaces also get their hits, even if they hit .170 rather than .270.
Something on the order of a Seven Percent Solution would probably be closer to the mark for what a DH is worth.
Be that as it may -- seven or 11 -- the point remains the same. The AL, off the evidence of the past two seasons, no longer needs help. It can stand by itself.
In 1972, the AL teams averaged a pathetic 537 runs a year. By 1979, the mark has increased to 752 -- a jump of 40 percent in eight years. The 1980 AL scoring pace is identical to '79's.
All of that 40 percent skyrocket is not the DH or the new Rawlings rabbit ball.Plenty of it is new talent.
Each fan can make up his own lists of the best young players and which league has more.It's unmeasurable. However, the feeling here for the past four years has been that the AL has closed the talent gap to the point where it no longer exists. The AL may even have the brighter star future five years hence. That, too,is moot.
What is certain is that baseball no longer needs to exist in two radically different forms, especially when a stroke of the pen can undoubtedly bring the leagues close to a healthy offensive balance.
Which way should the decision go?
"It bothers me very much to see the game divided on the DH," says Commissioner Bowie Kuhn.
"I see no need for me to push hard either way, though my personal preference is for the DH. Let time take its course. But I would hate to leave the game in a condition where it was permanently split."
Well, time has done its work well.
For five years, the DH split seved a purpose. It helped revitalize the American League, even though it cast a nasty shadow over the World Series, in which one team or the other had to fundamentally alter its lineup for the games that were supposedly the high-light of the baseball year.
In the abstract it might be pleasant for baseball to turn back its clock. Run-scoring is high enough now that the game could do nicely without any DH. If it were ever badly needed again. . .
However, league meetings are held in a very real world. And in that world, you only move forward.
Sooner (if wise) or later (if not), the National League will see that it has little choice. The AL isn't about to give up its juicy, attendance-boosting DH rule. Who knows? If they abolished it, the players union might even strike over the loss of DH jobs (don't laugh).
For five consecutive seasons, the NL has been outscored by ever-increasing margins. No league can stant that.It's bad for business. Purity and profits are about to collide again.
For once baseball may do what's best in spite of itself, although the likely bet is that the game will procrastinate as long as possible.
The DH is almost surely here to stay. So, why not make the game whole while the time is right?