A Season Too Long

Baseball in the snowIt’s October (again), and that means World Series Baseball. Or does it? In the best of seven series format, every game past game three will be played in November. That’s November. The month before the last month of year. The time of year when it starts to become apparent which NFL teams have it and which decidedly don’t. So why the hell are we still watching baseball?

In 1961, the larger American League changed schedule from 154 to 162 games. The National League would follow in 1962. And yes, that’s only eight more games. But when it really became a problem was when the postseason was expanded from two rounds to three in 1994.

Each series, whether best of 5 or best of 7, requires at least two and up to three venue changes, which means more travel days. More travel days plus game days adds at least a week per series to the postseason. The end result for Major League Baseball is that by the time the World Series is played, weather can be a major factor and casual fans of teams who didn’t make it that might otherwise watch are burnt out. Not only burnt out, but for many, already invested in pro football.

But isn’t weather just part of the game? Yes and no. Baseball is an outdoor sport but it’s also a summer sport. It’s no coincidence that baseball players are referred to as “The Boys of Summer” (with all apologies to Don Henley). So what about the month of November says “summer”. Summer is over. So is fall. In most of the country, November is full on winter. Who wants to watch players battle frigid winds and contend with the cold? What makes a great football game is exactly what takes away from the more nuanced sport of baseball.

And then there’s pitching. With such a long season, MLB is “rewarding” winning pitchers with a postseason that’s several series long. And if your team is limited on quality starting pitchers, forget about it. It’s almost guaranteed their best starting pitcher will be pitching on short rest in either the wild card round, ALCS/NLCS or World Series.

So what’s the solution? Postseason play is a major league source of revenue for Major League Baseball. Cutting it back to two series doesn’t make a lot of sense from a fan or revenue point of view. Alternately, the end of the regular season is often full of SportsCenter “highlight” coverage of basement dweller teams playing in all but empty stadiums.

Moreover, the postseason is exciting for everyone. Even if your team didn’t make it, it’s likely you at least have a team to root against. The end of regular season can be exciting, but would it be any less so if it happened eight to twelve games earlier? Probably not.

In short, it’s high time that Major League Baseball cut down the regular season. I’d be genuinely surprised if whatever they lose in regular season stadium and television revenue isn’t recouped (and then some) in postseason revenue. The dollars might have to wait until the next network contract comes along, but viewership should be higher if the postseasons starts earlier. MLB can’t compete with the NFL and the closer they come to getting out of the way, the better for baseball.

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