Steve Chapman

Highly paid professional athletes occasionally get hurt doing things they should not be doing -- riding motorcycles, zipping down mountains on snowboards, falling asleep in tanning beds. San Francisco Giants pitcher Ryan Vogelsong is one of these. What was he doing? Batting.

He broke a pinkie and dislocated a knuckle on his throwing hand while trying to hit a pitch but somehow managing to get hit by it. The Giants will have to keep paying his $5 million salary while he recovers from performing a chore at which he is not, and is not expected to be, minimally competent. At the time of the mishap, Vogelsong was batting .071.

I once regarded the designated hitter as a hideous and cancerous blight that would inevitably lead to the collapse of civilization. I still do, but I can live with that. What I can no longer endure is the sight of gifted athletes victimized by a conspiracy to make them look like clowns.

Requiring pitchers to bat is like telling Bob Dylan to smile. It misuses their talent, lowers the quality of play, subjects them to pointless risk and probably causes irreparable loss of self-esteem.

Vogelsong is not the first to sustain wounds at the plate. Fireballer Randy Johnson, who resembled a stork chopping wood, once strained his shoulder flailing at a pitch. Boston right-hander Josh Beckett didn't even get to the plate: He hurt his back taking a practice swing. Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees escaped the batter's box unharmed, only to tear a ligament in his foot rounding third base.

In 1997, when regular interleague play forced American League pitchers to bat periodically, Minnesota Twins manager Tom Kelly expressed alarm at the idea of sending any of his mound staff up to bat: "It might kill him." Only the need to avert fatalities persuaded him to make his pitchers practice hitting.

"That's why we've started swinging, because they might get hurt," confided Kelly. "Not that they're going to hit the ball. Get the muscles out of the way, and get your fingers out of the way so you don't break your fingers on the bat." A certain Giants pitcher missed the lesson.

Physical casualties are not the norm, but it's rare for anything good to happen when denizens of the hill have to heft lumber. Across the major leagues, pitchers bat a collective .091 -- or less than half what the worst-hitting position players achieve.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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