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Permanently Shortening MLB Season

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PostPosted: Tue 2/6/24 6:49 pm    Post subject: Permanently Shortening MLB Season Reply with quote

I doubt it will ever happen, but here's an article from The Athletic about the possibility.

"Would MLB Ever Really Shorten Its Season? Here’s What It Might Take — and Could Mean"

Jan 26, 2024

For many baseball players and fans, Los Angeles Angels third baseman Anthony Rendon was simply saying what they were already thinking.

“We gotta shorten the season, man,” Rendon said during a podcast interview earlier this week. “There’s too many dang games — 162 games and 185 days or whatever it is. Man, no. We gotta shorten this bad boy up.”

Rendon was perhaps not the best messenger — he’s averaged 50 games a year through the first four years of a $245 million contract — and he was thoroughly chastised on social media.

But he wasn’t necessarily wrong, and he certainly wasn’t alone.

“I think that physically, there are very few players, if any at all, that would say that the season’s too short or the right amount,” said nine-year MLB veteran Trevor May, who retired after the 2023 season.

That sentiment has been around for a while.

“We play too much baseball,” New York Yankees first baseman Anthony Rizzo said back in 2018.

Another current major-league player texted to say, at the very least, the urgency of a shorter season would be refreshing. It was one of the few positives of the 60-game 2020 season. Every game carried the weight of a pennant race.

“You could really feel it,” the player said.

Other players have groused privately about the relentless nature of the sport, fans seem open to fewer games, and no less a figure than Commissioner Rob Manfred has acknowledged that shortening the 162-game schedule is worth at least a conversation.

“I don’t think length of season is a topic that can’t ever be discussed,” Manfred told ESPN in 2015. “I don’t think it would be impossible to go back to 154 (games).”

So, why is this familiar, reasonable, and not necessarily controversial idea so quickly and thoroughly dismissed? And more to the point, why does it have such little hope of actually happening?

It’s because a baseball schedule affects a lot more than the individual dates on a calendar. As players and executives explained in conversations on the subject this week, it’s the driving force behind everything from player salaries to pitch limits to some anonymous utility man even having a job.

Money, money, money

What’s the biggest thing keeping Major League Baseball from eliminating a few games? It would mean less money for everyone, and no one wants that.

The financial value of an individual major-league game varies from place to place and situation to situation — an in-the-hunt Los Angeles Dodgers game brings in more money than an out-of-contention Tampa Bay Rays game — but the games do make money, especially in television revenue, but also in ticket sales, draft beer, and giant foam fingers.

If the league is going to give up money-making games, it’s going to want the players to share in that financial downturn, or perhaps take the brunt of it.

“(The Players Association is) not giving that,” May said. “If they drop it to 148 or 154 (games), what it used to be, it would take eight games off the contracts per year. That’s what they would push for, and (the league) would say, ‘Yeah, sure, we can do that. But you give us the money back.’ There isn’t a player on the planet that would say yes to that.”

So, sure, some players would love to shorten the season by eight games, but they aren’t keen on 5 percent pay cuts to make it happen. And if that’s the case, imagine the reaction to 20 percent cuts to more meaningfully chip away at the schedule?

One potential offset would be to make up the financial difference by further expanding the postseason. Cut 10 or so regular season games in favor of another round of high-revenue playoff games. If there’s a realistic path to a shorter season, that’s probably it. But even that pathway comes with questions, and the reality is that any version of a shorter schedule comes with consequences that would radically reshape the game as we know it.

Scheduling logistics

There are two obvious ways to trim the schedule: Shorten the season or space out the games.

Shortening the season would create the fewest ripples but would do little to address the mental and physical fatigue that comes with playing six-plus days a week. Start playing a couple of weeks later or stop a few weeks earlier, and boom, that’s a 154-game schedule. Babe Ruth did it all the time. Cut three or four weeks and the schedule gets down to 140-or-so games, no sweat, while avoiding some of those chilly nights in early April or late October (which could be pro or con depending on how you feel about a thick coat with Philly Phanatic earmuffs).

Yes, the World Series might be played earlier in that scenario, but that used to be the norm. The entire Black Sox scandal was over by Oct. 9, Bill Mazeroski’s Game 7 walk-off happened on Oct. 13, Reggie Jackson’s three-homer game was Oct. 18, and Carlton Fisk waved the ball fair on Oct. 21. Yogi Berra played in 75 World Series games in his career, and only two of them happened later than October 10. Baseball does not historically have to play its final game on November 1, as it did last year.

