Here's to Madison Bumgarner and the San Francisco Giants for old-schooling the designated hitter and letting a pitcher who can hit, hit.
It paid off for the Giants in a victory over the Athletics in Oakland, Thursday night. Bumgarner, in the lineup in place of a designated hitter, led off the San Francisco third with a double that left his bat at 103 mph, according to MLB Statcast™. The Giants went on to score six runs before an out was recorded.
The Giants eventually won, 12-6. In Bumgarner's regular job, he had an unremarkable evening, picking up the victory, but giving up four earned runs over 6 1/3 innings.
Offensively, OK, Bumgarner had plenty of help there, but at one point he started what turned out to be the decisive rally. Putting Bumgarner in the lineup rather than a more conventional DH was not a particularly difficult decision for Giants manager Bruce Bochy.
"He's a competitor, he wants to hit, and he's earned it," Bochy said. "He's a pretty good hitter. It wasn't a tough call. This wasn't done to have fun."
And yet, the Giants did emerge with a night that was both enjoyable and historical. ... You don't get enough of that combination on a daily basis.
The Giants became the first Major League club since the Chicago White Sox in 1976 to forgo the opportunity to use a designated hitter. The only other time it occurred was in 2009, when the Tampa Bay Rays forfeited the designated hitter due to submitting an incorrect lineup card. In June 1988, Rick Rhoden was the DH for the Yankees on a day he wasn't pitching.
Bumgarner presents a special case. He is a big guy. He has pop. His 13 home runs lead among all active pitchers. His lifetime average of .182 is not exactly in Ty Cobb country, but you can see how with more regular usage as a hitter, Bumgarner could be a larger offensive force.
This is the kind of case in which the "pro DH and the pitchers' outs is so predictable" argument falls down and breaks. The pitcher who can help himself with the bat -- whether it's the rally-starting extra-base hit, or just moving a runner up 90 feet -- can become a crucial factor in the outcome. This is to say nothing of the more complex web of decisions facing a National League manager with the pitcher having to hit, which is an entirely different column.
This is not an argument for the removal of the designated hitter. Baseball is big enough to be played with two distinctly different sets of lineups. There are a lot of guys who might otherwise be in retirement, drawing very handsome DH salaries as one-way players. It would be easier to get rid of pine tree than it would to dismiss the DH from contemporary baseball.
And that, in a way, is why Madison Bumgarner can take over the DH spot, but cannot participate in the 2016 T-Mobile Home Run Derby at Petco Park on July 11. Bumgarner had expressed an interest in participating in the Derby, but that's not going to happen. Neither will a Home Run Derby for hurlers, at least this year.
"The players union doesn't want a pitcher taking a player's spot, and I don't think they were keen on the pitchers thing this year," Bochy said.
But for one night in Oakland, Bumgarner and the Giants brought back the game that had become foreign to the American League. And the thing was, forfeiting the DH, and letting the pitcher hit, they won.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.