When Commissioner Selig announced earlier this week that he had created a special committee to address on the field matters, more than a few latched onto the idea that finally, the issue of the designated-hitter would be addressed.
The discussion began after Braves president John Schuerholz and Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, both of whom joined Selig during his conference call to announce the committee’s formation, were asked about what issue in the game had been discussed the most over the years. Both men cited the designated-hitter as being a topic of debate.
That led to a Phil Rogers column in the Chicago Tribune (MLB sets up system that could ban DH) in which Rogers opined:
Is the designated hitter rule finally on its way out with Major League Baseball?
To be fair, it's premature to ask such a potentially provocative question. But thanks to Commissioner Bud Selig's decision to turn recommendations for on-field matters over to a newly created version of the NFL's Competition Committee, the DH rule could face its first real threat since the American League accepted it permanently for the 1976 season, after a three-year experiment that began as a way to create run scoring and increase attendance.
"When I was in the American League, I was in favor of the designated hitter," said Schuerholz, whose teams won World Series in Kansas City and Atlanta. "In the National, I've maybe taken another position. Our game has proved it can succeed and flourish with the different approaches in the different leagues."
La Russa added, "I think the game is more complete without the DH.”
As I was also on the conference call, this is what Rogers didn’t add from Schuerholz’ comments:
“From my standpoint point, the designated hitter has been the issue that has lasted the longest and has been the most profound topic,” said Schuerholz. “That’s been the one topic of interest for me.”
When asked if he thought there needed to be one way of approaching the DH – having it uniform across both leagues – Schuerholz didn’t believe that was necessarily the case.
“I don’t think [the DH] has impacted the league negatively, at all, so the answer is, no.”
But beyond whether the panel of 14 individuals that will make up MLB’s version of the NFL Competition Committee might bring up the DH issue, the fact is, if Selig doesn’t want to address what the panel recommends, he doesn’t have to.
Selig said during the conference call that this was his baby. He made all the calls. He picked all the members. The panel will advise Selig (and one assumes, if he follows through with his retirement talk, whoever is the next commissioner after 2012), but have no authority.
So, back to Rogers’ column, the key word to focus on in the title is “could”.
While there’s an outstanding case to be made that the issue of the DH needs to be uniformly applied across the NL and AL, that issue will most likely be a backburner topic for Selig. He repeated, more than once, his concern for the pace of the game, a topic that gained traction (again) after the World Series saw catchers spend nearly as much time on the mound as pitchers with a mind numbing number of in-game catcher/pitcher conferences. That seems to be the first item that will be addressed, because Selig will oversee the committee.
In other words, what Bud wants, Bud is likely to get. Hopefully the DH is high on his list, because whether the committee’s members want it addressed, or not, it will ultimately be up to Selig to enforce it. Don’t hold your breath that that occurs on his watch.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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