Phillies 1980 Abstention Sunk Designated Hitter

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By Matt Albertson, Historical Columnist 
 
Rule changes make baseball traditionalists sqwuak an hiss. In recent years, Major League Baseball's willingness to contemplate significant alterations to the game has traditionalists mad - the Buster Posey rule, pitch clocks, relief pitcher's minimum batter rule, and, of course, the designated hitter. For some, it's common knowledge that Abner Doubleday invented baseball way back in Cooperstown, New York in 1839, and while the game has changed some since then, the game has pretty much remained the same for well over one hundred years. They say that's what makes baseball so timeless. Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth, as Doubleday myth has been disproven repeatedly over the past one hundred years and baseball has never remained the same. The one constant through all the years, reader, has been that baseball continued to evolve each and every year. MLB now tests some of its more radical ideas, such as the computerized strike zone, in the independent leagues. Baseball is prepared to enact radical rule changes in an effort to balance the "boredom" conundrum - action vs. inaction combined with the amount of time it takes to complete a game. 
 
The National League and American League have operated under significantly different rule structures twice. The first was between 1901-1902 when the National League approved the "foul strike rule", where a foul counts as a strike until there are two strikes. After serious deliberation, the American League relented and adopted the rule for play beginning in 1903. The leagues operated under the same rules, by and large, until 1973 when the American League adopted the designated hitter for a three-year trial run. No rule change/proposition has received more attention or opinion for so long. It's a bar room discussion/debate. I've debated the rule with a friend at the ballpark through the middle innings. It's great. It's horrible. It's divisive. And It's coming to a National League park near you sooner than you think. 
 
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Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) measures offensive value in relation to league average (100).
Since the American League adopted the designated hitter for a trial run in 1973, the American League has outscored the National League by 28,437 runs. Last season, the American League scored 11,859 runs while the National League scored 11,608 runs. The American League could cease play for roughly two and a half season before the National League evens the run total. And since 1973, the National League has scored more runs than the American League only 17 times over the past 46 seasons (1974, 1998-2012). The National League's "rein of run terror" coincided with the steroid era. Home run hitters like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Gary Sheffield were often tied to steroid use, whether proven or hearsay. That National League power surge helped decrease the gap but the numbers don't lie. The American League scores more runs because the pitcher doesn't have to hit. 
 
In August 1980, National League owners met in Detroit to discuss financial stability. In 1979, only 11 of the 26 clubs made money. In 1978, only eight made money. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn opined "On the one hand, baseball's popularity has never been higher. But in the gloomy science of economics, we don't do so well. We really don't...the biggest problems of the 1980s in my mind are economics, which are not good, and player relations, which are not as good as they should be." Why was this? Free agency officially began after the 1976 season.  Owners were concerned player contract demands would ruin the game and kill profits. Nobody knew how free agency would affect the industry long term. This is possibly why NL owners took a vote on the DH in Detroit in 1980. Baseball was popular, profits are down, and exploding offense generates more interest. Seems logical.
 
The play was championed by St. Louis' young GM John Claiborne, whom owner August A. Busch Jr. hired away from Boston for his forward thinking ideas. Passage required seven votes. Ruly Carpenter, then-Phillies owner, told then-Vice President Bill Giles to vote for the DH. The club had Greg Luzinski and Keith Moreland and wanted to get both of their bats in the lineup. Unfortunately, both were poor defensively so the DH seemed a logical solution. But prior to the vote, it was announced that if passed, the DH would not go into effect until 1982. The reason was because the players union would need to approve the measure. Giles tried to call Carpenter, who was on a fishing trip, but did not get a hold of him. Unsure of what to do, Giles abstained. Meanwhile, the Pirates were directed to vote as the Phillies voted. Giles explained in his book that this was due to the interstate rivalry between the clubs. Nevertheless, both clubs abstained as did Houston. The final vote was four clubs in favor (Atlanta, New York, St. Louis, and San Diego), five against (Chicago, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Montreal, and San Francisco, and three abstentions. Commissioner Kuhn was disappointed in the result, given his support of the DH and desire to have both leagues operate under the same rules.
 
 
The club brass were not unified in their desire for the DH. Manager Dallas Green was staunchly against it. "I'm not a DH man...I just don't think it's good for the game of baseball...tell me why it's good for the game." Vice President Paul Owens favored it and said that Ruly Carpenter was neutral. Bill Giles, meanwhile, said in his book that he was not a DH advocate. Regardless, the issue was expected to come up again at the winter meetings. It didn't, however. St. Louis GM John Claiborne, who got the measure on the August docket, was fired a week after the meetings concluded in Detroit and the measure was never taken up again.
 
