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Big League Stew

Move over, steroids: Why the universal DH will be baseball’s next big controversy

Big League Stew

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In the future, all 30 teams will receive a Harold Baines clone. (Getty)

There exists in this universe a type of pitiable creature who will take any opportunity to tell you why he doesn't watch baseball any more even though he used to be a self-described "big fan."

You know exactly who I'm talking about. He's the type of guy who says he hasn't been to a game since the strike that apparently ripped his heart out even though there has been plenty of time to heal — a child born in August 1994 will be able to cast a vote in the election this fall.

He's also the type of guy who can't get over the size of player salaries that have risen with revenues, the cost of ballpark concessions no one's forcing him to buy or that they just don't make ballplayers (or men!) like Joe DiMaggio anymore. He's the type of guy you feel sorry for because he can't see past it all and just enjoy the sport for what it is. All of us have things we don't like about baseball, but we get past them anyway.

I bring this up because it looks like this aforementioned strawman is about to get a new excuse for why he doesn't like baseball and sooner rather than later. The adoption of the universal designated hitter seemed like an inevitability ever since the new CBA greenlighted two 15-team leagues and year-round interleague play. Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci pushed it further this week by quoting an "influential source" who believes we're 10 or fewer years away from 15 additional jobs being created for old sluggers who can't play defense any more.

"No one believes the National League will adopt the DH imminently," Verducci wrote. "Rather, the thinking is that baseball, as it continues its progressive era, has embarked on a path in which it seems inevitable that all of its teams play by the same rules."Bud Selig tells Verducci that he'll be "long gone" in 10 years, but I'd be surprised if Selig doesn't try to get the ball rolling on the DH before his new self-imposed retirement date in 2014. Once we start playing interleague year-round in 2013, the silliness of teams continually switching between one set of rules and another is going to quickly become apparent. And since there's no way the union would ever approve getting rid of 15 jobs for those old sluggers who can't play defense, we're going all American League rules, all the time.

Make no mistake: This is going to be a huge controversy on par with steroid users in the Hall of Fame, losing an entire World Series to a labor stoppage and Pete Rose's lifetime ban from baseball. Unlike adding an extra two wild cards or telling a team like the Astros to move to another league, people will have very long and lasting opinions about this. They will not initially disagree and then move on to the next thing once it becomes clear there's no way of curbing progress they don't agree with. Nope, people will dig their heels in on this one and take a stance they might not ever leave. It is definitely going to cost the sport some fans.

And, for the first time, I might finally be able to see where those old cranks are coming from because this change isn't about something that's unrelated to the onfield product. This would be an irreversible change to the way the game is played without the convenient escape hatch that was provided to traditionalists when the DH was only legislated by one league in 1973.

Not that I am a staunch supporter of pitchers hitting or not hitting. Like Joe Posnanski writes,  "What I really like is that one league has the DH, while the other league does not." The DH has been around for almost 40 years, creating multiple generations of fans who had the ability to experience two different types of baseball. If we go to a universal DH — and then maybe, as Rob Neyer suggests, a radical realignment based on geography and even more playoff teams — we're going to be looking at a sport that's run no differently than the NBA or NHL.

Perhaps that's just the cold hard facts of evolution as they pertain to sports business, but you can see why this is set up to be such a hot-button issue. Once National League pitchers standing in the batter's box becomes a distant memory, it's a slippery slope to so many other changes that would make the sport different than the one we're watching today. I'll eventually adapt, of course, but the thought of temporarily becoming one of those cranks I pity so much makes me a little bit cranky right now.

What do you think?

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