MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

DH debate picking up steam

Manfred recognizes loss of individual league identity at stake if NL were to add hitter

DH debate picking up steam

CORAL GABLES, Fla. -- The designated hitter should be universal in both leagues. That's logical.

"I do think there's a certain purity to the idea that everybody plays by the same rules," Commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday after MLB's quarterly Owners Meeting.

Absolutely.

Slam dunk.

Interleague Play strengthens the argument for having the DH in the National League. First, it's a matter of roster construction.

Mozeliak, Epstein on NL DH talk

American League teams lose a significant part of their lineup when they play in NL parks. And NL teams often aren't built to play with a DH in an AL park.

"I think the significance of that purity goes up when you have Interleague Play every day," Manfred said. "It's a little different."

Pitchers who don't hit or run the bases regularly may be more susceptible to injury when they're asked to do that.

Again, let's do it.

Give both leagues the DH.

There's just one teensy argument for keeping the DH rule the way it is right now. That is, AL teams have the DH, NL teams don't.

There you go. Simple, huh?

Could the DH be in the National League's future?

It's the identity of the two leagues. Let's face it, NL fans think their game is better. They like the idea of incorporating offensive strategy into the pitcher's spot in the batting order.

They believe it makes managing more difficult, that it adds an assortment of twists and turns into games. And they love that part of it.

In St. Louis and Cincinnati, in Atlanta and Philadelphia and San Francisco, they like their game just the way it is.

And the AL isn't going back. Their fans like having that extra bat. They think it makes their game better. They're as adamant about that as NL fans are on the other side of the table.

And that's where we are.

There's a willingness to discuss the NL giving the DH a try, but that sentiment is far, far, far from actually changing the rule.

Tide is turning toward a universal DH

Sure, having the DH in only one league makes for some significant adjustments during Interleague Play and the World Series. Big deal. Lived with it for 43 seasons. Can live with it for another 43 seasons.

Isn't the game doing pretty darn well with two leagues playing by two sets of rules? Have you checked attendance, television ratings, etc.?

"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 new group [of owners]. There's been turnover.

"I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways we think would be good for the fans -- always respecting the history and tradition of the sport."

If that sounds like there's momentum to change the DH rule, there's not. There's just a willingness to discuss it.

Besides, such a dramatic change would have to include the Major League Baseball Players Association, and with the current labor agreement expiring later this year, it would be the perfect time to discuss a rule change.

Only thing is, there's a wide gap between discussing such a change and doing it.

MLB Now: NL DH

"On the other side of the ledger, [former] Commissioner [Bud] Selig did a lot of great things, including reforming the governance of baseball and eliminating the league structures, beginning the process of having one baseball," Manfred said. "I think those are really important reforms, but one of the things those reforms do is you lose this league identity.

"And the biggest remnant of league identity is the difference between DH and no DH. I think that's a significant issue. We may get over that. I'm not saying it's not possible. But it is a significant issue on the other side of the scale."

Maybe this issue provides insight into how this Commissioner operates. In his first year on the job, he has impressed almost everyone with his vision, energy and spirit.

"The thing about Rob," Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner said, "is that he's not a large market or small market. He listens to everyone."

One of the things Manfred is proudest of in these first 12 months on the job is how all 30 owners have been encouraged to offer their opinions and to participate in the process.

On issues like this, those voices surely will be emphatic on both sides. Regardless of how it plays out, baseball will be better off for having had the discussion.

For now, though, we appear to be a long way from having the DH in both leagues. But you can expect to hear much more discussion over the next few months. And that's a good thing.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.