Phil Rogers goes straight for the gut:
- Is the designated hitter rule finally on its way out with Major League Baseball?
To be fair, it's premature to ask such a potentially provocative question. But thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig's decision to turn recommendations for on-field matters over to a newly created version of the NFL's Competition Committee, the DH rule could face its first real threat since the American League accepted it permanently for the 1976 season, after a three-year experiment that began as a way to create run scoring and increase attendance.
Selig said he will "be guided by what this committee comes up with" on matters including "scheduling, postseason format, umpiring, pace of play and instant replay." The commissioner did not mention the DH rule, but Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and longtime Braves executive John Schuerholz, who joined Selig on a conference call, both listed it as the one thing they potentially would change if they could.
Forced to build deeper rosters because of the DH rule, the AL has had an upper hand against the NL in recent years -- a trend borne out in results from the All-Star Game, the World Series and in interleague play. AL teams have been bigger spenders than their NL counterparts.
I'm always amused by the suggestion that the American League is vastly superior to the National League because of the designated hitter. If so, can someone explain to me why it took 30-odd years for this "DH Effect" to show up on the field? The DH does a number of things -- it makes the game more exciting, and it allows a few sluggardly sluggers to extend their careers -- but there's no reason to think it affects the balance of power between the leagues.
Anyway, the DH isn't going anywhere. The American League owners don't want it gone, and neither does the Players Association (because the MLBPA is run by the veterans, and the rule benefits veterans most of all).
Selig's been criticized for the composition of the committee: "four current managers, four current or former general managers and four ownership representatives, along with MLB official Frank Robinson and journalist/baseball fan George Will" ... but not a single current player, which seems odd when you consider that very little can be done without the assent of the players.
I'm inclined to cut Selig a little slack on this one. I don't know that many veteran players would have been interested in participating -- they tend to have busy winters, with hunting trips and vacations to Shangri-La and whatnot -- and without veterans ... Well, you just can't throw Evan Longoria and Justin Upton into a room with Tony La Russa and John Schuerholz.
Anyway, it's not like this committee's going to do anything. Major League Baseball -- and by extension, Commissioner Bud -- took some withering criticism this fall about postseason scheduling, lousy umpiring, and the lack of video review in big games. So, Selig turned to every politician's favorite crutch: the committee. And the result will probably be the usual result of a committee's work: nothing.
We can only hope that the committee's work is made public, so we'll at least have something to talk about.