MLB commissioner Rob Manfred

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Baffoe: MLB Needs To Institute Universal DH

Slowly but surely, baseball is inching closer to change.

Tim Baffoe
June 18, 2018 - 11:36 am

By Tim Baffoe--

(670 The Score) Back in 2013, Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein expressed his belief that the implementation of a designated hitter in the National League was on the horizon 

"Hopefully we're just a few years away," Epstein said.

Five years later, a few years away appears to be much closer. Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred suggested last Thursday after the owners’ meetings that there was conversation that inched closer to a universal designated hitter.

"That is a continuing source of conversation among the ownership group, and I think that the dialogue actually probably moved a little bit," he said.

Which begs the question of why such an obvious move still has yet to happen. Baseball continues to be the only major American sport that has rules that aren't universal depending on where a particular game is being played. The different configurations of the 30 ballparks make for interesting variables, but having games played with a varying positional rule will never make sense.

I’m a late convert to the DH-in-the-NL movement, and I’ve done so for the purposes of basic logical uniformity and because of the further specialization of pitchers in the 21st-century game and the investments that franchises put into them. Nothing about the dollars in any pitcher’s contract has to do with his ability to swing the bat - -with the exception of Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, who's both a singular oddity and doesn't swing the bat on days he pitches. Ohtani is used as a DH on non-pitching days, not in the field, and he’s currently on the disabled list with an injury to the UCL in his pitching elbow that may require season-ending Tommy John surgery.

For the rest of MLB pitchers, there’s little valid excuse anymore to send them to the plate. Their existence on a big leaegue roster has zero to do with hitting. Their offensive stats aren't considered in scouting or contract negotiations. Some pitchers love to hit, but some pitchers also enjoy doing non-baseball activities that are banned in their contracts because of injury risk. Torquing one’s body with a bat or straining leg muscles that aren’t often used should be considered the health hazard they are.

While seeing Madison Bumgarner hit a home run once in a while has a kitschy cool to it, it doesn’t make up for the mostly painful at-bats from pitchers. Sometimes literally. Masahiro Tanaka of the Yankees injured both of his hamstrings running the bases in an interleague game on June 8. The Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright famously blew out an Achilles at the plate in 2015 (but argued against changing the rules). Other prominent pitchers have lost time due to getting hurt swinging or running the bases, neither of which is the reason they're in the game.

Nationals ace Max Scherzer made the highlight rounds this month after singling in the 14th inning of a game. Because a pitcher almost never is batting late in a tied game and because the NL involves depleting the available bench in extra innings, Scherzer’s pinch hit was "cool." But it wouldn’t have been necessary if that game was in an American League park or if baseball had the same lineup rules in 15 of its parks that it has in the other 15.

"If you look at it from the macro side, who'd people rather see hit -- Big Papi or me?" Scherzer said -- back in 2015. "Who would people rather see, a real hitter hitting home runs or a pitcher swinging a wet newspaper? Both leagues need to be on the same set of rules.

"Those kids don't want to see me hit. No one want to see a pitcher hit. No one pays money for that."

Correct. The paying attendee or the one tuning in on television or online (which would skew younger) might enjoy the occasional novelty, but it’s star power that draws eyes and stars doing what they’re paid to do. That’s hitters hitting and pitchers pitching, not vice versa. (Position players pitching is a beautiful salve in a blowout game, but so many have left their seats or tuned out by then anyway.)

And speaking of paying to see stuff, Manfred knows that attendance at games is down 6.5 percent (for various reasons). But baseball continues to struggle to attract the younger fan. The average TV viewer for an MLB game is 53 years old, and half of MLB’s TV viewers are 55 or older. Sticking to an archaic rule of pitchers batting -- and for only half the teams -- isn’t attractive to potential young fans.

Manfred has instituted rules to speed up gameplay that competes with fleeting attention spans, and it would stand to reason that bad pitcher at-bats, which greatly outnumber the "cool" ones, contribute to the "lack of action" that MLB brass is worried about as the game’s reputation as antiquated increases, right or wrong. Another major criticism du jour of baseball is the spike in strikeouts, and pitchers tend to whiff a lot if made to swing a bat. Manfred claimed last year that research shows fans like more strikeouts, but it’s doubtful they enjoy the assumption that a player who isn’t paid to hit is going to be made to look like a baby giraffe at the plate.

This is all besides interleague play now being the norm instead of a special occasion, but baseball still applying a different rule to teams depending on the location of the game for some reason. There's no justification for this.

Manfred was finally willing to accept that the dumbest rule in sports -- home-field advantage in a sport’s championship series based on who wins an exhibition game -- needed to go. In ridding baseball of that, a non-uniform designated hitter moved up to the top spot in stupid rules.  

Players and front office personnel have spoken in favor of a uniform DH, and the lack of one seems to continue to exist for logically fallacious purposes only. The dialogue among Manfred and the owners needs to move more than just a little bit. Hopefully we’re much closer than a few years away from fixing this.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not Entercom or our affiliated radio stations.​​​​​​