Whenever this time of year rolls around with its cooling weather and its shorter days, my thoughts turn to the seemingly endless baseball season. Why are we still playing what is supposed to be a summer game well into the fall?
Bud Selig and MLB officials have taken steps to change the current playoff format, ensuring that the World Series will end before November, barring some unusual circumstance. But frankly, that change isn’t enough.
I’ve been considering the current state of the game and the length of the season, and have come up with some ideas on how they might be improved.
1. Cut back the number of games in the MLB season.
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From 1904 until 1961, the MLB season comprised 154 games. Granted, there were fewer franchises back then, but the 154 were still more than enough games to adequately determine a champion. In addition, only 2 teams made it to the post-season; the best American League club played the best National League Club in the World Series. There were no Divisional or League Championship Series. No Wild Cards or division winners.
At most, a team might play 161 games– its full 154-game slate plus up to 7 World Series matchups. Compare that to the modern game, where a World Series champ could play in 183 games. The 162-game schedule is long enough on its own, but when you add up to 3 7-game playoff series, you’re talking about a truly bloated season.
To make matters worse, Selig is now open to the idea of expanding the playoffs to include more teams from each league. This is a terrible idea for a number of reasons, but the financial motivation to make it happen might well trump common sense.
If MLB did expand the post-season, it would likely mean a total of 12 or even 16 post-season contenders. That would in turn add at least another round to the current format. We’ve already moved from 1 series (World Series) to 7: 2 ALDS, 2 NLDS, the ALCS, the NLCS, and the WS. Expansion would probably mean a Wild Card Series as well, upping this total to 9 or 11.
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Teams could theoretically play upwards of 190 games. Maybe even approach the 200-game mark. That would be sheer madness.
Already, the MLB season is too long. We’ve seen games in early Arpil disrupted by snow. We’ve seen players looking more like cross-country skiiers than baseballers when they take the field in November. This is a warm-weather game, and trifling with Mother Nature in the colder months is an obvious mistake.
More games mean more dollars, but at some point greed has to be set aside. To be honest, I think we already passed that point. At a minimum, baseball needs to return to the 154-game schedule. But if we’re on the verge of a 12 or 16-team playoff, even 154 games are too many.
This isn’t about preserving the purity of the game. It’s about keeping players healthy and ensuring that the season is played under appropriate conditions. And let’s face facts: even the most ardent of fans has had his fill of baseball by October. 6 months is a heck of a long season for any sport.
If I had my way, MLB would stay with 8 playoff teams, and trim the regular season schedule. I think 150 games is a nice round number. At 6 games and 1 off day per week, that equates to 25 weeks. Add in the All-Star Break– which, by the way, is something else I’d prefer to eliminate)– and you’re still at fewer than 26 weeks of baseball.
If games started at the beginning of April, the regular season would end in mid-September. The playoffs would be over by mid-October. The chances of facing untenable temperatures would decrease dramatically, and the game would make a lot more sense.
This idea seems like something the MLB Players’ Association would get behind; fewer games mean less wear and tear. But owners and the leagues would certainly resist. To them I would say that sometimes, less really is more. They should not only be aiming for quality over quantity, they should also be keeping fans engaged. Giving us a glut of baseball won’t increase interest, even if it does put a few more dollars in pockets.
My suggested reduction dovetails nicely with another idea.
2. Move the NFL schedule so that there’s less overlap between the sports.
Right now, September is a crowded month, chock full of early-season football and playoff-run baseball. It’s an embarrassment of riches for fans. But we all pay a steep price when the sports wasteland of February rolls around. No disrespect to the NHL or NBA or to college basketball– all of which draw good numbers of spectators– but the weeks that follow the Superbowl and precede March Madness are torture. Bleak days, indeed.
We can fix that.
Assuming 19 weeks of games, the NFL regular season would run from October through mid-February, all perfect football months. Crisp air, dropping temps…even some snow. The playoffs would extend through mid-March, and as the Superbowl ended, the NCAA Tournament would be gearing up.
Talk about sports fan nirvana. That would be year-round bliss– moving from MLB to NFL to the NCAA Tourney back to MLB with nary a break.
What do think Bud? Roger? Can we make this work?
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