MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has a message for fans who think the designated hitter is on its way to the National League: Not so fast.
"The most likely result on the designated hitter for the foreseeable future is the status quo," Manfred said in an interview with ESPN.com in conjunction with his one-year anniversary as commissioner. "I think the vast majority of clubs in the National League want to stay where they are."
At the MLB owners meetings in Coral Gables, Florida, last week, Manfred talked to reporters about the possibility of the National League emulating the American League and adopting the DH rule. His comments were interpreted as a sign of potential uniformity between the two leagues on the designated hitter as early as 2017.
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak recently said the idea of the NL adding the DH is "gaining momentum." At the owners meetings, Manfred appeared to acknowledge that NL clubs have become more receptive to a change.
"Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you'd think you were talking some sort of heretical comment," Manfred said Thursday. "But we have a newer group. There's been turnover. And I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport."
Manfred told ESPN he was merely discussing the pros and cons of a possible change and did not mean to create the impression that NL clubs want to adopt the DH. He compared the reaction to his comments to the fallout a year ago when he discussed the possibility of eliminating defensive shifts as a hypothetical change that MLB might consider.
"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," Manfred said. "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."
Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals and Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals are among the pitchers who suffered injuries last year while batting, and some executives have advocated for a universal DH to prevent those kinds of injuries. The distinctions between the leagues also complicate lineup decisions during the World Series, when the DH is used only in the AL team's stadium.
MLB's two leagues have operated under different rules since the American League adopted the DH in 1973. Any change would have to be agreed to in collective bargaining between MLB and the players' association. The existing labor agreement expires Dec. 1.