Imagine, the world’s, best sushi chef has been hired to work in your office’s cafeteria. Every day you had access to a cutting-edge variety of delicious rolls.
After tasting that first bite, you would wonder how you survived on whatever sustenance your diet had consisted of prior. For the next few weeks you spent your morning hours counting the minutes until lunchtime.
After a while though, having the same course everyday would start to get old. The luster fades. You start to bring your lunch again. The sushi still looks amazing, but you’ve had your fill.
Consistency can be a positive trait, but its human nature to reject monotony. As the old saying goes, too much of a good thing is a bad thing.
This leads me to the problem facing Major League Baseball.
As technology and society have progressed, over the years, baseball has made subtle changes to adapt. The length of the regular season, however, hasn’t changed since 1962.
To give you an idea of how long ago that was: Kennedy was president, gas was 28 cents a gallon and Willie Mays was the National League’s leader in WAR.
That was also the year that MLB adopted the 162-game schedule, and they haven’t looked back. At that point, baseball still ruled supreme in the nation’s conscious, with the first Super Bowl still five years from conception.
Now, it’s 2017 and Trump is president, gas is projected to average $2.49 and Kris Bryant was your NL WAR-leader. Baseball is still popular, but finds it is closer and closer to the fringes of pop culture relevance, everyday.
MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, has targeted game length as one of the primary culprits. It has clearly become a priority – if not an obsession – for him and his regime. However, viewer habits don’t necessarily line up with this assertion.
In 2015, the length of an average, MLB game was 2 hours, 56 minutes*. An NFL game, by contrast, clocked in around 3 hours and 9 minutes.
*That figure includes roughly 45 minutes of commercials. Just think: if they dumped all those ads, their little “problem” would be solved right there! Of course, that would only happen if televised-baseball went exclusively to some sort of subscriber-only business model (Pete Rose has a better chance of getting elected to Cooperstown).
Football has its own issues to deal with, but they won’t be hurting for viewership anytime soon. The low number of games makes it easier for fans to pay attention.
In the baseball world, fans have proven they are still interested, but spend the vast majority of their focus on the meat and potatoes of the season: opening day, the home run contest, the trade deadline and the September division chases.
The rest gets lost in an endless shuffle of lackluster pitching match-ups and bad promo nights. The modern consumer, with less free time on their hands, and more entertainment options than ever, has no trouble tuning out the majority of the long season.
I’m not suggesting that baseball should follow its gridiron brethren into a one-a-week format; that long grind is part of what makes baseball unique. But what about a smaller reduction to, say, 140 games?
Naturally, owners would initially balk at the thought of losing the revenue from 11 home games. The players would speak out as well, in fear of decreased salaries. In the big picture, however, those are small concerns.
The real threat is the doomsday-scenario where baseball’s popularity dwindles further and the sport recedes to the outermost-fringes of relevance. Jobs are lost and everyone loses. In the end, wouldn’t it be better to have a slightly smaller financial pie than none at all?
Baseball culture needs to address a few painful facts. Number one: the regular season is way too long. By the time the playoffs roll around, the NFL has already gotten under full swing. While local markets with playoff teams would still be tuned in, national interest has shifted elsewhere.
Baseball is regarded as a summer sport. It has virtually no competition during the months of June, July and August. Last year’s World Series began on October 25th and ended on November 2nd. While fall lore is part of the fabric of the game, no one wants to face a scenario where a Game 7 is potentially snowed-out.
A twenty-two game reduction would bump everything up, date-wise. The playoffs could get rolling early in September, with the World Series wrapping up no later than mid-October.
The truncated schedule would make teams less inclined to throw away games, with less time to make up ground. Small market teams who get off to a fast start would be less inclined to sell off their parts, come trade-deadline time.
Pitchers would have less innings to throw. Between spring training, the regular season and a deep playoff run, that’s a lot of spent bullets. There is no medical study that proves less work decreases the likelihood of injury, but shortening the season would save a bit of mileage on their arms in the long run.
It is good that baseball is committed to improving their game. But they need to attack the disease, not the symptoms. Shortening the regular season is something they should not dismiss outright.