More Sports:

October 29, 2016

World Series: Divisive DH Rule comes into focus at Wrigley Field

It would sound unthinkable to be on the side of a debate that keeps (arguably) the two most exciting players off in the field during the World Series, right?

But if that same rule had been in place, Friday night’s game, while still highly entertaining, would have lacked a lot of the in-game drama that helped Cleveland take a 1-0 lead over the Chicago Cubs.

We’re talking, of course, about the designated hitter rule.

It’s the rule that was adopted by the American League in 1973. The National League never followed suit.

It’s important to remember that the NL, established in 1876, and the AL, founded in 1901, operated as two separate leagues until they were merged under the commissioner’s office in 2000. And interleague play didn’t begin until 19 years ago (1997), so it actually isn’t that crazy the two leagues played under different rules for so long.

But should they continue to operate under different rules, especially when it has a huge impact on the sport's crown jewel event, the World Series? Isn’t it more than a little odd that both sets of rules are in place, depending on the individual game’s home ballpark?

Commissioner Rob Manfred, Indians manager Terry Francona, and Cubs manager Joe Maddon all addressed the designated hitter rule and its effect on the World Series in a story from long-time Philadelphia-area scribe and writer Jayson Stark on Friday.

As you’d expect, given their different job titles, the NL manager is anti-DH, the AL manager is pro-DH, and the commissioner likes the fact that both leagues operate under different rules, even if it creates confusion during the World Series.

“Even in a week where we have two unbelievable story lines (involving each team), most of the last 24 hours have been consumed by conversations about the designated hitter,” Manfred told “And when people are talking about the game, I think that's a good thing for the game.”

Maddon, who has managed in both leagues like Francona, told the Chicago Tribune last month that he’d rather have both leagues play without a designated hitter.

“I’m not into it," he said. "We scored a lot of runs this year, even with a pitcher (in the lineup). Our run differential is still pretty good (+221). I mean it. If they make any kind of movement, I’d prefer that they’d move to eradicate the DH as opposed to including the DH in the National League. It’s a better game, a more interesting game.”

Because of the financial impact on the game, it difficult to believe the DH would ever be eradicated.

The MLB Players Association, one of the strongest unions in the world, would obviously much rather have the position on every roster. From their perspective, it’s the difference between a player like Carlos Santana (who earned $8.25 million in 2016) having a regular spot on a roster vs. a player not having the chance to make that money with a regular spot on one of the National League’s 15 teams.

Even though MLB’s Basic Agreement expires at the conclusion of the World Series, the DH rule remains such a divisive issue that it’s unlikely to be one that’s altered going into 2017. But, given the players union’s position and a younger generation that often skews toward more offense and less toward old-fashioned tradition, it wouldn’t be surprising if the National League did adopt the DH at some point in, say, the next 20 years, when more of the old guard isn’t in position to make decisions.

The pros and cons have surely been on display in the last 48 hours.

The argument for the DH

A week ago, Kyle Schwarber was barely a thought on anyone’s radar as the Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers readied for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. But he’s suddenly the most talked about player of the World Series, missing nearly seven months recovering from knee surgery only to jump into the Cubs lineup for Game 1 of the World Series (and have a serious impact on that lineup, too).

But because his knee is still rehabbing from surgery, Schwarber was unable to start for the Cubs when the Series shifted from Cleveland to Chicago for Game 3, and the DH rule not in place at the National League venue, Wrigley Field. It’s difficult to imagine the vast majority of fans – and the people in the MLB offices trying to market their game – were happy to see Schwarber limited to one pinch-hit appearance on Friday, as opposed to four plate appearances as the Cubs’ DH.

The DH rule also meant less of Andrew Miller, the game’s most lethal reliever. After striking out three of the four batters he faced in a perfect 1 1/3 innings, Miller’s spot in the batting order came up and Francona pinch hit for his best pitcher in a scoreless game.

The argument against the DH 

Of course it was that same moment, Francona pinch-hitting for Miller, that won the game for the Indians. With the game tied, with runners on first and third with one out, Francona made the smart decision to send Coco Crisp to hit for Miller. Crisp singled to right field, bringing pinch runner Michael Martinez home with the game’s first (and only) run. If Francona had the usage of a designated hitter, he wouldn’t have had to make the decision and Miller could have kept on pitching. 

But what’s the fun in removing that strategy from the game? With a DH, the manager barely has to manage within the game.

And without a DH, the entirety of a club’s roster has a larger impact on the game. Since Miller was forced out, more of the Indians bullpen was tested to get crucial outs. Since the pitcher’s spot came around every ninth hitter, an American League bench that’s rarely utilized all season had a real role, from Crisp’s game-winning hit, Martinez’s game-winning run, and the various other maneuvers (double switches, player position changes) Francona had to make through the course of the game. Otherwise, with a DH, you might as well operate with a 14 or 15-man roster.

And while it meant less of Miller on Friday, pinch hitting for him could mean more of Miller this weekend: he only threw 17 pitches in Game 3.

The DH rule isn’t likely to change in the near future. But with all of the drama in the last few days on the game’s grandest stage, you can understand why people on both sides of the argument are passionate about the divisive issue.

On This Day in Philadelphia Sports History 

Philadelphia waited a quarter century for this moment. (And it's still waiting for the rest of its teams). 

Follow Ryan on Twitter: @ryanlawrence21