The Designated Hitter and the Baseball You’re Used To: A Survey

EdgarThe topic of the week appears to be the possibly-someday-coming universal DH rule, and there’s plenty to read about it. I enjoyed all of this from Grant Brisbee — as I enjoy everything Grant writes — but this part early on got me thinking:

I’m a huge supporter of pitchers hitting for the same reason most people are: I’m used to it. If you’re a proponent of designated hitters, you’re probably extremely partial to them for the same reason most people are: You’re used to it.

This is just a setup to Grant’s main point, which is that the DH is coming to the NL, sometime in the not-too-distant future, and that you’ll (we’ll) get used to that, too. But it’s the “because” there that caught my eye. Anecdotally, I can tell you that people who yell really loudly on the internet about the evils of the DH are all fans of National League teams (mostly the Giants or Dodgers), and that people who yell loudly on the internet staunchly defending the DH are all fans of American League teams (mostly the Mariners or Red Sox). But in the broader, less shouty universe, is it really that simple? Is there no empirical truth on either side of the DH debate at all? Is it purely a matter of growing to prefer the version of baseball you’re most used to?

Well, I’m not going to answer that question today, but I wanted to get some idea, so yesterday morning I created a very simple, two-question survey: (1) should the National League adopt the designated hitter rule? and (2) is your favorite team in the American League or the National League? Thanks to  some combination of the natural interest in the topic, the timeliness of it, and a lot of help from friends/followers/strangers spreading the word on Twitter, it got a pretty huge response: 1,538 total answers when I finally cut it off at 9:00 p.m. Central. I’ll get right to the results:

Should the National League Adopt the DH?

Group
Yes
No
No preference
AL Fans59.94%28.16%11.90%
NL Fans28.38%65.10%6.52%
All42.00%49.15%8.84%

Here’s the tweet most people got to the survey from. If you want to check my work or just laugh at my super-simplistic spreadsheet skills, here are the results with my quick-and-ugly calculations.

So it looks like the bias you’d expect to be there is definitely there, though not quite as stark as it sometimes seems. Interestingly, the crossover is virtually identical: slightly more than one in four fans of either league does not want the NL to embrace the last 40 to 140 years of their own league’s tradition. The difference in the party-line answers comes entirely from the “No preference” column: as you might expect, AL fans were almost twice as likely not to give a flying fart what goes on in the senior circuit.

I also suspect that both “No preference” figures are a bit too low: if you don’t care at all about the DH, why bother clicking through to a survey you know is about the DH? And while we’re talking about problems with the data, the “All” line is probably misleading (and very possibly pointless)–the sample was about 57% NL fans, for various idiosyncratic reasons. This Twitter poll came out sharply the other way, for whatever it’s worth.

And of course, as soon as I’d done this–the second it was out there–I thought of things I could’ve done differently. The one I know I would’ve implemented if I were smarter was a write-in line at the bottom to identify your favorite team, to let me check on a few suspicions: that all Giants and Dodgers fans hate the DH and the rest of the NL is more ambivalent, say, or that Astros and Brewers fans might have different attitudes than the rest of their (current) leagues do. Other things that would be interesting, but that would’ve made this a much longer, different survey, include: (a) among the No voters, tracking those who think (however impossible) the AL should drop the DH, vs. the ones who just like the quirk of the two leagues having different rules; (b) tracking age ranges, to test the theories that anyone who was a fan before 1973 will favor pitchers hitting, and the especially young are more likely to favor the DH, regardless of league affiliation; and (c) finding some way to track more or less equal fans of teams in both leagues (those exist!), and people who grew up as a fan of a team in one league, but have moved or otherwise come to adopt a team in the other.

Finally, if you’re curious: I’m  Twins fan, and I voted yes. I’m fully aware of my bias and am pretty sure I’d feel differently if I’d been a Cubs fan for 32 years or so instead (would I even like baseball now? Ew, let’s stop thinking about that). That said, I don’t feel strongly about it–I feel like it makes sense for both leagues to have the same rule, and with Edgar long out of the league, it wouldn’t bother me much if the player’s union lost its collective mind and baseball suddenly dropped the DH. And I’ve heard from plenty of people who really think the leagues ought to always have different rules, and that makes some sense to me too. It might be that part of the fun of this for me was experiencing all the passion from both sides while not having a strong stake in either side myself.

I hope at least a few of you had something like as much fun with this as I did. I did it on a lark Tuesday morning, and certainly wasn’t expecting and was blown away by the response. Thanks for taking part, if you did, and…I don’t know, maybe keep everybody’s biases in mind when having these types of arguments? J/K it’s just baseball nothing matters.

Bill

About Bill

Bill is an employment lawyer and baseball geek. Also a comedy geek, and just a geek generally.

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