On November 5th, the society gathered to discuss one of the most important questions the MLB faces today: Whether or not the National League should adopt the Designated Hitter. Mr. Jack Musgrave (COL ’18) of Indiana and Mr. Musa Bassey (COL ’18) of California were the keynoters on the affirmation. Mr. Patrick Musgrave (COL ‘16) of Indiana and Mr. Will Blanchette (COL ’18) of Massachusetts keynoted on the negation.
Mr. Bassey opened the debate by describing the general downward trend in baseball ticket sales and television ratings. He claimed that this decrease in revenue signaled a declining interest in the game of baseball, and that changes were necessary to increase interest in the game. He informed the society that pitchers are atrocious at hitting, and that playing offense puts pitchers at a higher risk of injury. Mr. Bassey asked the society to consider the example of how the ABA was forced to merge with the NBA because the organization could not increase its viewership. In this way, the National League should adopt the American League’s convention of a designated hitter in order to remain competitive for ticket sales and television viewership.
Mr. Blanchette started his keynote by remarking how excited he was to be a part of the most recent chapter in the sibling rivalry of the two Musgraves. He then asked the society to consider the ideal form of a baseball player. Mr. Blanchette argued that an ideal baseball player is multifaceted and should be able to hit hard, hit consistently, throw, catch, and run at a professional level. He told the society that splitting offense and defense between a pitcher and designated hitter would take away from this holistic definition of a good baseball player. He closed his keynote by claiming that adding the designated hitter would contribute to the commodification of sports, and that baseball players are athletes first, not entertainers.
Mr. Jack Musgrave began his speech by asking the floor to consider that it might be necessary go beyond the traditional way of playing baseball for the survival of the game. He asked the society to view baseball not as a rigid tradition, but as a fluid and changing game. He told the society that dismal batting average of pitchers is due to their focus on practicing pitching above all other skills. Mr. Musgrave also informed the society that there is an average of eighteen minutes of playtime in each baseball game. For this reason, whenever a pitcher comes to the plate, they elicit boredom and frustration rather than the excitement of a designated hitter. He closed his keynote by appealing for the need to keep pitchers safe, and that making them hit and run is too dangerous for an extremely vital part of the defense.
Mr. Patrick Musgrave showed the society that the sibling rivalry was still going strong during his keynote. Mr. Musgrave took a different focus than the rest of the keynoters by centering his keynote on the business of baseball. His argument was that the increases in payroll caused by adding a designated hitter would put the financial burdens on fans to pay for them through higher priced ticket sales. He also tackled the contract structure of designated hitters, claiming that designated hitters’ contracts are structured to keep older players playing the game longer than they should be. Mr. Musgrave closed by claiming that a more strategic and slow paced game is more fun to watched than a purely offensive game like football.
With that, the consistently witty Mr. Dinneen took the floor. After the merciless teasing of the Musgrave brothers and Chicago fans more generally, Mr. Dinneen informed the society that it didn’t matter what changes the NL made to the game, because his long standing love for the game would endure. Mr. Shuman responded that baseball needs multifaceted players because specialized roles promotes the use of performance enhancing drugs.
Mr. Graff told the society to disregard Mr. Shuman’s argument because cheating has always been incentivized in competitive sports. He then went on to tell the society about how Japanese baseball games include many gimmicks (such as women with beer kegs on their backs or balloons being released in the 7th inning). He argued that baseball in America is boring, and that adopting the designated hitter would help alleviate that boredom. Ms. Thanki responded to Mr. Graff by challenging his assumption that baseball needs to be exciting to merit attention. She told the society that we watch sports because each game is a form of art and that deserves to be played in a form that respects the integrity of the art.
Mr. Fletcher disagreed with the idea that baseball is an art form. Instead, he viewed sports as the circuses that go along with the bread of the fast food industry. He posited that the purpose of sport is to create social cohesion. Therefore, the NL should adopt the designated hitter because it would contribute to social cohesion. Vice-President Willis countered Mr. Fletcher by arguing that tradition should be adhered to unless there is a great need to change the tradition. Because there is no great need to adopt the designated hitter, the NL should not adopt it.
Mr. Marrow argued that Americans want the best person to play in each position because we like our sports to be exciting and enjoyable to watch. Mr. Schafer responded by reaffirming Ms. Thanki’s assertion that sports are art, and that there is a beauty inherent in conflict. He then argued that the logical end to adopting the designated hitter is having a specialized team for defense and a specialized team for offense.
