Image credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

One of the many novelties of the 2020 baseball season was that for the first time since 1973, Major League Baseball played with the same rules in both leagues, as the National League used the designated hitter for the first time.

Now, as teams and players prepare for the 2021 season, we don’t know what the rules will be. It still has not been determined whether or not the NL will go back to having pitchers hit, or continue, as the AL will, to use the DH. This has posed some problems for the decision makers in the game, as organizations don’t know whether or not to construct a roster with the DH in mind. And many free agent hitters don’t know what their market value is since they don’t know how many extra jobs will be out there.

Since the AL adopted the DH in 1973, we have heard all the arguments on this topic, but none of the commissioners of baseball has been able to resolve this issue, even though many have tried, some even resorting to polling public opinion. Still, nothing. A stalemate.

Now Rob Manfred finds himself in the middle of this quandary, and you have to wonder if he feels a bit like one of our most famous fictitious characters, Shakespeare’s troubled Prince Hamlet. You can almost hear Manfred, walking the halls of the commissioner’s office, beating these thoughts about his brain:

To DH, or not to DH, that is the question:

Whether ‘tis nobler for the game to suffer

The whiffs and K’s of poor-hitting pitchers

Or to take lumber against a sea of fastballs

and by opposing bash them. To hit, to slug —

No more; and by to slug to say we end

The strikeouts and the thousand natural bunts

That pitchers are heir to. Tis a consummation

Devoutly to be wished. To hit, to slug.

To slug — perchance to score; ay, there’s the rub!

For in that slugfest what innings may come

When we have shuffled off the manager’s hook

Must give us pause. There’s the respect

That makes calamity of such good arms.

For who would bear the boos and jeers of fans,

The old southpaw’s base-running, the one-hundred batting average,

The pangs of the intentional walk, the game’s delay,

The insolence of the front office, and the spurns

The pinch-hitting manager of the ace pitcher takes,

When he himself might his quietus make

With the designated hitter? Who would these pitchers bear,

That pop up and ground out almost every at-bat,

But that the fear of something with the DH,

The breaking of tradition, From whose bourn

No old-timer returns — puzzles the NL,

And makes us rather bear those ills we have

Than fly to others that we know not of?

Thus tradition does make two leagues of us all,

And thus the native hue of resolution

Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of polls,

And commissioners of great pitch and moment

With this regard their currents turn awry

And lose the name of action. — soft you know!

The “fair” union rep! Players, in thy salaries

Be all my sins rememb’red.

It would be unfair of me to leave you without a potential ending or two to this drama:

Here’s one I like, that Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black says has been discussed: Both teams start with the DH, but once a team yanks its starting pitcher it loses the DH, and the pitcher (or a pinch hitter) has to hit in that spot. That would also end up being a way to de-incentivize the use of an opener, while also keeping a lot of the strategy that comes with the pitcher’s spot having to hit.

And there’s this one: Imbue the home-team manager with the power to decide whether the upcoming game will feature the designated hitter or not. His announcement must come three hours prior to the first pitch. This rule would add some strategy and maybe even a measure of suspense—always a good addition to any tale. It gives an edge to the pitchers who can hit, and penalizes those who can’t. Also, the great, aging slugger will still find a place in the dugout for his bat. Concessions to both sides.

Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t.

Thank you for reading

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Nicely done, even as I disagree with the apparent premise.

"Thus tradition does make to leagues of us all"

Some of us *like* the two separate leagues and believe that interleague is an unnecessary abomination. And that non-stop swinging for the fences is not inherently better than watching for the chance that the pitcher will accomplish something with the bat. Honestly, when watching AL games, I lose track of where in the batting order we are. Tougher to do that in a DH-less game.

I don't mind the DH existing, but I prefer the game without it. I promise not to force you to watch 'my baseball', please don't force me to watch yours.
When I first wrote the piece years ago I pretty much said the same thing, that I didn’t mind the two leagues having different rules. Thanks for the comment.
Bruce Sinkula
I really like the Bud Black compromise. It would NOT detract too much from the opener--especially for the road team. They could place the DH 5th or 6th in the batting order and usually not have that spot in the order come up until 4th inning.
More maddening for me is the 3rd time through the batting order boogie-man that haunt some managers. I want to see strategy and a team's depth tested.
I don't know about strategy, but more reliever innings does test a team's depth.
Mark Mancini
That was an enjoyable read, with the cherry on top being the proposal being chatted up by Bud Black. Thank you!
I truly find it incomprehensible that the National League does not have a set of rules in place on January 5th. How can a business operate in such a manner? Meanwhile there is also no indication on the level of attendance that will be allowed during the 2021 season. I keep reading pundits write or speak about the lack of activity in the free agent market but how, for heavens sakes, can a team spend money when it has no indication how much money it is going to have to spend. The players are going to demand 100% of their salary this season and the owners are going to demand something less and this is happening in the last season before a new CBA will be negotiated. It is very realistic to believe that there will not be full seasons played for 3 consecutive years with 2020 already behind us, very little chance of 162 games being played in 2021 and a very, very strong possibility of a work stoppage in 2022. To say that this portends a lot of acrimonious fighting between the owners and the MLBPA, and severe damage to the game is somewhere near the top of all gross understatements.
Alex Patton
Who was your English teacher? I hate to think.
Ha. I had a great one, but he was easily distracted by baseball.
I think - I hope - Alex was making a joke. He was my English teacher in grade school. Glad you liked it.
John Johnston
I vote for Bud Black’s idea. Logical, fair, and it rewards teams who leave their starters in longer.
It's a respect issue.