More interesting, though, would be to trim the schedule within its existing six-month regular season framework. The current major-league season lasts a little more than 26 weeks. Counting spring training and the playoffs, the length of the season isn’t all that different than those of the NBA and NHL. The real difference is in the frequency of games, which is relentless. That seems to be what players like the least.

Committing to only five games a week — something like a college baseball schedule, with weekend series Friday through Sunday and mid-week games every Tuesday and Wednesday — would radically trim the schedule to 130 games while giving players regular off days to ease the grind of the season. The players would surely like that, but they might be less thrilled with the way those off days transform roster building as we know it.

Ripple effect

Want to get rid of the opener, give superstars more playing time, and allow entire organizations a little more rest? Just play fewer games with more off days in between. Easy peasy.

Simply shaving a few weeks in April or September would maintain the current schedule’s relentless pace. Depth would still be important, fatigue would remain an issue, and teams would still have to go out of their way to keep players rested. But playing five days a week, with consistent Monday and Thursday off days — just as an example — would create change beyond a new weekly routine.

For one thing: Let us introduce you to the three-man rotation.

Say an ace starts on Tuesday. He would be on regular, four-days rest to start again on Sunday, then the following Friday, and the next Wednesday. He would get an extra day of rest before starting again on Tuesday to begin the cycle anew.

That’s four starts every three weeks, with an extra day of rest before every fifth start. Do that for 26 weeks, and you get 34-35 starts a year. A team would need only three of those guys.

And here’s another new concept: The Saturday starter.

You might have noticed that Saturdays don’t fit into our four-day, three-man rotation. Teams could use Saturdays to give their Friday starters an extra day of rest, or they could carry a fourth starter just for Saturdays. They could use him as a mid-week long man, make that spot a revolving door of Triple-A call-ups, or simply carry a guy whose sole responsibility is starting one game every weekend. It might be a perfect role for a veteran or a way to break in a rookie on a pitch limit. The point is, the game’s best starters would handle a higher percentage of the games, but rotations as we know them would be radically transformed. That’s just one of the ways a significantly altered schedule could change the entire sport.

Reimagining the roster

With a spaced-out schedule, the roster trimming wouldn’t have to end in the rotation.

Would managers really need eight-man bullpens when they’re handed two off days a week and get to use their best starters in 75 percent of their games? And what’s the point of a bench when the everyday guys never play more than three days in a row? Especially with the universal DH, rest would be plentiful, so would there be any reason to carry more than a backup catcher, a backup infielder and a backup outfielder?

Granted, a bench might still be used for tactical reasons — teams are going to want some platoon advantages facing all of these top-of-the-rotation starters — and the game’s best relievers might be called upon more often, but still, it’s not hard to imagine Major League Baseball wanting to cut the current 26-man active roster down to 25 or even 24 players in a shorter-season format in which there are more off days on the calendar.

And how much turnover would such a roster need? With everyday players getting regular rest, doors to playing time wouldn’t open nearly as often. Fringe players might retain some value after running out of options — less need to inevitably swap them out for fresh call-ups — but that’s assuming those fringe players could get any major-league playing time to begin with. With fewer rotation jobs and less emphasis on depth, simply getting a big-league cup of coffee would be more difficult.

Regular off days, though, would not guarantee better health. One long-time baseball executive said that consistent workloads are safest for players, while spikes in activity cause the most injuries. Off days are not necessarily a panacea. They’re just one more complication within the seemingly straightforward issue of picking a number and playing that many games.

The most significant complication? Such a change would require a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, which is where our hypothetical change hits a real dead end.

Remember two years ago, when contentious CBA negotiations caused a lockout and a late start to the season? That was a fight over the usual issues of team control and player salaries. Imagine the roadblocks when teams are asked to sacrifice ticket sales, players are asked to give up roster spots, and both sides are faced with a potential loss of income.

Good luck with that. See you in Game 162.
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PostPosted: Tue 2/6/24 8:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

So much nonsense, especially comparing it to NCAA baseball, where yes the players get more time off, but they're not professional athletes! Though I suppose they are trying to make them just that with the NIL and all. It's still not the same as getting paid millions every year to play the game.
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