by Tyler Collison
This is the first post in a series, Reconstructive Manifesto.
Though the world of sports is at times both entertaining and fascinating, the fact is that the nation’s major sports organizations (NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) are businesses, and no business model is flawless.
And with that, we begin the inaugural Reconstructive Manifesto. I’ve enlisted the help of several friends to compile these opinion-based proposals, as my fandom of certain sports (NHL and MLB, particularly) is a bit too limited to file proper complaints. Besides, airing such grievances with other fans makes for some damn lively conversation.
This very manifesto was borne of my seasonal interest in baseball. Beginning in early April, MLB utilizes a 162-game season. That’s a full eighty games longer than the NBA and NHL terms (eighty-two games apiece). What’s more, including the playoffs, the baseball schedule can run into all four seasons; its “Fall Classic,” the World Series, often spills into the potentially wintry days of early November.
I’ve never followed an MLB season in its entirety, so I only speak for a fraction of the MLB fan-base. Sure, I’ll keep up with its more noteworthy activity via SportsCenter and similar news, but I’ve found that (roughly) the first forty games of the year are almost worthless, if for nothing else but the significantly lower level of competitiveness. In the late summer months, baseball becomes an exciting game; teams have an established sense of the playoff picture and consequently play with gusto, rather than cruising by in May by superior skill alone. In comparison, some teams wait until they aren’t likely to sniff the playoffs to begin calling up young prospects to test them out in the majors. As pressure makes diamonds, this late-season opportunity will make or break numerous youngsters.
Regardless of a team’s final standing, when the season concludes, the days of spring and early summer seem rather humdrum in retrospect.
All this considered, the MLB season needs to be shortened, with the more condensed structure yielding an earlier conclusion, thereby allowing the World Series to occur in a climate more harmonious with that of the regular season. For a sport in which an overwhelming majority of the games fall during the summer months, I’ve never seen the logic in having a postseason during a time when regional temperatures can be such polar opposites. For instance, the Cincinnati Reds, one of this year’s top playoff teams, will house temperatures in the forties. Conversely, Dallas, the home of the perennially contending Texas Rangers, will rarely fall below the sixties.
A couple years ago, Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia brought up a similar concern with the current format. His came from a preference to end the World Series in October, but I believe shortening the season even more can yield interesting results.
With an abbreviated season of, say, 120 games, the season is still quite lengthy in comparison with other sports organizations, but it increases the importance of each game, while also making the tense playoff race that much more competitive. The Houston Astros, for example, are nearly forty games behind the aforementioned Reds in their division (as of 9/5). While a shorter season is unlikely to change each team’s respective placement, it would still make the division as a whole tighter, therefore increasing the amount of possible underdogs league-wide.
And honestly, who doesn’t love a good Cinderella story?
To project and presume a bit further, let’s look at the recent efforts of the Pittsburgh Pirates, a budding playoff contender over this and last season. When compared with the Los Angeles Angels—a team of similar “fringe” playoff status—a trend developed: Teams tend to peak in the midsummer months. In June and July of 2012, the Pirates ran off thirty-four wins and nineteen losses, and since then, they’ve only won twelve of their thirty-two games. In 2011, June and July marked a similar 29-24 record, though they mailed it in for an 18-38 finish to the campaign.
What does it all mean? Well, with limited evidence, it shows many baseball players—outliers would include those who’ve developed the preternatural affinity for the playoffs—meet their peak performance earlier than they should (considering the goal is to be at your best in the later months and into the postseason). So with the MLB season being the marathon that it is, only the perennial front-runners have the muscle memory to combat that. This leaves many that once sniffed the playoffs to either burn out or fade away.
In the interest of competitive balance, if we were to snip the aforementioned forty-two games off the end of the season, players’ best efforts would still need to stretch into August, but it provides teams like the Pirates with the true belief that their midsummer surge could yield a berth in the MLB playoffs. One can only speculate on the emotion and subsequently thrilling storylines such a project could create from there.
The difficult thing with a change such as this is that, with baseball being a tradition-oriented game, cutting such a huge chunk would undoubtedly rattle the framework of MLB’s longest-tenured fans. Questions and skepticism would erupt in the direction of Commissioner Bud Selig: What about the Hall of Fame? How can anyone beat the home run record? Why don’t we just blow up the record books while we’re at it?
Sure, it would be much easier to hit for an ever-elusive .400 batting average with only 120 games. And someone would have to up his steroid intake significantly (kidding, but not really) in order to top the single-season home run mark. The times, though, are indeed a-changing. The NFL has accepted this much, as they’ve made rule changes (2011, 2012) an annual trend to accommodate its ever-evolving athleticism and media market. So why not the MLB? When does one cross the line between keeping with tradition and simply neglecting to change?
The great thing is, Major League Baseball has already taken steps to make the game more competitive. This season is the first with two wild-card teams per league (American and National), which in its concept alone has given more teams hope for the playoffs, and therefore more reason to compete. It is believed that such a change was a byproduct of an insanely entertaining finale to the 2011 regular season. So, what happens when this wild-card tweak yields an even more highly regarded finish?
I’d say a shortened slate of games could then be viewed as progress, rather than the polarizing “change.” It wouldn’t be unreasonable to then expect one of the most competitive eras in baseball history.Tags: baseball, criticism, length, major league baseball, manifesto, mlb, playoffs, season, sports, sportsball, tyler collison