MLB ratified a new CBA today, effective for the next five years. Among the changes are a full HGH testing program for players (finally some peace of mind for those that cant forget the steroid era) and a lot of changes on the financial side, aiming for a better competitive balance.
The biggest change for baseball fans, however, is the addition of two wild card teams, and the effect that has on the baseball season. For starters, the team that once had an equal chance, as a wild card, to advance past the division series is now blocked by a one game, winner-take-all slugfest that will see a spectacular season end for one team in the blink of an eye.
There is value to this decision though, as that extra game provides a much greater incentive for a lot more fans to come out to a lot more ballparks. That’s fine. What I can’t stand is the residuals of this extra playoff ‘series’. As a companion to the new structure, the Astros will move to the American League in 2013, balancing the leagues at 15 a piece and allowing exactly 1/3 of each league to qualify for the playoffs. The result of this is an increase in interleague play. Like, every day interleague play.
Gone is the idea that interleague takes place at a certain time of the season, as AL-NL clashes will occur from Game 1 to Game 162. Gone is the thrill (in my opinion) of those few weeks in the summer where your favorite team enters unfamiliar territory, testing themselves against the best (and worst) of the other guys. And, most importantly, gone will be the most defining contrast between the two styles of baseball: the Designated Hitter.
DH’s are not a priority for NL teams; they are merely bench players who get a spot in the starting lineup. For the AL team, a trip to an NL park means no rest for your aging superstars, no masterful 1-9 lineup design (the pitcher in the 9 spot is basically a black hole for your 7-9 hitters), and no free innings for your pitchers. The dynamic that makes the two leagues so different, and attracts people to the brand of baseball played in each league, is basically going away. From here on (from what I can gather) all 30 clubs will need to prepare their bench to provide both solid players top to bottom (something many American League teams overlook) while still having at least one or two players capable of hitting well enough to be a part-time DH.
As a result, I can see (and predict) a heavy disadvantage, likely for NL teams, over the course of the season, because they will be starting bench players at the DH spot, while AL teams are paying big bucks for that spot in their order. And now, teams will need to play two types of baseball over the entire 162 game season.
I guess if you want….you could just install the DH into the National League. People have lobbied for that for a long time, and it seems inevitable. I am a huge fan of NL baseball, and the nuances that make it what it is. I won’t stop watching baseball if the NL adopts the DH, but it makes a part of the game that is as intriguing and interesting as it is frustrating disappear. I hope, for baseballs sake, that this never happens.