In an alternate universe, ponder these scenarios: Pete Incaviglia or Milt Thompson as the DH in 1993, Jim Thome or Ryan Howard as the DH in 2005, Rhys Hoskins or Jay Bruce, or Alec Bohm as the DH in 2020.

Powder Blue Podcast: Is the DH in the National League Inevitable?

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Frank Klose, Hunter Brody, and Matt Albertson talk about how it's inevitable the National League will have a DH very soon. Albertson gives us the history of the DH and he describes how close it was from happening in the past - perhaps because the owner of the Phillies was on a fishing drop.

Also, Andrew McCutchen and Seranthony Dominguez have injury updates while Bryce Harper says Phillies fans should not worry about  JT Realmuto's contract.



Report: MLB Discussing Fan-Less Games in Arizona to Start Season

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By redlegsfan21 - Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, Link

We should be in the third week of games in Major League Baseball.  Fans have been left without any sports in their lives.  And while the national peak of COVID-19 cases is in the immediate future, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association are discussing innovative ways to play games.  One of those ways might be to make every team play in empty ballparks in Arizona.

Continue reading "Report: MLB Discussing Fan-Less Games in Arizona to Start Season" »


Bryce and Kayla Harper Announce Donation to Fight COVID-19

Major League Baseball is currently on hiatus.  So for Bryce Harper and his wife Kayla and newborn son, there is nothing but a lot of bonding time at home.  Harper, who signed a 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies prior to the 2019 season, is opening his wallet.  Harper announced Thursday that he was making a donation to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in his hometown of Las Vegas and in his new home, Philadelphia.

Harper posted on Twitter:

We are blessed to be together as a family during this pandemic but realize many do not have the same luxury.  As the world battles COVID-19 and its effects, we are keeping the faith and praying for a swift turn to normalcy.

Through the power of prayer and helping each other with pure intent and love, we will get through this TOGETHER! Faith in our Lord and Savior will help heal the world.

Besides prayer, the Harpers are donating money.

The Harpers announced they will donate $500,000 to be in partnership with Direct Reilef and Three Square Las Vegas and Philabundance in Philadelphia to help those in immediate need.

In closing, the Harpers asked for fans to follow the appropriate guidelines:

NOW is the time to come together and adhere to the guidelines of medical professionals!  We are wishing the best to all with our prayers during this time.  #CrushCovid

The letter is simply signed "The Harpers".

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Seranthony Dominguez Could Be Headed For Tommy John Surgery

The Phillies were hoping for good news surrounding relief pitcher Seranthony Dominguez.  The right-handed bullpen-ace reliever pitched two scoreless innings in Grapefruit League action before play was suspended.  But then he was shut down. And it appears that the news is not good.

According to Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the recommendations from the doctor is "Tommy John" surgery:

It has been suggested to Dominguez that he undergo a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow, a source close to the Phillies reliever said Monday evening.

The usual recovery time is a calendar year at least, so if Dominguez goes that route, he should do so sooner than later to mitigate some playing time loss of 2021.

In recent weeks, both Chris Sale of the Boston Red Sox and Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets have undergone the procedure.  While that is a harrowing concept, many have recovered from the surgery to have very successful careers.  For some, however, they never regained their previous form.

As Dominguez noted a couple of weeks ago, he feared for his career.  That is a legitimate concern, but great promise remains.  The disappointing part, however, it appears to be a lock that he will not pitch for the Phillies in 2020.

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Phillies Rewind: March 28th

By Kevin McCormick, Sports Talk Philly Editor

With no baseball going on right now there is only one thing for fans to do to get their fix, look back on previous seasons. Let’s take a trip back just one year to opening day 2019. 

The Phillies kicked off the year against the Braves at home. Citizens Bank Park was sold out for the debut of the new-look Phillies. Fans got their money’s worth in this one as the Phillies routed the Braves 10-4 in an electrifying opening day win. 

This was the first time that the Philly faithful got to see new additions J.T. Realmuto, Andrew McCutchen, Jean Segura, and Bryce Harper take the field for the first time. 

Harper was greeted to a sea of red and a standing ovation as he made his first trot to right field in Phillies’ pinstripes. 

