Ever the controversial topic among any and all interested parties in the sport, the designated hitter being a rule in the American League and anathema in the National League is a dichotomy that has slowly eroded over the last few years.
Increasingly, I see softening of stances, and slightly more openness to possibility that having different rules for the leagues is silly, and creates imbalances that shouldn’t exist in a sport where there is interleague play going on somewhere around the league every day.
The latest softening comes from the players, as presented by MLB Players Association Director Tony Clark:
MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark says the idea of a universal DH among players “is gaining momentum… players are talking about it more than they have in the past.”
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) July 17, 2018
To be sure, it’s something that always should have had support among players, since the DH effectively converts a pure bench job into a spot where teams can justify spending a little more in free agency, knowing they can better protect older players and coordinate the playing time of everyone else. But, for whatever reason, it hasn’t been universally supported by the players, so this is a change.
The concern I’d have if I were the players, though, in espousing this view publicly is that they’ve now handed ownership another lever against which to push in the next CBA negotiations. Owners are much less likely to push for the DH in the NL on their own, so if it’s something the players “want,” then it becomes a bargaining chip.
Indeed, here’s how Commissioner Manfred responded to the DH questions:
Manfred on concept of DH in both leagues: MLBPA has been receptive since 1987 but "the most likely outcome remains the status quo."
— Bill Shaikin (@BillShaikin) July 17, 2018
In other words: if they want it, they’ll have to pay for it. Sigh.
For me, I think the universal DH is the right thing for the sport to do as a whole, so I don’t see it as a Players Versus Owners thing. For every fun moment when a pitcher hits a line drive, there are 15 times when he puts up a wholly boring an uncompetitive at bat. Sorry, pitchers. I think you’re awesome at throwing the ball. But, in general, I don’t think fans are paying to see you try to hit it.
You’ve also got leagues from when players are young, through much of the minor leagues, where the DH is the normal rule.
Moreover – and this is the main focus for me – I just think it’s silly to have unequal rules between these two leagues that compete with each other. And, since I don’t believe the DH is vanishing from the AL after 45(!) years of success, the only way to even things up is to bring the DH to the NL.
The timing here would probably be – if it happens – tied to the next CBA, which is still a few years off. The current deal runs through the 2021 season. The sides could theoretically come together before then to change the rules, but I don’t see any indication that there will be the kind of urgency necessary to make that happen.