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National League more open to adopting DH rule

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred speaks during a news conference at a meeting of MLB owners on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016, in Coral Gables, Fla. Photo Credit: AP / Lynne Sladky

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Enjoy those Bartolo Colon hacks while you still can, because as early as 2017, seeing pitchers at the plate could be a thing of the past, like the Polo Grounds or the Montreal Expos.

Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged Thursday that the idea of the National League adopting the designated hitter is gaining momentum among MLB owners. And with the current collective-bargaining agreement set to expire on Dec. 1, 2016, there remains the very real possibility that the DH finally will be approved as the universal rule in MLB.

“Twenty years ago, when you talked to National League owners about the DH, you’d think you were talking some sort of heretical comment,” Manfred said Thursday at the quarterly owners meetings. “But we have a newer group. There’s been turnover. And I think our owners in general have demonstrated a willingness to change the game in ways that we think would be good for the fans, always respecting the history and traditions of the sport.”

Other than the popularity among more traditionally-minded fans of allowing pitchers to hit, the reasons for continuing to do so seem to be dwindling. The expansion of interleague play during the regular season has further eroded the fading distinctions between the NL and AL, which has employed the DH since 1973.

There is a growing chorus to have all 30 teams operate under the same rules — not only between the lines but in terms of how they construct rosters. Adding a universal DH also would help protect pitchers — MLB’s most expensive commodities — from doing unnecessary damage to themselves with an unfamiliar activity.

There’s little doubt the union would approve, as the DH expansion could add more high-paying jobs and give players more options. It’s just a matter of how much support the MLB owners bring to the negotiating table for the next CBA.

“I do think that there’s a certain purity to the idea that everybody plays by the same rules,” Manfred said. “I think the significance of that purity goes up when you have interleague play every day, right? Number two, pitchers who don’t hit on a regular basis probably are more likely to have a problem than pitchers who do. So that’s an issue.”

Manfred did give a nod to his predecessor, Bud Selig, by citing his efforts to mesh the leagues together. But Selig had been more of a traditionalist in wanting to keep the National League free of the DH through the end of his tenure, and there remains an element of that. In this case, however, that hurdle might be ready to be cleared.

“The biggest remnant of league identity is the difference between DH and no DH,” Manfred said. “And I think that’s a significant issue. I really do. I think it’s an important issue for us. We may get over that. I’m not saying it’s not possible. But it is a significant issue on the other side of the scale.”

Trade deadline moved. With July 31 falling on a Sunday this season, Manfred announced that the non-waiver trade deadline will be pushed back to Aug. 1, but still at 4 p.m. “We don’t think it will be the end of modern civilization to do it one day later,” Manfred said, “and probably much better for the clubs.”

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