As World Series shifts to Atlanta, baseball’s era of pitchers hitting could be at an end

As World Series shifts to Atlanta, baseball's era of pitchers hitting could be at an end

ATLANTA — At some point over the next three World Series games, a pitcher not named Shohei Ohtani will step to the plate for the final time as a pitcher.

This moment will mark the end of a long, tradition-rich history in Major League Baseball, because the universal designated hitter is coming. It is inevitable, and it is bittersweet.

“Some of the guys don’t miss it, some pitchers, and there’s some pitchers that absolutely miss it,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said during Thursday’s workout day media availability. “Like (Zack) Greinke, he’s dying to hit. Like the young man who pitched last night (Braves starter Max Fried). I’m sure he would miss it.”

He paused. “I mean, once it ever changes to DH, then it will probably never change back, and that’s something that would sadden me.”

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When the next CBA is agreed upon — hopefully before spring training so we don’t have a work stoppage — it’s almost certain that the designated hitter will become a permanent part of National League baseball. The AL has had the DH since Ron Blomberg stepped to the plate in 1973, ushering in this new wrinkle in baseball’s fabric. 

The DH was a temporary part of NL games in 2020, of course, and NL teams have used a DH when playing interleague games for a long time now. Both sides, the players and the owners, want the DH. It’s going to happen. 

The Braves’ pitchers are certainly aware of the looming change. 

“I was talking to Max (Fried) about it,” Atlanta’s Game 3 starter Ian Anderson said Thursday. “It’s unfortunate that he had to pitch in the American League game because he definitely had a better chance than I did to get a hit. Yeah, I think it’s definitely going to be pretty special that this could be the last pitchers ever hitting in baseball. We’ve definitely brought it up.”

Fried is a good-hitting pitcher. Well, he was a good-hitting pitcher. Fried batted .273 this season and has seven career doubles, but his days are a hitting regular are likely done. Now, he’ll have to hope for an occasional pinch-hit opportunity, at best. 

Luis Garcia, Houston’s pitcher, is borrowing Yordan Alvarez’s bat. He didn’t even know the weight and length, just that he was using his teammate’s bat. 

It’s not just that pitchers hitting is going away — and, let’s face it, even though it stings the nostalgia emotions, that’s probably a good thing — but an entire style of baseball that’s been in place for more than a 100 years is departing, too. Double-switches, for example? Gone.

Baker said he’ll miss that element. 

“That’s kind of how I was raised in my managerial career and raised in National League-style baseball,” he said. “There’s a lot of strategy on both sides, but there’s more, I think, with the no DH, with the pitcher hitting.”

Maybe it’s fitting that this final pitcher at-bat will happen in Atlanta, home of the incredibly wacky Rick Camp game on July 4, 1985; the Braves reliever, forced to hit for himself, popped his only home run of his career with an 0-2 count and two outs in the bottom of the 18th inning, knotting the score at 11-11. Because of the rain delay — and, y’know, the 18 innings — Camp’s home run happened after 3:30 a.m.

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And because the contest wasn’t bizarre enough, Camp’s unlikely home run — he finished with a career .074 batting average — didn’t even lead to a win for Atlanta. Maybe winded by rounding the bases, he gave up five in the top of the 19th and the Mets won 16-11. 

And maybe it’s fitting that the end comes with the Braves on the field, considering that two Braves pitchers were featured in the most iconic pitcher-hitting commercial ever produced (though, to be fair, it’s not a long list). Who can forget Nike’s famous 1999 “Chicks dig the long ball” commercial, when Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine learn to hit home runs to impress Heather Locklear? 

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And who can forget the day in 1966 when Atlanta pitcher Tony Cloninger hit not one, but two grand slams in one game in San Francisco. He hit one in the first inning and one in the second inning of a game Atlanta won 17-3. He’s not the only pitcher to turn that feat, but it’s a short list. And fitting that he was an Atlanta pitcher when it happened.

So keep an eye on the pitchers at the plate the next few days, because it will almost certainly be your last chance to see them swing a bat. 





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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.