Is the DH rule in play for Selig's committee?
Commissioner Bud Selig's newly formed "Special Committee for On-Field Matters," which was announced Tuesday, is charged with finding new solutions to a lot of old problems -- the use of instant replay, the quality of umpiring, the tedious pace of play, the too-frequent off-days during the postseason, etc. Much of this stuff is just warmed-over policy matter, Selig's way of pawning some minor annoyances off on someone else.
But one thing stood out from Tuesday's announcement: the notion that the designated hitter rule is on the table.
(Actually, another thing stood out, as well: Whose idea was it to put Los Angeles Angels Manager Mike Scioscia and former Washington Nationals manager Frank Robinson on the same committee? In 2005, those two men nearly came to blows during a memorable Nationals/Angels game in Anaheim, after which a seething Robinson said of Scioscia, "I lost a lot of respect for Mike tonight, as a person and as a manager. There's nothing he can say to me now. Nothing." It's easy to imagine Scioscia trying to make a point to Robinson during a committee meeting, and Robinson turning away disdainfully and responding, "Talk to the hand.")
The DH has been dividing baseball -- both as a practical matter that distinguishes the National and American leagues (and causes headaches come time for interleague play, all-star games and the World Series), and as a philosophical one -- since 1973, when Ron Blomberg became the first DH to bat in an AL game. Advocates and opponents of the DH are equally passionate, and the game seems to be split between those who would like to abolish it all together and those who would like to make it universal.
"There are no sacred cows," Selig said several times during his conference call Tuesday, giving the committee wide latitude to make its own recommendations.
Two other committee members present on Tuesday's call, former Atlanta Braves GM John Schuerholz and current St. Louis Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa cited the DH rule as one worth revisiting, with La Russa expressing his disdain for it.
"I think the game is more complete without the DH," La Russa said.
Eliminating the DH, however, would be difficult to pull off, because such a rule change would be subject to collective bargaining and would almost certainly face stiff opposition from the union -- because the DH on a given AL team typically makes far more in salary than the 12th or 13th pitcher (or extra utility infielder) who corresponds to that roster spot on an NL team. (It has been suggested management could offer to expand all rosters from 25 to 26 players as a tradeoff, but it's hard to imagine MLB agreeing to that. And besides, that's getting a bit ahead of ourselves.)
An expansion of instant replay would be interesting. A condensing of the postseason schedule to eliminate superfluous off-days would be welcomed. An expansion of the Division Series from five to seven games would be fairer.
But the elimination of the DH? That would be monumental.
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