Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred says National League teams may be more receptive to the designated hitter than in the past, even though owners ended two days of meetings without any serious discussion about expanding use of the DH.
A decline in offense and injuries to pitchers while hitting have stirred speculation the NL might be ready to embrace the designated hitter, which has been used in the American League since 1973.
St. Louis Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said there was more momentum lately for the DH in the NL. But owners weren’t inclined to consider a change when they met this week.
“It hasn’t even been talked about,” said Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, as the meetings broke Thursday and owners raced for the airport. “There really hasn’t been any conversation.”
That doesn’t mean there won’t be. Baseball is in the final year of its collective bargaining agreement between owners and players, and the union has favored expansion of the DH because it would more mean high-paying roster spots.
Any change to the DH is a mandatory topic of bargaining.
“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. “But we have a newer group. There has 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.”
But among National League owners, there’s still resistance.
“We would like to remain real baseball,” said Philadelphia Phillies chairman Dave Montgomery, who has been with the team for more than 30 years.
The closest the NL has come to adopting the DH was way back in 1980, but sagging offense could prompt the league to revisit the idea. Big leaguers batted .254 last year and .251 in 2014, the lowest average since .244 in 1972 — a year of such feeble offense that the AL started using the DH the following season to juice scoring.
Injuries to pitchers might also be a factor in weakening resistance to the designated hitter. Early last season, Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright tore his Achilles while batting, which prompted Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer to call for the NL to adopt the DH. In September, Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka strained his hamstring running to first on a bunt, which reignited the discussion.
In 2008, Yankees ace Chien-Ming Wang hurt his foot running the bases during an interleague game and was never the same. In interleague games, the DH is used only in AL ballparks.
Manfred, who is beginning his second year on the job, can argue both sides of the debate.
He said there’s “a certain purity” to everyone playing by the same rules. On the other hand: “The biggest remnant of league identity is the difference between DH and no DH. … It is a significant issue on the other side of the scale.”