A number of free agents—Nelson Cruz and Marcell Ozuna among them—have been waiting for MLB to decide whether it will adopt a universal DH for the upcoming 2021 season. After months of radio silence, a resolution was finally reached Monday with the Players Association denying MLB’s DH proposal, according to Jon Heyman of MLB Network. Heyman didn’t share any insight as to why the union rejected that particular plan, though apparently the designated hitter was offered to the players in exchange for an expanded postseason.
In the absence of an 11th-hour deal—spring training is slated to begin next month—it appears MLB will move forward without a universal DH or an expanded playoff field, despite the league employing both last year. That means National League pitchers will resume batting with MLB reverting to its usual 10-team playoff format in 2021.
The apparent disconnect between MLB (aka, commissioner Rob Manfred and the 30 owners he represents) and its players has been building for quite some time. It took months to negotiate last year’s COVID-abbreviated 2020 season with resentment lingering even after a compromise was reached. It seems the two sides are already looking ahead to next winter when MLB’s current collective bargaining agreement expires. MLB last weathered a work stoppage in 1994-95, which resulted in the league having to scrap the 1994 World Series.
While it might be an exaggeration to say the league is fighting for its life, baseball is certainly grappling with its share of uncertainty stemming from COVID and other factors including reduced television viewership, shrinking attendance figures and an aging audience. Beyond those hurdles, the league has also suffered from a lack of marketable stars, highly regionalized fan bases, endless games and innovations like launch angle, infield shifts and “bullpenning,” trends that have rendered MLB’s on-field product almost unwatchable to casual fans.
What’s led to this division is painfully obvious. As surmised by former Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, the standoff between players and owners is about one thing and one thing only—money.
A universal DH would certainly appeal to fans (let’s be honest—nobody wants to see pitchers bat) and expanding the postseason would likely have a similar effect. Unfortunately, a middle ground is proving hard to find with neither side budging.