Have you looked at the calendar recently? It’s October 28. Halloween is three days away. November is four. The NFL regular season is more than halfway over. And yet we’re only four games into a World Series that’s going to take at least six and quite possibly seven games to decide.
This isn’t the natural order of things. Yes, baseball really is unlike any other sport in that (a) teams can play almost everyday and (b) need to play everyday if you’re going to determine who is the best. And yes, I love this fact, as do many others. The sport is simply too fluky to play only 80 or so games like they do in the NHL or NBA.
That being said, do you really need 162 games over the course of six months to figure out who is the best, and then stage a month-long postseason tournament? No. You don’t. And today I’m going to tell you why the season needs to be shortened. So sit back and put your debating hat on. (You do have a debating hat, don’t you? No, it’s just me?) Now click those arrows.
Let's get this straight: I'm not a baseball hater. I love baseball, and would consider myself a pretty hardcore fan. Every year I feel all warm and fuzzy when pitchers and catchers report to spring training, and I can easily waste 45 minutes looking at obscure statistics. Moreover, I love it when baseball is the only major pro sport in the middle of the summer. There's nothing I'd rather do on a Wednesday night in July that sit in front of a fan with a cold one and watch a ballgame.
But here's the thing: when my team is out of it, I completely lose interest by the middle of August. When you love the game and you watch it almost everyday, you're going to get sick of it if the games in August aren't any more meaningful than the games in April.
So yeah, this is a big problem with the 162-game baseball season: even the most ardent fans are going to get burned out after a while.
9. Even Hardcore Fans Burn Out
Meanwhile, more casual baseball fans just lose interest.
Remember when everyone was doing the "Harlem Shake"? Seems like it was a couple of year ago, right? Well, no. That was back in February. FEBRUARY! Our attention span as a society is not so great. We get excited about something, we do it a lot, and then we get sick of it and forget it.
This is what happens with casual baseball fans. Sure, if their team is good, they can stay interested. But if they're team is just mediocre, they're going to get excited about whatever comes along next. And, well, speaking of which...
8. Casual Fans Space Out
College football starts at the end of August. NFL football starts at the beginning of September. Do the people who run Major League Baseball know know how much people freaking love football? Why are they trying to compete with that?
I'm not saying MLB should avoid the NFL season altogether. There's no way they could wrap things up by September. I'm just saying it's harder for baseball to stay in the spotlight once the football comes back, so why would they ever want to compete with it for longer than absolutely necessary?
And that's not even to mention the NHL and NBA. Those leagues don't have anywhere near the gravitational pull of the NFL, but they each have their die-hards who drop baseball like a bad habit once their seasons get underway.
Shorten the season. Get to the really exciting stuff—the pennant races and playoffs—as soon as possible. Don't compete with the NFL or other leagues any longer than you have to. MLB gets the summer all to itself. Don't be greedy.
7. Football (And Maybe Basketball and Hockey)
There is and always has been only one argument for having a 162-game regular season: it's the only way to determine which teams are the best and deserve the chance to play for all the marbles. That's it. You figure out who's the best, and then they play each other.
Now this is not what happens. Now we play 162 games to determine who is the best, then we throw all that out the window and start over. The team that had the best record over 162 games has to play a team that may have won 10 or 15 fewer games in the first round of the playoffs. If those 10 or 15 games don't matter, WHY THE HELL ARE WE PLAYING THEM?
When they expanded the postseason to eight and then ten teams, that introduced a lot of chance and uncertainty and luck into the postseason baseball equation. Is that good or bad? It doesn't matter for our purposes here. What matters is that it inherently devalues a good chunk of regular season games.
Sure, this year we actually do have the best two teams in baseball in the World Series. But the last time that happened Bill Clinton was president. So having the best record doesn't matter. Why drag the regular season out?
6. Expanded Postseason Makes So Many Games Meaningless
Regardless of the postseason format, guess what happens when you shorten the regular season? The games you actually play become more meaningful. It's basic sports economics. If there are fewer games played, every loss matters more and ever win matters more. Therefore every game matters more.
But you say, what about the pennant races? Well guess what: there will still be pennant races. The pennant race ends whenever the season ends. With a shorter season, some would be great and some would be lame...just like we have now with a 162-game schedule. Don't fall into the trap of thinking about the old pennant races that might not have been. For every one we would have lost with a shorter season, there's another we would have gained.
5. Less Is More
I'm somewhat of a traditionalist. I may prefer OBP to BA and WAR to RBIs, but I also love the fact that the AL uses the DH and the NL doesn't. I hate interleague play. And I really do wish they'd go back to just four playoff teams.
Here's the thing: shortening the MLB season does not mess with tradition. If anything, it would be going back to tradition. From the turn of the 20th century through 1961, they played 154 games each season. It was only in 1962 that the 162-game schedule was introduced. There is not real "historical" argument for the 162-game schedule. They could easily trim it by 12 games, shortening the season by two whole weeks, and nothing would be affected.
Oh, what's that? The record books would be affected? Players would have less time to hit their home runs and record their strikeouts? Come on. Don't even. We all know the baseball record books have been messed up plenty over the last two decades.
4. Shorter Season Doesn't Mess with Tradition
Do you know why they call Reggie Jackson Mr. October? It's not because he was a legendary postseason hitter. It's because he was a legendary postseason hitter, and because the month of October was synonymous with postseason baseball. Jackson wasn't Mr. September or Mr. November. He was Mr. October, because, since forever, October = baseball's biggest stage.
These days, yes, the vast majority of the MLB postseason is playing in October, but we're pushing it. On three occasions since the turn of the millennium—2001, 2009, and 2010—the Fall Classic actually extended into the month of November. Why are we even messing with this tradition?
3. November Baseball Messes with Tradition
Have you ever noticed how the weather really seems to take a turn for the worse around the middle of October? Baseball is not meant to be played in 40-degree weather with blowing wind and freezing rain. A 162-game season combined with an extended postseason means one of two things: baseball into November, or baseball in March. Neither is good.
This year, of course, we've had it pretty good. However, in previous years—such as 2006 and 2008—the World Series was greatly affected by nasty weather. Why try to fight nature? If we shorten the MLB season by two weeks our problem is solved. And, as an added bonus, we won't have to have Santa Claus as the last float in our World Series parades.
2. The Weather
This one is big. Players report for spring training in February. Then they play baseball for six months. In the olden days, if they played it well, they got to play for another week. Then maybe two. Now they play for an extra month, and that takes a major physical toll—especially for pitchers.
The staff ace of the team that wins the World Series has in all likelihood already pitched about 200 innings in the regular season. In the postseason, if the series are long and he is sharp, he might have to pitch as much 40 or 50 more innings. Think about that for a second. It's almost a 25% increase over than the ace whose team didn't make the playoffs.
This is bad for everyone involved. Everyone benefits when players are healthy—especially in the postseason. If the regular season is shortened, players will hold up better, resulting on stronger postseason rosters and, thus, better baseball. Plus, it will give guys more time to heal in the winter.
Something's gotta give. Either the postseason has to be shortened, or the regular season has to be shortened. I'd prefer the former, but I'll settle for the latter.
1. Player Health
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