Pro-DH disrespect anti-DH and vice versa. And both attempt to appeal to why their side is right, and why the other side is wrong. I did the same thing for years, but at some point it occurred to me that this is not arguing about science but about art.

The other side is not wrong for preferring to watch the form of the game that they do.

Some of us prefer the traditional strategy-emphasis game, with a divot at the bottom of the line-up that causes decisions to be made that otherwise would not have to be made.

Some of us prefer the offense-emphasis game, with no such divot, and thus allowing offenses to flourish at their optimal level.

Neither are wrong.

One is more popular than the other according to the most recent (2015 and 2016) scientific polling published on the internet (Public Policy Polling), to the tune of 65% to 25% for pitchers batting, which was 55% to 33% the previous year. (Google it. It's there.)

But respect for the preference of those who embrace the less popular form of the game should still be held high. There should be no one speaking of abolishing for eternity their favored form.

Indeed, in the civilized age, we have been generally increasingly intelligent enough to recognize that what once were considered strictly binary decisions should be, instead, reconsidered in light of plausible compromise, which would allow something closer to "win-win" than "win-total loss."

So while it is understandable that people with money at-stake--owners and players--would weigh this issue in light of that... for those of us who are customers and who are in the media, and for those of us who believe respect trumps disrespect, we ought to be able to see the value/virtue of unanimous agreement behind ***some*** compromise.

Once we agree on respect, aka "compromise," and with that, agree to oppose disrespect, aka "binary choice," then we've agreed on something for the overall good of the game.
Why unify the game? Good question.

What the *Super Bowl* tests:

Which conference's champion is better, and thus, which conference's champion is substantiated as the overall NFL champion.

What the *World Series* tests (i.e., since 1973):

Which form of the game, DH or no DH, is better able to produce a champion that is able to win 4 games before the alternative.

Why is the Super Bowl a scientifically-legitimate, authentic contest for determining a champion, and the World Series not?

Because the National League and American League champions were not the products of the same conditions, there is no actual substantiated overall MLB champion.

Put another way, the Super Bowl is analogous to an elementary school experiment where a child takes two slices of bread, each from a different brand bought the same day and with the same sell-by date, places them side-by-side in the same room and tests to see which one ends up with mold growth first.

Whereas, the World Series is the same, except kept in different rooms though in the same house.

It doesn't totally sabotage the validity of the result, no.

But it does leave unnecessary room for questioning the result, and the test ends up more informing which *room* is more likely to result in first mold growth than it is which brand of bread is.

Hope that helps.

So, yes. Unify baseball.

But. Do not fail to RESPECTFULLY unify baseball.
Simplest compromise is also the one with the least likelihood of unintended consequences, and is also the one with the most built-in precedent (i.e., it's been used in spring training all these years)... HMC, or home manager's choice.

That probably makes HMC the most likely one that would actually get seriously considered, were MLB and players to care about fans uniting behind respect and compromise as essential.

All told, over the course of about 15 years now, I've counted almost 25 different compromise proposals, and probably about 10 of those have received some significant exposure via some former player or manager, or some sports media personality giving it that. Most recently, Jayson Stark of The Athletic endorsed essentially the same idea that is credited to Bud Black above...

...though it was not actually original with either one of them since Tom Tango proposed the same idea in 2010, calling it the My Bodyguard rule.

Neither of those is my personal favorite, though.

Mine is, rather, what is called the Duck Hunter rule (or, the "DH-DH" rule ):

Without wading into the weeds of the details, the basic concept is that pitchers bat as long as there isn't a RISP, or "ducks on the pond." If there is, then the manager can substitute the DH for that pitcher's plate appearance.

That's the basic concept, and I'm content with that. But I could understand if my offense-emphasis enthusiast peers would have contempt for that, and say, "There's too much of a chance that the DH too rarely comes to bat for me to support that one."

So here's a modification on that basic concept that actually both the offense-emphasis and strategy-emphasis enthusiasts would probably find appealing...

The Duck Hunter DH can be inserted ***in place of any batter*** in the order, as long as the condition is met that (a) there are runners in scoring position *and* (b) he hasn't come to the plate in the previous 8 plate appearances (in other words, no one comes to bat more than once in the normal rotation).

Strategy? Offense? Like the old Prego spaghetti sauce commercial used to say, "It's in there!"