Discussions over the use of the universal designated hitter rule in 2021 appeared to die on the vine in early March, when owners insisted that the shift be tied to permanent expansion of the postseason. That seemed to table the issue until the offseason, when the new Collective Bargaining Agreement would be negotiated. However, recent comments by Padres right-hander Yu Darvish suggest that an 11th hour agreement that puts the DH rule in place in the National League is possible.
"I have all the trust that MLB will make that happen," Darvish told reporters on Wednesday:
Whether this is wishful thinking on Darvish's part or an indication that he's privy to ongoing discussions isn't clear, but it's a tantalizing prospect. Opening Day is Thursday, which leaves precious little time for such a thing to come to pass. Darvish, though, has placed his faith in the process, whatever that might be.
The DH rule, in which a hitter is "designated" to bat for the pitcher while not playing a position in the field, has been used in the AL since 1973 and has been at least a periodic presence in the World Series since 1976. As well, the advent of interleague play in 1997 meant that NL teams used the DH in regular season play for the first time -- i.e., in road games against AL teams. The 2020 season, however, was the first in which the DH was used universally for an entire season. Last season, however, the rationale was that the DH would help keep pitchers healthy during a season in which their normal routines were complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Should the DH be adopted in the NL, it would be a generally popular change among players and front offices. Absent some traditionalists among fans and media, it would also likely be popular among outside observers of the sport. While's the universal DH is almost certainly part of MLB's long-term future, it will require some heavy lifting in the final hours to put it in place in time for the 2021 regular season.