Amid the annual discussion about making the designated hitter rule universal in both the National and American league, one teensy point seems constantly to be overlooked.
The National League does not want it.
Not in the foreseeable future.
Could that stance change, say, a decade from now? Two decades? Sure. Few things are forever. At the moment, though, pigs will fly first. There simply is a fundamentally different view of the game in the two leagues. The AL isn't going back. The NL isn't going there.
This opinion is based on conversations with an assortment of baseball officials, both at the corporate and club level. While the topic gets tossed around every year or two, the song remains the same.
National League owners may be opposed to the DH on a personal level, but their larger view is that their fans don't want it. Let's face it, they've been playing baseball a long time in places like St. Louis and Cincinnati, and they're pretty darn pleased with the game just the way it is.
There's a widespread belief in NL cities that their game is better than the AL game. They prefer the strategic intricacies of working around the pitcher's spot in the batting order and see the AL game as less interesting.
If you're ever in one of these discussions, you have plenty of ammunition to argue otherwise. Here's one: NL pitching changes are largely dictated by the batting order rather than the pitcher's performance.
In that way, managing in the AL might actually be tougher because decisions must be based on performance and match-ups rather than when the pitcher's spot in the order comes up. At times, NL changes seem to follow a script. That's a debate you can have until way past closing time, and who doesn't like those?
Besides that, what's wrong with having the DH in only one league? It creates a fundamental difference in the makeup of NL and AL teams, but that's fine, too. It makes for some awkwardness during Interleague Play, but part of what makes watching the two leagues play one another in the regular season so interesting is seeing how, say, an AL team adjusts to games in an NL park.
Are the games really THAT different? Well, maybe slightly. AL teams scored 4.18 runs per game last season, NL teams 3.95. AL teams hit an average of nine more home runs in 2014, but they also stole more bases. NL pitching staffs had slightly lower ERAs, 3.82 to 3.66. So, yes, there is NL baseball and AL baseball.
In the end, one of the best arguments for the DH has been that it extended the careers of some great players. Paul Molitor was primarily a DH for his final eight seasons, and wasn't it worth it seeing that sweet swing for eight more years?
Could Edgar Martinez have had an 18-year career without the DH? David Ortiz, Don Baylor, Jim Thome, Hal McRae and Frank Thomas are among the players who probably had their careers extended by the DH rule. How much better off was the game because of them?
On the other hand, NL fans apparently do not like the idea of an incomplete player. If a pitcher swinging a bat is someone's definition of a complete player, so be it.
Still, the debate is moot. Both leagues are comfortable with their games just the way they are. Both intend to keep them that way.