WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball Players Association chief Tony Clark said Tuesday that support for a universal designated hitter rule is increasing among the union’s membership.
“It’s gaining momentum,’’ Clark said during a news conference with members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. “We’ve had a number of discussions about that and we’ll have a lot more.”
This apparently was news to baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, who followed Clark to the stage and threw a wet blanket over the possibility that the National League would adopt the DH rule anytime soon.
“I think since I became involved, and this may give too much credit to my deal-making ability, I could have made a deal with the MLPBA on extending the DH to the National League,’’ Manfred said. “I think that’s been a pretty consistent position of the players since 1987, so I don’t think there’s a real headline there.
“The most likely outcome at this point would be the status quo.”
Manfred went on to point out a universal DH rule would have a permanent consequence that wouldn’t be universally supported by National League fans.
“Extinction is a bad word,’’ he said. “It’s a harsh word. It’s a very final word. If you get rid of the DH in the National League, there is a brand of baseball — the non-DH brand — is done … not played anywhere it’s meaningful anymore. I think there is going to be some hesitation in that respect.”
Free agent freeze-out revisited
The players union remains very disturbed about the way the free-agent market ground to a halt last winter, which has led to a more contentious relationship with ownership.
“What players saw last winter is that their free agent rights are under attack,’’ Clark said.
The market seemed to go dormant after a few free agents signed in November. Most veteran players had to wait until late in the offseason or through spring training to find a job.
Manfred countered that the slowdown was just the market determining the value of the players.
“Direct attack connotes some sort of purposeful behavior,’’ he said. “The only purposeful behavior that took place in the free-agent market last year was that our clubs carefully analyzed the available players and made individual decisions as to what they thought those players were worth.”
He also said that he believes that at the end of the year, the performance of those players will reflect the value placed on them.
Some parts of the pre-game All-Star celebration had to be moved back Tuesday afternoon because of a band of severe thunderstorms swept through the D.C. area, but the field was in fine shape after the tarp came off and the game was expected to start on time.