PHOENIX – It was an impressive holdout for the National League, which made it nearly 50 years staving off a full-time designated hitter rule that the American League implemented before the 1973 season.
“We’ll continue to play by baseball rules,” NL President Chub Feeney famously said back then.
Well, the rules have finally changed.
Among the most noticeable switches in MLB for the 2022 season will be that all 30 teams will use the designated hitter, eliminating pitchers hitting and changing one of the long-standing different quirks between the two leagues.
The extra hitter won’t be a completely new concept in the NL: The league used the DH in the coronavirus-shortened season in 2020, in interleague games when visiting AL parks and in the postseason. There’s also the reality that nearly every level of baseball – from high school to college to the minor leagues – usually uses the DH.
But the change is still substantial, and it means some parts of the game will almost certainly become endangered or vanish – think sacrifice bunting, double switches and a Bartolo Colon blast. On the positive side, it also could add a jolt of offense to a game that needs it. MLB teams combined for a .244 batting average last season, which was the sport’s lowest mark since 1972 — pitchers didn’t help, combining to barely hit over .100.
There are certainly some pitchers upset that they don’t get to swing the bat. Zack Greinke produced two singles in last year’s World Series, including one as a pinch-hitter for Houston.
But Diamondbacks infielder Josh Rojas said he didn’t expect the change to be a big adjustment.
“I do think it’ll help with run production on the National League side,” Rojas said. “Having that pitcher in the nine-hole kind of cut off some rallies sometimes, or having to bunt him over instead of swinging it. … I don’t mind the DH.”
The DH position could also provide more jobs for the sport’s 30-somethings, who might not be as fleet in the field but can still swing the bat at a high level. Here are a handful of free agents who could benefit most from having the DH available for all teams:
Nick Castellanos: The 30-year-old has developed into one of the best all-around hitters in the game after batting .309 with 38 doubles and 34 homers in a 2021 All-Star campaign for the Cincinnati Reds. He’s a little shaky defensively in the infield and outfield, but is in his prime offensively and shouldn’t slow down any time soon.
Kyle Schwarber: The square-shaped masher has always been a little better in the batter’s box than in the field. The 2021 All-Star smacked 32 homers last season and the 29-year-old is an on-base machine when he’s healthy. There are a lot of teams that would like that production, especially knowing he doesn’t have to spend 162 games in the outfield.
Freddie Freeman: The Atlanta Braves star is a solid first baseman, but he’s not getting any younger at 32 years old. As he looks for a big contact in free agency, NL teams will be happy to know that Freeman’s bat can remain in the lineup even if he slows down some in the field.
Nelson Cruz: Now past his 30s, Cruz is proving that 40-somethings can still swing the bat, too. The 41-year-old has spent a huge chunk of his career at DH in the American League. Now there are 15 more teams in play who certainly wouldn’t mind adding his presence in the middle of the lineup. He’s got 449 career homers.
Eddie Rosario: He’s just OK defensively and almost never walks, but when Rosario swings the bat, good things can happen. The Braves picked him up for the stretch run last season and was the NLCS MVP after batting .560 with three homers against the Dodgers.