Most readers have probably already caught wind of the suggestion that MLB should shave a few games off the incredibly long season. But fewer readers probably realize that it’s actually a topic that’s gained some very real momentum. In a lengthy piece on the subject, Jayson Stark of The Athletic dives into this issue, at one point revealing that the topic of a 158-game season actually made it to the “bargaining table” in the negotiations leading up to the 2011 labor agreement. In 2016, MLB actually did some extensive research on the potential effects of a 154-game season due to a suspicion that the players might bring it up, but the union apparently didn’t bring it up; they were focused on other issues.
While eight games might seem like a trivial percentage of the season, it could actually pose a significant reduction in revenue for MLB clubs. According to statista.com, the Yankees brought in about $278MM in ticket revenue during the 2017 season. A 5% reduction in games would mean losing out on nearly $14MM in ticket sales, not to mention they’d be worth 5% less in terms of a television contract.
Of course, the Yankees are an extreme example in that regard; small market clubs make much, much less on an annual basis when it comes to ticket sales. As such, it’s not surprising to learn that twenty-two MLB clubs reportedly had little or no objection to a 154 season; it seems that a vocal eight-team minority would have likely proved a holdup in negotiations.
It’s also easy to imagine that cutting player salaries would be one of the first orders of business in the event of a shortened season. After all, it’s unfair to expect ownership to pay players the same amount for playing 5% fewer games. While Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo seems to be sympathetic to the idea of making less money in order to play a more comfortable season, it seems awfully likely that there’d be some ruckus from at least some of the players. With all the recent pushback over the idea of something as simple as a pitch clock, you can bet that there’d be some loud voices where millions of dollars are concerned.
The benefits to a shorter season, though, are numerous and logically sound. Stark makes a great point when mentioning that beginning the season in the third week of April rather than the final days of March would lop off a dramatic majority of the games played in uncomfortably cold weather; weather that makes the games less enjoyable for both the players and the fans who come out to the ballpark. It’s fair to imagine that the number of injuries and illnesses increase as a result of playing in extreme cold. The number of postponements due to inclement weather also complicate the season schedule.
Concurrently, a shorter season would mean a better chance that the final games of the playoffs could conclude before cold weather sets in. Stark also suggests a longer All-Star break, as well as making all Mondays off-days. From my vantage point, it’s a bit confusing to see how all these things could be implemented with a reduction of only eight games, even if Stark does mention the idea of a few planned doubleheaders scattered throughout the season.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits to a shortened season with more days off is the health and energy of the players. Stark suggests that pitcher injuries could be reduced, which makes plenty of sense. Not only would fewer games make for fewer physically taxing stretches of baseball, but it would also allow players more time to rest and recuperate from smaller nagging injuries without putting their respective teams at a disadvantage.
On a grander scale, this kind of change could have an impact on gameplay and even roster makeup. More intermittent days off would likely allow teams to get by without a fifth starter for large stretches of the season, potentially eliminating many starting pitcher jobs around the league. It could also allow teams to feel more comfortable rolling with one fewer reliever for extended stretches, and it certainly makes sense to think that teams wouldn’t be forced to reach into their vertical depth at Triple-A for a fresh bullpen arm as often as they are now. Basically, while a shorter season could mean a more comfortable job for the players, it could also make for a game in which a small number of pitchers begin to lose their jobs in favor of bench bats or late-inning defensive replacement types.
With all this in mind, what do you think? Should MLB shorten the baseball season to 154 games, or keep things the way they are? (Poll link for app users)