Aaron Nola took the hill in this game and kicked off his 2019 campaign in dominant fashion. Nola went six innings while only allowing one run one two hits, and struck out eight Braves’ hitters. It was everything you wanted to see from the ace on opening day. 

Andrew McCutchen couldn’t have had a better first impression on the Philadelphia crowd if he wanted to. He stepped into the box for his first at-bat as a Phillie and hit a shot to left-center field for a leadoff homerun to kick off the season. 

The Phillies weren’t done though. Maikel Franco stepped up in the sixth inning and blasted a three-run homerun for his first homer of the season. It would start his streak of being one of the deadliest eight-hole hitters in baseball. 

Rhys Hoskins got in on the fun in the next inning. The Braves intentionally walked Bryce Harper and loaded the bases for Hoskins, a decision they would soon regret. Hoskins proceeded to drive a ball to left field for his first career grand slam, sending the Philly crowd into hysteria. 

This was an all-around great first win for the Phillies, who would go on to sweep the opening series with the Braves and start the season 4-0. 

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Phillies Make Roster Moves on What Would Have Been Opening Day

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Thursday should have been the start of the 2020 season.  But instead of heading to Miami to play the Marlins, Phillies players are at home practicing social distancing like the rest of us.  But even with the Phillies and the rest of MLB suspended for the time being, the Phillies made several moves.

The Phillies announced (via a Todd Zolecki retweet) that the optioned the following players to Triple-A Lehigh Valley:

  • Outfielder Nick Williams
  • Outfielder Kyle Garlick
  • Starting pitcher Cole Irvin
  • Relief pitcher Edgar Garcia
  • Relief pitcher Austin Davis
  • Relief pitcher Reggie McClain

Over on MLB.com Zolecki had some additional news:

The Phillies have made no decisions on non-roster invitees like Francisco Liriano, Neil Walker, Josh Harrison, Logan Forsythe, Phil Gosselin and others that had March opt-out clauses. Each player has opted to remain with the team and postpone their opt-out opportunities until camp reconvenes.

In other words, players are being flexible as the wait continues.

Major League Baseball is also being flexible.  The Phillies will be able to recall any of the following players before the Opening Day roster, without it counting as an option, Zolecki notes.  So, the Phillies move forward with the option to undo the move later, should the team have a need.

Does this mean camp will indeed resume? A source tells 97.3 ESPN that while a truck made the trip from Clearwater, Florida to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the truck mostly contained luggage for team executives.  The lockers of players remain full, unless players have removed personal items for their personal workouts at home.

No decision has been made about the resumption of play.


With Delay, Could Spencer Howard Open the Season in Phillies Rotation?

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While Phillies fans were down in sunny Clearwater, Florida, Phillies top prospect Spencer Howard was in the backfields doing drills.  Howard was held back from taking the mound early in Spring, despite having the big league camp invitation.  While the plan was to hold Howard back a bit in the hopes of him helping the Phillies down the line in 2020, that line just might be the start of the season.

In Saturday's Philadelphia Inqurier, Scott Lauber points out that the impact of Howard could be much greater in a delayed season:

But amid the nearly unprecedented uncertainty for the sport, this much is clear: Time, the Phillies’ enemy in terms of their plans for Howard this season, suddenly is on their side.

An eight-week hiatus would mean that spring training won't resume until mid-May and the season won't begin until the first week of June. And those are best-case projections. If the virus isn't contained until July or August, the entire season would seemingly be in jeopardy. So it would be conceivable, Lauber says, that Howard could start the season in the Phillies starting rotation.

Matt Breen of the Philadelphia Inqurier spoke to Phillies manager Joe Girardi after his Grapefruit League debut:

“You really get excited about that arm,” Girardi said. “His ability to pitch deep into games, swings-and-misses. I’ve watched his bullpens and they’ve been good and crisp. For him to be able to carry it out here his first time, that’s a positive.”

Catcher J.T. Realmuto regularly speaks of Howard's arm being special.

With the Phillies season delayed and almost surely going to be truncated in some way, we can easily think about the missed prime of Aaron Nola and Realmuto.  But perhaps this will open the door for Howard.  One of the biggest challenges is often sustaining the stamina of a team throughout the whole six months.

If this season is going to be just four months long, could that help the Phillies avoid a September swoon?  It was the September drop off in back-to-back seasons that ultimately cost Phillies manager Gabe Kapler his job.  The best available talent, going full throttle for four months could mean the Phillies are a playoff team.

So, should the Phillies find themselves with four months to win the National League East, perhaps Spencer Howard should be let loose.