Count Ryan Zimmerman among those in the game who think Major League Baseball might want to get around to making decisions on the rules for the 2021 season sooner than later, especially when it comes to the designated hitter in the National League. Zimmerman, 36, opted out of the 2020 campaign out of concern over his family’s health. He signed another one-year deal with the Nationals this winter and he’s going to serve as the backup first baseman in Washington (behind Josh Bell) and a right-hand bench bat for Nationals’ manager Davey Martinez’s club, but as of now no one knows if there will be a DH in the NL as there was last year in MLB’s 60-game COVID campaign.
Zimmerman talked earlier this month about taking a reduced role and schedule in what will be his 16th season in the nation’s capital in 2021, after the Nationals acquired Bell from the Pittsburgh Pirates, but would that change if the NL had a DH again this year?
“I train and I prepare myself to play every day,” Zimmerman told reporters on a Zoom call after his $1M deal with the club was announced, “... so if something were to happen, or if something does happen and I have to start playing five or six days a week, I’ll be ready to play. Let me be clear, that’s not the plan. That’s not going to happen.”
MLB offered a universal DH if the union agreed to expanded playoffs. Union rebuffed the deal, which included extra money for players, so at least for now there will be no universal DH.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) January 25, 2021
Not without the DH, because if there’s no designated hitter and Zimmerman is in the lineup that much, something has gone wrong.
“If that happens we’re in a bad spot,” Zimmerman said. “I’d rather play the games that I’m supposed to play and Josh hits 35 home runs and we win 95 games and I think that’s the better plan, but I prepare myself to play every day, and I think anyone you ever talk to — I would hope would say that, but I think the DH is enticing. You think that would help a lot of guys on our team. You could rotate some people through, you could have sort of an off day without having an off day. Even on off days, I’m going to have to prepare myself to be ready to play, because if you’re going to come in on double-switches, for me I have to kind of do some stuff before I come into the game. I unfortunately can’t just jump off the bench like I used to be able to and go play. But it would be nice to have some clarification on the rules for the championship season since it is January [23rd]— whatever it is now, so that would be much appreciated, but that’s a whole nother conversation, but thanks for getting me in trouble ... I appreciate it.”
Then there’s the whole other conversation about having fans in stands. Of course, Zim and the rest of the league would prefer playing in front of full ballparks, but the circumstances which led MLB to play in empty stadiums up until the postseason last year are still an issue, and there is nothing definitive yet on how things will be handled in the 2021 season with an ongoing pandemic.
The union's perspective has been the universal DH should not be tied to expanded playoffs. The MLB proposal included the universal DH and the expanded playoffs; the union turned it down.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) January 25, 2021
Zimmerman was clear, however, that he’s not coming back for some sort of victory lap after the club’s World Series win in 2019, he’s coming back to play, and like last year, the safety of the fans, players, stadium workers, and everyone else involved in putting on games is of the utmost importance.
“I think first and foremost,” Zimmerman said, “safety is No. 1 for us and for the fans and for everyone.
“I think me coming back this year was in no means for a victory lap sort of thing, I think you guys kind of know me better than that.
“I appreciate this fan base and this city. Much has been made about that, we’ve grown up together and all that kind of stuff, but this is about coming back because I still think I can play the game at high level and I still think I can help the team win.
“If I can kind of settle into this role, and do well this year, by no means does this have to be my last year, at least that’s the way I’m looking at it.
“I”m not coming back to get a last at bat in front of fans. I mean, I’m fine with how my career would have ended if I didn’t come back.”
That’s not to say that he doesn’t understand the value of having fans in the stands, both for the players, and for the fans themselves.
“I think we feed off of the crowd’s energy, we enjoy playing in front of people, that’s what we love to do. And if you can safely do it, I think not only does it help us, I think the mental health side of it, to let fans come into a stadium and relax for three hours and be outside and get some fresh air, I think that can help them as well through these times that we’re still going through,” Zimmerman said.
“I hope we can all figure out how to do it. I think there’s a way to do it. You have to worry about the safety of everyone involved.
“I would be shocked I think if at some point this year there’s not fans in the stands. Hopefully I’m right, I think everyone wants there to be.
“I would imagine at some point, hopefully early on, I think they’re doing it like I said in football, so hopefully we can follow their model and get people in the stands from the very beginning.”