Shorter but Sweeter

Larry Levin

Rob Manfred, the new MLB commissioner, sat down with Bob Costas for a lengthy interview. One of the teasers from that interview has been his willingness to consider reverting to a 154-game season.

Is that significant? Heck, yeah, for any number of reasons:

*Much of the modern era of baseball, through 1960 for the American League and 1961 for the National League, was conducted under that construct. Since then (other than for strike-shortened seasons) we’ve sat at 162. So there’s definitely historical precedence.

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*With that precedence, there’s also a ton of past records that were set under the 154-game construct. So as Manfred alluded to in the interview, there’s a basis for comparison in place for many records, which is why the new commissioner said he wouldn’t be as jazzed about any other reduction number (say, eg, to 158).

*The reduction in games could provide welcome relief to players who are now charging through 162 games in about 183 days, give or take, most seasons. This has always been a grind, but with the game being played by bigger, faster, stronger players, who have little rest from conditioning in the offseason, and with PEDs now relegated to the sidelines, the stresses on bodies have become very difficult to manage, especially with…

*Pitchers. As Dr. James Andrews (one of the prime Tommy John surgery experts) has discussed, the throwing regimens for young pitchers during their developmental years has been ridiculous. They play on multiple teams in multiple leagues, and different coaches rarely coordinate the kids’ workloads. So by the time they drag their way through the minors to the majors, they’re already at risk. Add to that the heavy bonus-ing of stud pitchers, and the pressure to overuse them and get them to MLB too quickly is truly substantial.

*Playoffs. While another round of playoffs may not occur in baseball – the sport loves its emphasis on the regular season, contrasted with, say, hockey – a move to 154 games might allow for more than a one-game playoff between the two wild-cards in each league, or enable a 7-game series in the division series round).

Would I be in favor of such a move. By all means. The reduction doesn’t eliminate or even ameliorate the importance of the regular season. It honors baseball’s history and it gives us a better shot at healthy players throughout the season. Have any of you taken a look at disabled lists these days? As I wrote in a previous posting, the number of man-games lost by some teams during a season can be staggering. None of us buy tickets to see scrubs.

Some have said that the players might oppose such a move, especially if salaries are scaled down by the approximately 5 percent of salaries lost. But early signs suggest the opposite, and the players have already discussed the option with the commissioner.

Baseball is at a super high in terms of TV money. National contracts between MLB and content providers have been strong, MLB has marketed its own products (online, network, etc) strongly, and local markets have reaped hundreds of millions and in some case billions, from their regional broadcasts. Who’s to say that the reduction in games would reduce payouts (or salaries) at all?

We pay to see the best players on the field. Keeping them on the field is the goal. Switching to a less exhausting dynamic in the regular season would help, while not, in my opinion anyway, diminishing any other facts of the game. So why not?

We shall see.