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It's time to dump the DH

During the Red Sox-Yankees series the Globe is exchanging sports columns with the New York Times.

Nature intervened yesterday to cool passions that became red hot Saturday as the Red Sox and Yankees added a bizarre episode to the most heated rivalry in sports.

With Game 4 of the American League Championship Series delayed by rain until tonight, I hope players, team officials, and fans will take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on an embarrassing chain of events that occurred Saturday when a baseball game nearly became a riot.

No one was killed, but Don Zimmer, the 72-year-old bench coach of the Yankees, was taken to the hospital and a member of the Fenway Park grounds crew was injured, allegedly at the hands of two Yankees.

The more you watch baseball the more you understand why football is the national pastime. Whether it's the bizarre tie in the All-Star Game last year or watching Zimmer take a tumble on the turf after a bench-clearing "brawl," baseball always finds a way to hit itself in the head.

Baseball, in its soul, wants to be like football: The macho gesturing, the posturing, the rushing onto the field in mob style. Baseball is a game where violence is inferred: The brush-back pitch, the "warnings," and the sending of "messages."

The symbol of baseball's problem -- the root of it -- is the designated hitter rule. The rule has to go. Make pitchers hit. I guarantee, you'll see less of the nonsense we saw from Pedro Martinez Saturday and Roger Clemens throughout his career.

The DH was introduced 30 years ago as a way to increase offensive production. Now it's a coward's rule that allows American League pitchers to intimidate batters, brush them back, and hit them without fear of retaliation. If there is retaliation, the pitcher's teammate is the victim.

I listened to Clemens as he puffed out his chest after Saturday's game and talked about Sox slugger Manny Ramirez, who had gestured and acted like he was going to go after Clemens after the Rocket fired a high fastball that was nowhere near Ramirez's head.

After the game Clemens told the media, "If I was serious, he'd know."

That was a reference to a long history of knowing he can scare the daylights out of hitters with 92-mile-per-hour fastballs thrown high and tight. Martinez has also always been an inside pitcher.

"Message pitching and inside pitching are part of the game," Larry Lucchino, the chief executive officer of the Red Sox, said yesterday.

Acknowledging that Martinez was a tough, aggressive inside pitcher, John W. Henry, the principal owner of the Red Sox, compared Martinez with great pitchers of the past -- Bob Gibson and Don Drysdale -- who intimidated opposing batters.

Clemens's reputation is also built on intimidating hitters. In 2000 he hit Mike Piazza in the head; Piazza sustained a concussion.

Why? Because Piazza had had success. He had hit a grand slam off Clemens when the Mets routed the Yankees earlier in the season and, up to that point he was 7 for 12 with 3 homers against Clemens.

But the difference between Clemens, Martinez, and the Gibson-Drysdale generation is that Gibson, Drysdale and their colleagues all had to face the music. They batted. I usually feel that present-day athletes are better than their predecessors. Pitching is an exception.

Put AL pitchers in the batter's box. Don't wait until another hitter gets a concussion or gets his ribs broken or a serious fight breaks out and spreads to the fans.

I'm sure Clemens and Martinez would have had Hall of Fame careers even if they were required to bat. In fact, Martinez spent the early part of his career in the National League and survived. My issue is leveling the playing field, letting everyone have a shot at everyone. This is what distinguishes baseball, in a negative way, from all other team sports.

The football player gives shots and takes shots, the hockey player gives bone-crushing checks and takes them, even the basketball player sets hard picks, and runs into them as well.

The problem isn't really with the DH rule but with what the rule has done to the game -- how it helps trigger incidents like the one on Saturday.

If Martinez doesn't hit Garcia, there's no melee, no Zimmer tumbling to the turf, and no grounds keeper being pummeled.

In the grand scheme of things, commissioner Bud Selig doesn't see the DH rule as a high priority. But the rule has become the Berlin Wall of Major League Baseball.

Selig has to begin to tear it down, because one good hit deserves another.

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