The current collective bargaining agreement between Major League Baseball players and Major League Baseball owners expires at the end of the 2016 season. While that may seem a long way away, consider that the issues addressed in a CBA are significant enough that they require a long time to define, discuss, and address in a peaceable, meaningful way. In other words, if baseball is to continue it’s long track record of labor peace, the major CBA issues are going to be discussed as soon as, well, now.
One of the important topics that figures to be discussed at length over the next year and a half: the designated hitter.
With the American and National Leagues evening up at 15 teams apiece, and playing interleague games throughout the year, the inherent unfairness in having disparate rules between the leagues has only been highlighted further in recent years. I’ve written many times about the problem of having the DH available in one league and not the other, so I won’t restate it all here. But, since I know many of you won’t read those prior pieces, I’ll at least restate the primary thrust of the argument:
While an AL team is able to dedicate a roster spot to finding the purely best hitter it can find, and then deploys that guy when the AL and NL square off in interleague games and the World Series, the NL team is left to pick a guy off of its bench when in AL parks. Because pitchers as hitters – whether AL or NL – are roughly equal in performance, the fact that the AL team has a dedicated DH puts the NL team at a decided disadvantage in half the games. I am not OK with this. Ironically, it is because I’m an NL guy at heart that I think they probably should adopt the DH. I can’t stand the unequal footing.
Simply put: it’s just not fair. (It also risks injuries, makes for uneven bidding in free agency, and makes for really, really boring pitcher at bats.)
I know there are hardcore National League fans among you who desperately want to see the DH go away in the American League to make things equal, but, thanks to the valuable jobs it provides the union, and tradition, that’s not going to happen. Yes, I said tradition and DH in the same sentence: the rule has been in place for 42(!) years. The AL is not ditching it.
So, the solution is to bring the DH to the NL. Will it happen with this next round of CBA negotiating?
Well, union chief Tony Clark told Derrick Goold that he could see the topic moving to the “forefront” of discussions, acknowledging, among other things, the problem of potentially having an AL team fighting for a playoff spot in September without being able to realistically use the DH that their own league’s rules allow them to have, because they happen to be playing in an NL park at that time.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that there will be a great deal of opposition to implementing the DH in the NL on the owner side, though. In the NL, the owners currently don’t have to pay extra salary for another valuable roster spot. In the AL, the owners might prefer the advantages that having the DH rule affords them (and, if the NL doesn’t have the DH, that holds down DH salaries in general).
As the game’s revenues skyrocket, though, you can bet that the relative split of revenue between owners and players is going to be the number one topic of discussion in these CBA negotiations. One small way to shift some of that revenue, organically, back to the players is to give them the DH in the NL.
Plus, as I said, that addresses the unfairness issue, and probably also adds a fair bit more offense to the game, which is an entirely separate issue. There are a lot of birds that can be killed with this stone.