Support for the Designated Hitter (DH) becoming the universal standard in Major League Baseball (MLB) is growing, and may finally be at the tipping point where it actually happens in the next decade or so. It’s been 45 years since Ron Blomberg became the first DH for the Yankees. At the time, it was an experiment that was widely panned, even by a number of pitchers who felt that they should be digging into the batters box and taking their cuts like the eight position players on the field with them. Over time, the DH became a thing that fans debated more than anyone in the MLB did. It was a debate about the purity of the game versus more offense.
Fast forwarding to the ’90s and the turn of the century, player contracts went from being big to huge. Hundred-million-dollar-plus deals became a thing that happened every off-season. Prime pitchers in the top tier were cornerstones of franchises and difficult to replace. They were investments, and investments were meant to be protected.
The last thing an owner like Ted Turner wanted to see back in the ’90s was Greg Maddux getting hit by a pitch on his throwing hand. If something like that happened, it could potentially be the end of postseason hopes for the Braves. Thankfully for Maddux, it never did happen. But the fact is, pitchers did get hurt taking their cuts. Some got hurt after they got on base because they were poor base runners and had no idea how to protect themselves properly against injury. Chin Ming Wang was a perfect example. After his injury sliding into home, he was not only never dominant again, but he could also barely get hitters out anymore.
Now, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the support for the DH has spread from some fans, to owners, to managers and unions, and has finally reached the players. The game has reached a point in its evolution where by the time pitchers have reached the MLB, some haven’t faced live pitching since they were in high school. Others do have worries about an injury that could come from a wild pitch, retaliatory bean-ball, or pulling a muscle on an awkward swing. They realize what is at stake now, not only in regard to time potentially spent on the disabled list, but also a career-ending injury or decreased earning power. Every season, since inter-league play has begun, a pitcher has gone down with injuries related to hitting or running the bases.
Many hitters are in favor of making the DH universal as well. The move would create a demand for 15 more hitters. That means aging veterans can potentially add a couple more seasons to their career. Someone that is a defensive liability but a monster at the plate can suddenly have a legitimate long-term career and be paid very well for it. Dave Kingman was the stereotype of this, and to a lesser degree, so was Tony Clark. Not everyone is on board with the idea, but enough are that talks continue.
For all the talk, Commissioner Rob Manfred has said that nothing is happening imminently. If anything does happen, it will likely be as part of a collective bargaining agreement. The Wall Street Journal also reported that he said that even though talks are inching toward change, there is a lot of hesitation to change the NL style of play forever, and that “The most likely outcome remains the status quo.”