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Same-Sex Marriage and The Designated Hitter

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Yesterday, Del Martin (a woman), 87, and Phyllis Lyon (a woman), 84, got married in San Francisco. They are first gay (or "queer" if you prefer) couple to say "I do" in California since last months ruling by that state's supreme court legalizing such unions. Hundreds more same-sex couples exchanged vows today. Marriage isn't a simple business. As some of us who have been through it once or twice will surely attest, when two people with different habits, separate brains, and individual psychological histories share the same space for any prolonged length of time inevitably there will be -- how shall we put this? -- challenges. For those intrepid souls who seek to find meaning and happiness through the fiery gates marriage, I say more power to you. And if matching genitalia is central to preserving your union then "so what?" and so be it.

Of course not everybody feels that way. Forty-four states legally forbid same-sex unions. Thirteen of those states passed the measures at the ballot box during the 2004 election, fanned by Karl Rove's divisive "51-49" campaign strategy. When we go voting booth in November will this issue divide the nation yet again?

In the meantime, two schools of thought divide another cherished American institution. Currently, there are 30 teams in Major League Baseball (MLB). The 14 in the American League (AL) use the designated hitter (DH). The 16 in the National League (NL) do not. The two have not just peacefully coexisted but prospered since the inception of the DH rule in 1973. It used to be that the twain never would meet until the World Series and, less seriously, at the All-Star Game. But the creation of inter-league play changed all that a few years ago, allowing for NL and AL teams to play each other in spurts during the regular season. Consequently, a few nights ago, New York Yankees pitching ace Chien-Ming Wang seriously injured his foot routinely rounding third base at an NL park in Houston.

It was a freak accident. Wang could've gotten that same injury running out of the dugout. Yet Yankees co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner jumped on the NL's refusal to adopt the designated hitter rule and used it as a wedge issue:

"My only message is simple. The National League join the 21st Century. The need to grow up and join the 21st Century."

To my mind, that's just the kind of small minded, us vs. them politics that we need to get away from in a critical presidential election year that pleads for change.

There are valid arguments for an against the designated hitter rule. The DH provides more offense and allows the pitcher to go deeper into the game. Plus, pitchers are usually an "easy out" -- often a rally killing out -- so it improves the play of the game and heightens the competitive challenge to have professional hitters in every spot in the line-up. Pitchers are very specialized players, so they should be treated differently. On the other hand, the DH warps the symmetry of the game. Is the pitcher a player just like the other eight men on the field or is he a different class of player? Once you begin making distinctions between classes of players, then why not have two teams like in football; one for defense and one for offense? Also, by using the DH a manager never has to worry about removing the pitcher in favor of a hitter in late innings or in close games which in turn removes a huge level of decision-making complexity and, one might say, takes away from the game's challenge not to mention being inconsistent with the game's principle that a player's position in the lineup is fixed for the entire game.

Those for and against the DH will argue until the cows come home.

To me this is no longer an argument. They're both right. They're both valid. They're just different.

When the American League adopted the DH rule in 1973, cries of heresy and doom filled the sports pages. Guess what? Baseball is fine. Both leagues are more popular than ever. Many of the games most beloved and spectacular players have come out of the DH position (there'd be no David "Big Papi" Ortiz without the DH) and many Hall of Famers (George Brett, Reggie Jackson, Carl Yastrzemski, Paul Molitor) could not have remained in baseball without it

Major League Baseball has found a way for their two leagues to get along with their different preferences. The DH is used in AL parks but not in NL parks. It's that simple and it's totally progressive. There is respect for two valid ways of playing the game. Players and fans may have their preferences but the institution officially allows for both. Contrary to what Hank Steinbrenner might think, the existence of one does not threaten the other. That's just fear mongering.

DH or no DH, it's still baseball. Same-sex or opposite sex, it's still marriage. In both cases the players still have to make it work.

In the movie Bull Durham, Crash Davis (played by Kevin Costner) believes "there should be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf and the designated hitter". We don't need a constitutional amendment every time we want to get rid something we don't like. Sometimes, we just need to let others play it their way while we play it our way.

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