"Like it or not, the DH is coming to the National League" — that’s the headline for a recent Sporting News column written by Jesse Spector, who says, “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, and more than that, it’s a matter of how.”
Jesse Spectator joined Bill Littlefield to explain why.
BL: Jesse, the designated hitter rule was adopted by the American League back in 1973. Who wants the National League to adopt it now — and why?
[sidebar title="The Birth of the DH" width="630" align="right"]When the designated hitter celebrated its 40th anniversary, Bill Littlefield spoke with the first MLB DH in history and others about the position.[/sidebar]JS: Well, I think the Players Association has wanted it for quite some time because the DH tends to be a higher paying job going to a veteran sort of hitter. Alex Rodriguez this year will be with the Yankees. He'll mostly be the DH. David Ortiz in Boston — a high-paid veteran slugger DH.
Baseball wants to see more offense and getting the DH was part of a way that baseball addressed a downfall in offense back in the early 1970s — you had had "The Year of the Pitcher" in 1968 and then a continuation of pitching dominance up through 1972. And Major League Baseball put the DH into the American League as a way to try to boost offense, so I think that's part of the reason that it's no longer just the players who want it. It's the owners, and it makes logical sense for everybody to want to have it.
BL: You mentioned Red Sox DH David Ortiz, who is, of course, not only a DH but something of a larger-than-life figure in Boston and in the league in general. Maybe that's part of the reason the National League would be just as happy to have some DHs too.
JS: Yeah, I think it is. I think a National League team can't really commit to getting a guy like that. A few years ago, the Dodgers brought in Jim Thome, a similar type of hitter and a guy who wound up hitting 500 home runs in his career — pretty good bet that he's going to be in the Hall of Fame eventually. But the Dodgers were barely able to use him because he was just a bench player for them. He was a guy that they could use as a pinch-hitter every now and then.
The Phillies are in this situation with Ryan Howard too. He'd be a lot more valuable as a trade piece if they could trade him to teams in the National League, so it cuts the Phillies' trade market for a guy like that in half when they're trying to rebuild. So certainly a team like that, it would benefit them if the National League had the DH, and that's another way that it becomes beneficial to everybody.
BL: There are probably some purists who feel that the way to address the inconsistency between the leagues is to eliminate the DH, never mind that they have thrived in the American League since 1973. Is there an answer for them?
JS: It's not going to happen. How would the Red Sox feel about that? How would they feel if you said, "Yeah, we're going to take away the position that your most beloved and popular player plays and we're going to make him play first base all the time. Oh, but by the way, you already have a first baseman, so you're going to have to find a way to get rid of him or do something else."
And the Players' Association would never go for that either. You'd be eliminating these high paying jobs for veteran players. And it's not a smart business decision for the league either because you're shortening the careers of stars — guys that you can market and build the game around.
BL: You end your piece by stating that “You will see designated hitters in National League Parks sooner than later.” Any guess as to how soon that might be?
JS: Well, I think that you could see it as soon as the next collective bargaining agreement. They're going to start talks next winter cause the CBA is coming up, so I would not be at all surprised to see it in a couple of years. It could be the CBA after that, but I think that it will not just be in our children's lifetimes — it's not something like that. I think it'll be soon. It'll be in our parents' lifetimes.
This segment aired on March 14, 2015.