By Sean McAdam
CSNNE.com Red Sox Insider Follow @sean_mcadam
BOSTON -- The Red Sox are among a handful of American League teams unhappy over the prospect of losing the use of their designated hitter in interleague road games, maintaining that it puts them at a competitive disadvantage.
Their complaints, however, seem to have fallen on deaf ears. In conversations with several high-ranking baseball officials, it's clear that interleague play and the divide between the leagues on the DH are both here to stay.
Beginning Friday in Pittsburgh, the Sox will play three straight series -- for a total of nine games -- in N.L. parks, meaning that there is not an obvious spot in the lineup for David Ortiz, who leads the team in homers and is third in RBI.
In recent years, Terry Francona has had other options, with corner infielders Mike Lowell and Kevin Youkilis, along with Ortiz, being used in two of every three games in N.L. parks. It worked because Youkilis, the starting first baseman at the time, was also able to play third. But now, with Adrian Gonzalez the starter at first and unable to play third, that's no longer an option. So the Sox face the prosect of playing Gonzalez out of position in the outfield or not using Ortiz at all.
"That's not right,'' Francona has said on more than one occasion.
But there's not much the Red Sox can do about it, either.
"We don't like it,'' said Red Sox CEO and president Larry Lucchino. "It's an undeserible arrangement, obviously. Playing nine straight interleague road games has happened to us before and there's only so much we can do. Every American League team experiences this at one time or another.''
There would seem to be only two solutions going forward: league uniformity on the DH issue, or allowing the use of the DH in all interleague games, regardless of site.
The former, at least, would need to be collectively bargained. The current collective bargaining agreement expires this December and low-level negotiations betweeen the owners and Players Association have already begun.
But according to one high-ranking baseball official with knowledge of the situation, no American League team has ever proposed uniformity between the leagues, a statement confirmed by multiple sources.
"The issue,'' said Lucchino, "has been largely treated as a fait accompli . . . There hasn't been any concerted effort to mount a challenge to the DH discrepency.''
Introduced in the American Leauge in 1973, the separate-but-equal aspect of the DH rule took on a new dimension when interleague play was introduced in 1997.
Teams like the Red Sox argue that they're being penalized by fielding the team they've contructed only 153 times, while having to adjust in the other nine.
There exist some hard-liners in the National League who are dead-set against expansion of the DH -- to any degree.
One industry official said some owners actually enjoy the controversy set off by the DH debate, since it highlights the N.L.'s heritage and purity after a period in which the lines of distinction between the leagues has been blurred by the elimination of league offices, the introduction of interleague play and the uniformity of umpiring crews.
The one body intent on preserving -- and perhaps expanding -- the DH is the Players Association, which has fought any hint of elimination of the spot, largely on economic reasons. The PA doesn't want to see the DH aboloished because it has historically provided high-paying salaries for veteran sluggers such as David Ortiz, Vladimir Guerrero and Jim Thome.
One club official speculated that the PA could push the issue in the current CBA talks, but would have to be prepared to give the N.L. owners something in return.
Ortiz, who faces the prospect of limited playing time in the coming weeks, said he expects the DH rule to eventually expand, but not for aesthetic or competitive reasons.
"There's a lot of pitchers getting injured while hitting or running the bases,'' he said, "and a lot of uncomfortable situations. We had Clay Buchholz getting injured on the basepaths in San Francisco last season. You don't want to have your pitchers getting hurt like that.
"So I think, in time, they're going to have a real hitter performing in the pitcher's spot. They started doing it in the All-Star Game, which I think is a good idea. I think they're watching it pretty close and not too far away from now, I think teams are going to ask for a change. They don't want their pitchers going down with injuries related to hitting.''