If you want to see baseball fans argue, all you have to do is mention the designated hitter. It’s a topic that inspires passionate arguments on both sides. The pro-DH crowd says it improves the quality of baseball (by preventing pitchers from hitting, something that the vast majority are not good at) and stops pitchers from getting injured by doing things they normally don’t do. The anti-DH crowd says that pitchers hitting is fun, and it’s a tradition from the early days of baseball. Plus, it’s the only thing left that distinguishes the American League from the National League.
While fans have deeply-held opinions about the DH, the players have mostly been fine with things the way they are. But Tony Clark, the executive director of the MLB Players Association, told reporters on Tuesday that feelings about the DH are starting to shift.
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
Notice that Clark doesn’t say that more players are actually in favor of it, or that it’s an important issue, but players are at least having the universal DH conversation. Clark didn’t say if there was anything that triggered an increase in discussion, but like every year, there has been a notable injury to an AL pitcher who had to bat for himself during an interleague game. In June, The New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka strained both of his hamstrings while running to first base in a game against the New York Mets, and it kept him on the disabled list for a month.
Though more players may be more willing to entertain the idea of a universal DH, that doesn’t mean we’re on the cusp of a major MLB rule change.
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
Commissioner Rob Manfred on universal DH: "If you get rid of the DH in the National League, there is a brand of baseball that is done. I think there is going to be some hesitation with respect to that."
— John Shea (@JohnSheaHey) July 17, 2018
Manfred’s biggest point is that implementing the universal DH would essentially make the AL and the NL indistinguishable from each other, and end a baseball tradition that’s existed since 1876, when the National League was founded. MLB cares about its history, and pitchers hitting is a piece of that history that remains active in baseball today.
While Manfred mentioned the homogenization of baseball as a potential reason they shouldn’t charge headfirst into the universal DH, the reason it won’t happen soon is simpler: the MLBPA has more important things on its plate. When he spoke to the press on Tuesday, Clark talked about the recent offseason and how it represented an attack on the very concept of free agency. When MLB and the MLBPA start talking about the next collective bargaining agreement in 2021, that issue is going to be front and center. It’s far more significant to the future of baseball than implementing the universal DH, even if both parties want it.
Despite that, it feels like the universal DH is an eventuality. At some point there will stop being barriers and both leagues will look the same. But for the time being, the anti-DH crowd can breathe a little easier, and the pro-DH crowd still has something to fight for. And both sides still have something to fight about.
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