Hold on to your batting helmets: what looked like a surge in momentum for the National League to adopt the designated hitter, perhaps even as soon as 2017, turned out to be a little premature. MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said yesterday that everyone got a little too excited, and that NL pitchers will be hitting “for the foreseeable future.”
Manfred corrected the record in a wide-ranging interview with ESPN.com on the occasion of his first full year on the job.
If you could have a “do-over” on anything, what would it be?
I would have been way more negative about the prospect of the DH coming to the National League in my press conference last week [laughs]. I didn’t think I was that positive, so obviously I needed to be more negative.
That’s interesting. Last year, as you were about to take over as commissioner, you created a stir when you engaged in a dialogue about eliminating defensive shifts, and some media outlets went to town on that.
It’s the damnedest thing. I made the same mistake on Day 1 and my first anniversary. When I talked about the defensive shifts, I let myself get into a situation where I speculated about a change I wasn’t serious about. I made the same mistake this time when I went back and forth on the pros and cons of the DH issue rather than saying what I’ve said all along — that I think we’re status quo on the DH, because it is the single most important feature that defines the differences between the two leagues. I let myself get into the back and forth and the pros and cons, and that’s always a mistake with the press.
So is the message on the future of the DH different than what came out of the owners’ meetings in Miami last week?
The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo. I know [Cardinals GM] John Mozeliak talked about it, and when you have any National League club talking about it, it’s interesting. But I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are.
At least week’s owners’ meetings, Manfred did indeed say he sensed that owners have “demonstrated a willingness” to consider something like a universal DH that would have been anathema a generation ago. And Mozeliak did say there is “more momentum” for the DH in the NL than there has ever been, even compared to just a year ago.
A universal DH is probably inevitable, eventually, for a few reasons.
- Offense is down, and whether you prefer baseball to be a pitcher’s game or not, there’s no disputing that dingers are good for business.
- It’s rare, but there’s a real injury concern for pitchers hitting. Keeping them out of the batter’s box and off the basepaths is just protecting owners’ investments.
- The union has always wanted a universal DH, because a slugger will command more money than a utilityman or back-of-the-bullpen guy who would otherwise take that roster spot. (When the universal DH does come, it will almost assuredly be in the form of a concession by owners during CBA talks.)
If you step back, it’s a little absurd that the AL uses a DH and the NL doesn’t. Baseball’s the only major American sport where the two leagues play by different rules. Manfred raised that point last week.
“I do think there’s a certain purity to the idea that everybody plays by the same rules,” Manfred said. “The significance of that purity goes up when you have interleague play every day.”
Sure it’s silly, but it’s kind of charmingly anachronistic too, in its way—and by now it’s tradition. (I realize those of you who remember a time before the DH will think differently, but that horse is long out of the barn.)
I don’t personally have strong feelings one way or the other on this. I grew up watching AL ball, my team’s an AL team, I think AL ball is slightly more exciting, but I think NL strategy is slightly more interesting. In the meantime, it’s a long winter and it’s fun enough just arguing about this stuff until it gets warm.