With the minute hand reaching the top of the clock, some non-members got the opportunity to show the society their eloquence. Ms. Lauren Finkenthal (SFS ‘19) told the society of the difficulties facing Cleveland fans. She then argued that the physical safety of pitchers was threatened by forcing them to hit, and that the NL should prioritize the safety of pitchers over profits. Mr. John Whitmore (NHS ’16) argued that sports are valued as a productive outlet for competition. He then claimed that in baseball, pitchers should have to contribute on both offense and defense because it cheapens the value of a win for a pitcher to rely on a designated hitter.
Ms. Kayla Garrett (COL ’19) reasoned that baseball is entertainment, and that the value of that entertainment is in fact quantifiable. She argued that the value of entertainment is profit, and that if the designated hitter could increase the NL’s profits, then it would increase the value of the entertainment provided by baseball. Mr. Jim Pennell (SFS ‘18) invoked the beauty of tradition by comparing baseball to tennis. He said that tradition is one aspect of baseball that sets it apart from many other sports in America.
After non-member speaking time ended, Mr. Ma put forward the idea that specialization within a sport does not detract from the appreciation of the different facets of the game. He also argued that having a position for a designated hitter extends the careers of many players. Mr. Weiner rebutted Mr. Ma and the affirmation more generally by claiming that when a pitcher is at bat, it is actually an extremely exciting moment for a baseball fan. When a pitcher gets on base, it is a cause for extraordinary celebration.
Mr. Vishwanathan claimed that Mr. Weiner’s argument was selfish, and did not consider the longevity or actual quality of the game. He used the WOBA statistic to show that designated hitters are 100% more productive at hitting than pitchers, and as a result create a more interesting game. Ms. Kurek boldly claimed that she didn’t care about statistics. She argued that over-specialization leads to absurd outcomes. Ms. Kurek told the society that she enjoys watching other players pick up the slack of pitchers, and that this pressure on the other players makes the game more enjoyable.
Mr. Ernst committed a massive logical error by claiming that the Boston Red Sox is the greatest team of all time. However, he made the excellent point that increasing the level of competition in baseball does not necessarily detract from the beauty of the sport. Chancellor Whelan’s counterpoint (namely that Boston sports teams and their fans are the worst) was extraordinarily well received by the New Yorkers in the society (and everyone in the room not from Boston). He then posited that the heart of baseball does not lie in offense, but rather in defense. Referencing the difficulty of achieving a perfect game or replicating “The Catch” reinforced his point nicely.
Mr. Laposata (unsurprisingly) professed more faith in the divinity of the Red Sox than his faith in God. He argued that pitchers are good at pitching, and nothing else. Therefore, the NL should let pitchers focus on their skill and let a designated hitter handle hitting. Mr. Tu agreed with Mr. Laposata’s belief that adding a designated hitter would be a drastic change in the game of baseball. However, he also argued that adding the designated hitter would not be worth getting rid of a long tradition in baseball.
Mr. Pullin offered the floor some much needed humility in the praise of his team (rightfully so, given the Phillies’ record) but brought up the story of an Eagles legend, Chuck Bednarik. Bednarik was one of the final two-way players in the NFL. The reason Mr. Pullin supported the affirmation was because of the success of the NFL after abandoning their obsession with two-way players. While legends like Bednarik are a thing of the past, the NFL is far more entertaining to watch than baseball now.
Mr. Musgrave maior got up to lecture the society about the importance of principle in baseball. He told a touching story of how he learned about many of his guiding principles through playing baseball with his father and brother. He argued that sports are important to transmitting these principles from generation to generation, and that the lesson transmitted by adding a designated hitter would teach younger generations that being well rounded is less important than being effective at one mechanistic task.
Mr. Musgrave minor called his brother a “sappy old man” but he voiced his agreement with his brother’s account of the purpose of sports. He argued that designated hitters actually allow teams to take on more balanced players. In teams that don’t have designated hitters, there are incentives to take a positional player that is weak at defense and an excellent hitter over a well-rounded player. Incentivizing the drafting of offensive focused players instead of defensive players also negatively impacts the game.
Mr. Blanchette retook the dais for his closing argument. He argued that creating the position of a designated hitter has many morally problematic facets. For one, players become celebrities instead of athletes. Furthermore, being a designated hitter means that there are two players who cannot fully come to know what it means to be a multifaceted player, because they simply do not play all the positions.
Mr. Bassey made an excellent closing keynote. His most salient point was that the fans that will be gained because of adding a designated hitter should not be valued less because they needed a change to the game to gain their attention. Instead, once people’s attention is gained they will grow to have an appreciation of the game equal to any current long-term fan.
In a shockingly close vote, the society affirmed this resolution with a vote of 22 affirming, 2 abstaining, and 21 negating.