Rules review: Should the universal DH stay or go?


For years, an argument took place in the Nationals Park press box about whether the designated hitter should be adopted in the National League.

Local writers were split into even camps, and shouts from one end of the spectrum followed every incompetent pitcher at-bat. The other side argued its preference when the lineup showed the pitcher’s spot soon to come and the accompanying process to follow was debated. The National League always had an extra layer of strategy because of the inability of pitchers to hit. It also had less offense -- and perhaps less visual appeal -- because one lineup spot was almost an automatic out.

So, among the 2020 pandemic-wrought rules was the universal DH. Major League Baseball said the addition would help protect pitchers following the rapid build up to the late-season start. It also created another spot for managers to maneuver on the 30-man rosters. Last, and perhaps the best overall argument for its existence, having the DH in both leagues meant the World Series would finally be played under unified rules. Picture other sports changing who can participate and how during their championship rounds. Different rules when the Western Conference champion hosted. It’s a ludicrous thought, but how baseball operated since 1986.

At the least, the DH helped slow play. It’s a natural outcome of replacing an incapable hitter with one who has only the job of hitting. The latter is going to be demonstrably better, seeing more pitches, putting far more balls in play, leading to higher pitch counts and possibly more pitching changes (though nothing seems to slow the current amount of pitching changes). When asked why Nationals games took so much longer to play in 2020, the first thing Davey Martinez mentioned was the DH.


The position is also slowing the offseason. General managers are desperate to know whether the National League will again be playing with a DH in 2021. Commissioner Rob Manfred recently hinted the position would go away.

“I think in all likelihood..we will return...I think all the COVID-related rule changes and in that bucket, it’s the extra-inning rule, the seven-inning doubleheaders, the DH in the National League, those rules we will return to the status quo after an agreement with the players’ association,” Manfred said Oct. 25 on The Dan Patrick Show.

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But there is a wide gap between saying something on a radio show and reaching an agreement with the players’ association -- even if it’s for one season. The players want the DH for two reasons: it creates more jobs and accomplishes the aforementioned unification of rules for the World Series. The league likes the World Series benefit, but owners could grouse about having to pay another salary, as they are wont to do.

The position was expected to be added as part of forthcoming contentious collective bargaining agreement negotiations after the 2021 season. It showed up early in 2020 and its visual appeal for a sport that needs more action and to move faster was detrimental. Players, for the most part, embraced the idea of experimentation in 2020. Because if not then, when? They saw the universal DH in action. Hopefully, they don’t see it in the National League again.