Editor's note: In the days leading up to Rob Manfred's one-year anniversary as commissioner on Jan. 25, we asked our writers what one change or innovation they would make to improve baseball if the sport started over today.
The change: Implement the designated hitter rule in the National League.
How it would work:
The DH rule would be in effect for all professional games in every league at all levels -- with no exceptions.
I spent most of my front-office career in the National League, and have always preferred the game played without the DH rule. I like the late-inning strategies, the double-switches and deciding whether to take out your best pitcher when you're tied or down a run. I also like the fact that the bench and bullpens are more important in game strategy without a DH. It makes the game more entertaining.
The more pressing issue, however, is one of fairness and competitiveness. When an American League team plays a National League team, one of them has an unfair advantage based of whichever rule is being used for that particular game. If the Red Sox are playing an NL team in Fenway Park, Boston will have the game's best DH in David Ortiz, while its NL opponent will probably have to turn to its fourth outfielder or backup first baseman as its DH. When they play at an NL park, the Red Sox will have to relegate their best hitter to a pinch-hitting role. As silly as that sounds, that's how baseball has been operating.
Now that MLB has an interleague game on its schedule every day of the season, and more are teams involved in pennant races thanks to the second wild-card playoff spot, losing out on a postseason berth because of a couple of interleague losses, possibly because of being forced to play under unfamiliar rules, seems absurd -- but it's a real possibility. Losing a World Series because your best hitter could play in only three of the seven games is ridiculous. Letting teams play on a level field with one rule is far more important than letting people like me hold on to a fondness for the NL style of play.
We're never going to eradicate the DH rule; it's used at every level of baseball, from Little League to high school to college and throughout the minor league system. In fact, the 15 National League teams are the only ones in the entire sport that don't use the DH rule anymore. Also, the players' union would never allow 15 well-paid jobs -- ones usually filled by older, well-compensated players -- to be bargained out. But the union would approve expanding the DH to the senior circuit. In addition, there is a much better chance that 23 owners would support the DH rule than vice versa. Again, I'm more focused on having one, consistent rule at this point than debating why I think the National League style of baseball is better.
Why it would help baseball:
It would promote fair play. All 30 teams would play by the same rules for every game, including spring training, the regular season, the All-Star Game and the postseason. Teams would be free to prepare their rosters and lineups for the same set of rules from the outset, for both the short and long term.
It would negate an unfair World Series advantage. Home-field advantage has been a huge factor during the Fall Classic, not only because teams get to play in front of their home crowd and within the friendly confines of their own ballpark, but because of the huge rule advantage teams get on the DH front when they play at home. The World Series should be about the best team, and yet one club's best hitter might not be able to start because he's a designated hitter, or its starting pitcher -- who has stepped into the batter's box only a few times in his career -- has to hit on the game's biggest stage.
It would reduce the injury risk for NL pitchers. Teams are investing heavily in starting pitchers. So how unfortunate would it be for one of those $100 million-$200 million guys to get hit by a pitch and possibly break a hand, or pull a hamstring running the bases or get hurt on a collision at home plate? Given that type of expenditure, why not lessen the injury risk to pricey pitchers by implementing the DH?
We wouldn't have to watch pitchers hit. Let's be realistic: Most pitchers can't hit, and isn't fun to watch them flail away at the plate. Sure, there are some -- like Zack Greinke and Madison Bumgarner -- who can hit, but if the DH is brought to the NL I wouldn't be surprised if they got to hit on the days they pitch (instead of a DH) anyway. But for the most part it's embarrassing to watch pitchers try to bat. I think we'd all like to see a professional major league hitter at the plate instead of a hapless hurler.
How realistic is it: Not right away, but possibly in the future.
Commissioner Rob Manfred told me during the All-Star Game in Cincinnati -- and reiterated it again during the postseason in Kansas City -- that he has no problem with the two different rules in baseball and sees no reason to change. But he said he would be open to a change if the owners have the votes to revise the rule. Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball officer, said that the topic wasn't even discussed at this week's owners meetings.
Of course, it would take a three-fourths vote of all the owners -- or 23 of them voting in favor of the change -- to adopt the DH rule universally. There is still some resistance in the NL, as Philadelphia Phillies owner David Montgomery said he would not vote for a change in the rules.
It does appear that the game is getting closer to reaching the support needed for a change, and if that is achieved, it could be implemented as soon as 2017. The players' union would be supportive of the DH because it would add another higher-paying job for each of 15 NL teams. And so it is a subject that likely will be discussed at length in this year's collective bargaining negotiations.