Could the designated hitter disappear after next season?
Not likely, but that's exactly what baseball owners may propose this winter to spur the union into agreeing to the eventual elimination of the DH.
Management negotiator Randy Levine told the union on Aug. 29 that owners would like to phase out the DH, which has been used by the American League since 1973. In exchange, Levine offered to expand active rosters from 25 to 26.
Players consider the proposal ludicrous.
DHs average about $2.7 million in salary, according to the union's latest study, more than twice baseball's average. And most DHs are veterans, a group that has considerable influence with the union's executive board and staff.
Under baseball's collective bargaining agreement, owners have the right to unilaterally change playing rules with one year advance notice. Levine may use this rule to formally propose the disappearance of the DH in '99.
The union would respond with a grievance, arguing the DH is more than a playing rule and that the extra roster spot probably would go to a young and low-paid player.
"It just aggravates matters," union head Donald Fehr said last week, adding he wasn't concerned.
In a poll conducted for owners last July, 45 percent of fans said the DH should be eliminated, 34 percent said it should apply to both leagues and 15 percent said it should remain in one league only.
AL owners took a straw poll on the DH in September 1995 and tied 7-7 on its elimination.
Acting commissioner Bud Selig, whose Milwaukee Brewers are switching from the AL to the NL next season, hasn't commented on the subject.
"I'll let Randy Levine handle that," he said.
TAX TIME: Final results will be in next month, but it's not too early to examine the effect of baseball's luxury tax.
Based on not-quite final figures that don't include bonuses, the New York Yankees will pay the top tax of about $4.2 million, followed by Baltimore at $3.2 million, Cleveland at $2.1 million, Atlanta at $1.5 million and Florida at $400,000.
What was the effect on rosters?
New York might have re-signed closer John Wetteland if it didn't have to worry about a tax. Atlanta might not have traded David Justice and Marquis Grissom to Cleveland for Kenny Lofton.
Other than that, it's hard to speculate.
"Certainly it's better than what existed before, which was nothing," Selig said. "What actual effect did it have? It's too early yet. I need to look at all the numbers."
For once, Selig and Fehr agreed on something.
"I have no idea yet," Fehr said. "I would be surprised if it had much effect competitively on the field, but I haven't attempted to make a conclusion."
ROSE REINSTATEMENT: When Pete Rose applied for reinstatement to baseball on Sept. 26, he said "the ball is in their court. I just hope they approach it with an open mind."
Although the ruling executive council has had several telephone conference calls since then and met for about 10 hours in Phoenix on Nov. 17, Rose's application hasn't been discussed at all.
Rose, who agreed to a lifetime ban in 1989 because of gambling, wanted to be reinstated in time to be on the 1998 Hall of Fame ballot, and his name can't be listed as long as he's on baseball's permanently ineligible list. Ballots go out in December and Rose's name won't be on them.
Why did Rose want to push to be on this year's ballot?
While Gary Carter is the top first-year eligible, several stars will appear on the ballot for the first time in 1999, including Nolan Ryan, George Brett, Robin Yount, Carlton Fisk and Dale Murphy.
Given Selig's past thoughts on the subject, it's impossible to envision him approving Rose's reinstatement unless Rose finally admits he gambled on baseball.
ACTING COMMISSIONER FOR LIFE: Colorado Rockies chairman Jerry McMorris, the head of baseball's commissioner search committee, says he still is working to find a permanent commissioner.
There's little doubt among most owners that Selig will either remain as acting commissioner for a long time or become the permanent commissioner.
McMorris has said he hopes to present a candidate for a vote when owners meet Jan. 13-15 in Phoenix.
"Jerry and I have talked about that," Selig said. "We haven't set a timetable."
WINTER MEETINGS: Baseball hasn't had full winter meetings since 1992. After that gathering in Louisville, Ky., Selig and the executive council ordered teams to keep their general managers away from the winter meetings, draining them of all news value.
Selig and Chicago White Sox Jerry Reinsdorf were angered that agents and free-agent signings dominated the meetings, not trades.
A result of the GMs ban, most reporters don't cover the winter meetings any more. Next month's session in New Orleans will be attended only by minor league officials, major league traveling secretaries and a few others.
However, the attention given to the expansion draft may cause Selig to lift the GM ban for 1998.
"I thought we got a lot of positive publicity," Selig said. "Having a day like that makes you rethink things."
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