History could be made Sunday night in Game 5 of the World Series. First and foremost, the Atlanta Braves hold a commanding 3-1 series lead, so they are one win away from their first World Series title since 1995. The Braves could become the first time to celebrate a World Series championship at their home ballpark since the 2013 Red Sox. Here's how you can watch Game 5.
Secondly, Game 5 could very well be the last game without the designated hitter in baseball history. The collective bargaining agreement expires Dec. 1 and the next agreement is widely expected to implement the universal DH. MLB used the universal DH during the shortened pandemic season in 2020. The wheels are now in motion to make it permanent.
"If we eliminate the DH in the National League, it is a brand of baseball (that) becomes extinct, right?" commissioner Rob Manfred told Jon Heyman and Tony Gwynn Jr. on the Big Time Baseball podcast last September. "Because nobody plays without a DH other than the National League. So that does concern me."
Manfred was of course speaking as a representative of MLB's 30 owners, and the owners see the universal DH as a bargaining chip. They reportedly offered to implement the universal DH in exchange for an expanded postseason this season, you may remember. That was not an equitable exchange for the MLBPA, so it didn't happen, and pitchers hit this season.
Or, rather, pitchers "hit" this season, because they were truly terrible at it. Pitchers combined to hit .110/.150/.142 with a 44.2 percent strikeout rate in just under 5,000 plate appearances in 2021. Not only are pitchers bad at hitting, they're getting worse at it. This graph is a few years old now, though the trend has continued. Pitchers straight up stink at hitting and are getting worse.
Although Manfred and the MLB hope to use the universal DH as a bargaining chip, the fact of the matter is nearly everyone wants it. MLB wants it, the MLBPA wants it, front offices want it, and the majority of fans want it too. There's always going to be a certain segment of fans against a rule change, but they'll get over it. I know the universal DH last year changed at least one person's mind:
"Prior to experiencing it last year, I was kind of like the old guard. I was not for it. I am for it now," Braves manager Brian Snitker said about the universal DH on Saturday. "Because I see for every Max Fried and Adam Wainwright and Madison Bumgarner, there's 15 guys who can't hit ... I didn't know if I would, but I ended up liking it."
If Game 5 is the final game without the universal DH, then there's a good chance Zack Greinke's single up the middle in the second inning of Game 4 will go do as the final hit by a pitcher in World Series history. It would be fitting seeing how Greinke is arguably the best hitting pitcher of the last 10 years or so (he's a .239/.280/.345 hitter since 2013).
The caveat to the universal DH is teams can voluntarily give up the DH and let their pitchers hit anyway. The Angels did that several times this year (19 times, in fact) to get Shohei Ohtani's bat in the lineup on the days he pitched. Prior to Ohtani, a team had not given up the DH to let a pitcher hit since June 30, 2016, when Bumgarner hit for himself during an interleague game in Oakland.
That said, Ohtani is a special case, and you're not going to see teams or managers voluntarily give up the DH to let a pitcher hit for himself because they're not stupid. It actively hurts their chances of winning. The Bumgarner game in 2016 was the first time in 40 years a team gave up the DH. With non-Ohtani pitchers hitting worse than ever, giving up the DH just isn't a thing that will happen.
Keep in mind MLB and the owners want to protect their investments -- yes, they view players as investments -- and letting pitchers hit is an unnecessary injury risk. Jacob deGrom hurt his shoulder on a swing this year. Zac Gallen hurt his forearm taking a swing. Do something you don't train to do and you risk injury, and losing pitchers to injury is bad for baseball, full stop.
I'm not sure whether MLB will relent and include the universal DH in the upcoming CBA, or whether the MLBPA will have to give up something to get it (expanded postseason would be far too much to trade), but the universal DH is likely to become permanent next year. We got our first taste of it last season and it was really the only rule change we saw that was popular. Most folks loved it.
I sympathize with traditionalists who want pitchers to hit -- I'm a new school guy and I abhor openers and bullpen games, I hope MLB finds a way to restore the prominence of starting pitchers -- but they are in the minority these days, and the universal DH is an inevitability. With the new CBA coming next year, Game 5 very well might be the last DH-less game in baseball history.