Personally, I don't see the problem. Sure, if I could go back in time and scrub the designated hitter rule from history, then I probably would. But the DH doesn't cause me French-existential angst (i.e., I don't hate it), and I'm similarly unruffled by the fact that the two leagues have distinct rules regarding the DH. With all that said, I seem to be in the distinct minority. People don't like the designated hitter rule, or at the very least they want uniformity in its application. As usual, I'm here for those with nowhere left to turn.
First, please accept this premise: Wholesale elimination of the DH isn't going to happen. Next month, it will celebrate its 40th birthday in MLB, and that means it's entrenched. In a related matter, don't expect the MLBPA to sacrifice a concocted "position" that turns 15-low-paying roster spots into high-paying roster spots. You can talk about making other structural concessions all you want, but none of the bandied-about solutions -- expanded active rosters, a raising of the minimum salary -- provides to players the high-end material uplift that the DH does. Cries of "get rid of the DH!" should be dismissed as fantasy.
With that out of the way, here's what I propose: Make the DH rule the prerogative of the home team. Yes, I hereby propose that in advance of each regular-season and postseason game, the home team should be able to declare whether the DH shall be used for the contest in question.
Per MLB rules, batting lineups aren't exchanged until five minutes before game time, so there's plenty of time in the course of the standard run-up to the first pitch to make the decision and allow the visiting manager to react accordingly. Want to force David Ortiz to wield a glove or luxuriate on the pine? The home manager can opt not to DH. Want Stephen Strasburg to hit opposite a pitcher who's less skilled with the bat? Opt not to DH. Got a right-hander on the mound and an opponent without a quality left-handed bat to slot in at DH? Force the issue by invoking the DH rule for that game. Does your team employ a manager with an orthodox and throbbing-neck-vein hatred of the DH? Take the NIMBY approach and never allow it on your hallowed traditionalist grounds.
First and foremost, the "home team chooses" system would, a) reduce significantly the number of games in which the DH rule would be in force; and b) add another layer of managerial strategizing (and fan kvetching) to a sport that's typically a bit light on managerial strategizing (but not fan kvetching). I also envision a handful of other consequences that can be viewed as generally positive ...
- Such a system would make home-field advantage in the postseason that much more meaningful. By extension, that would make the regular-season race for seeding that much more important. It would also lessen the perceived disadvantages/advantages afforded by the World Series setup, which entails use of the DH in AL parks and no DH in NL parks. After all, AL and NL teams would be constructing their rosters according to same rules for the entirety of the regular season.
- Such a system would create an incentive for teams to roster DHs with at least some baseline defensive ability. If the DH who couldn't dream of manning a position offends your aesthetics, then this system would make such a creature even more of an imposition on the 25-man.
- Such a system would create "soft" pressure for teams to carry more position players on the roster. Teams would need to be prepared to trot out an adequate DH (i.e., a player who can put at least something like a .758 OPS, which is what AL DHs hit last season -- only AL first basemen were more productive) or have an adequate arsenal of platoon-advantaged pinch-hitters for those occasions when the DH rule is not in force. In some instances, the primary DH will fill all those roles, but in others it will require a deeper bench. The point is that some teams would be reluctant to carry 13 or maybe even 12 pitchers. Fewer middle- and late-inning pitching changes and fewer LOOGY appearances are good things for observers invested in things like pacing.
This new structure would of course require the consent of the players union, and they'd likely want give-backs elsewhere, since this would likely result in a downward market correction insofar as primary DHs are concerned. But this effort embodies, I think, the sensible middle ground between getting rid of the DH altogether (again, not a plausible aim) and allowing the status to remain quo.
So, in summary, the home team gets to decide whether the DH rule applies. Given the breadth of my opinion-shaping powers, I expect implementation posthaste. Or not.
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