The 2013 season marks the 40th anniversary of the “one-year trial period” of the designated hitter rule in the American League; a rule which, of course, was never discontinued and one that receives just as much criticism from baseball purist today as it did when it was first implemented back in 1973.
While driving home from Arizona on Monday morning after having spent two full weeks attending spring training, I was listening to MLB Network Radio’s Power Alley. The topic of the day was whether or not it is time to bring the Designated Hitter rule into the National League. Although it was quite apparent that show hosts Mike Stanton and Grant Paulsen were both in favor of the possible change, it wasn’t quite as cut and dry with a number of their callers. What was clear, however, is that true baseball purists and those who are fans of National League teams are, for the most part, opposed to such a change.
But what do those in the game have to say about both leagues operating under the same set of rules?
In a recent article by Joel Sherman of the New York Post, it appears that the consensus of those closest to the game is that it is only a matter of time before the DH comes to the National league.
“It is just a matter of time until the leagues are forced to play under one set of rules and, let’s face it, the DH is not going away, so that is going to be what everyone uses,” said one veteran general manager.
And then there are the financial and free agent considerations.
“I think the DH rule is completely unfair to NL teams when it comes to free agency,” said yet another GM who has worked in both leagues. “An AL team can give a player an extra year or two that an NL team simply cannot. We are fishing in the same pool for players, but without equal ability to sign them.”
With the Astros moving from the NL to the AL which, in turn, has increased the number of interleague games for each MLB team from 18 to 20 games, American League teams will be forced to increase the number of plate appearances of their pitchers by one additional game. And while this may seem like no big deal, it exponentially increases the risk of injury to pitchers by the one additional game played in the NL team’s ballpark. Keep in mind that almost every level of baseball above the high school level utilizes the designated hitter, including every level of the minor leagues – even those whose parent team is in the National league. In other words, the National League is the only league in professional baseball that does not utilize the designated hitter rule, yet interleague play forces AL pitchers to bat – something that many of them haven’t done since high school.
“Any time you are having any player do something they don’t regularly do, you increase the probability of injury,” said an AL team executive.
“The issue of (AL) pitchers running and hitting and getting hurt is a real one,” said Michael Weiner, executive director of the MLB Players’ Association. “Teams are going to have to be more careful.”
Although it is unlikely that the DH rule will be adopted by the National league in the immediate future, it is hard to ignore the fact that it is inevitable. My guess is that it will take place when the current Collective Bargaining Agreement expires in December of 2016. Then again, it could happen sooner if the MLB and the MLBPA agree to hold a special election on the matter; a very distinct possibility.
What’s your take? Do you want to see the designated hitter rule come to the National League?