Baseball is a quirky game, full of variables.
It's played on fields where dimensions are rarely the same. Yes, infields are always uniform with bases 90 feet apart and the pitching rubber 60 feet, six inches from home plate. But beyond that, it's a grab bag of oddities. Professional stadiums can have acres of foul territory or hardly any. Outfield walls can be near or far, scalable or 37 feet high. Games can be played on grass or artificial turf under open skies or domed roofs.
It's part of what makes baseball a colorful game. Because of its often-glacial pace of play, Major League Baseball needs all the color it can muster. Which is why we were glad to hear that for the time being, there will be no changes to current rules regarding the designated hitter.
Since 1973, the National League and the American League have operated under a different set of rules. American League teams use a designated hitter (in lieu of making pitchers hit). But during interleague games or the World Series, the teams play by whatever rule the home team plays by.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has hinted that the league needs some uniformity. The MLB players' union has pushed for the DH in the NL for years because it would create more jobs for hitters.
MLB owners could decide the issue by voting on it, but during his "state of the game" address before Tuesday's All-Star Game in Cleveland, Manfred said nothing will change before the league's next collective bargaining agreement. The league's current CBA expires on Dec. 1, 2021. So, 2022 would be earliest we might see a change.
All of this to say we hope the DH remains a lopsided use. The players union may have a strong economic argument for bringing the DH to the National League, but such a move would end a charming part of the game. Baseball is the only sport which has fans of a style of play. National League fans relish the conundrum of having a pitcher due up with two outs and men in scoring position. Do you pull the pitcher for a pinch hitter or see if he can help his own cause? So much strategy is part of the National League style of play because there's no DH. Take that away, and baseball becomes a monolith.
It's already trending into an all-or-nothing game, where hitters either strike out or hit home runs. The use of defensive shifts is affecting how many guys can get on base. If the players union and the owners really want to improve baseball's watchability, they'll focus on things to speed up action or lessen downtime (players stepping out of the box or using three pitchers in one inning to play matchups).
No doubt the DH creates weird moments in interleague and World Series play. But it's precisely that novelty factor that makes baseball unique among the major spectator sports. The DH divide will have been around for nearly 50 years by the time the CBA negotiations get underway.
Manfred says shelving the discussion until then is a "major concession" to the union. We hope ballplayers approach the issue by asking what's good for the game versus what's good for their wallets. A universal DH rule, we think, makes professional baseball less interesting.