It’s been a weird spring. Cold, rainy, windy, cold, snowy. And cold, too. All of which has led to a very large number of baseball games being canceled. Something like something approaching a maybe record of some sort, or maybe just a number larger than some most years since like ten years ago? Maybe? I really don’t know. I keep hearing a lot of talk about how many baseball games have been rained/snowed/colded out so far this April, and then this sort of white noise wash rushes past my head as a thousand tempests in a thousand teapots swirl, trying to get someone’s attention.
In case you can’t tell, I’m not particularly in love with this spring’s sudden and very loud hand-wringing over 23 baseball games being postponed. Is that a lot of games? Sure, seems like a lot. Last time we had this many? Apparently 2007, when there were 25 canceled through April. So we might shoot past that. In general, I tend to think that if your precedent for a huge problem that needs immediate attention isn’t yet old enough to drive, you have a much smaller huge problem that needs immediate attention than you maybe think you do. So the freaking out over a number of cancellations not seen in - gulp - ten years seems a bit hyperbolic to my mind.
It would also seem to me, only somewhat paradoxically, that ten years is not an often enough recurrence to be problematic. Whereas a spring with such bad weather we haven’t seen it in 50+ years would, admittedly, appear apocalyptic, if we were facing a number of lost games this large every two to three years I could be convinced that the baseball schedule, and the impact of the weather upon it, was an ongoing problem in need of solving. But a decade, to me, would seem to be a bit of a Goldilocks number, in that it’s too seldom to cry out for change, but too often to justify the volume of the din harrumphing through baseball coverage right now.
None of which is to say this spring hasn’t been a pain in the ass, mind you; it’s been a nasty year weather-wise so far, and it’s messing up the baseball season. But as is so often the cases in these, well, cases, the nattering and chattering feels a bit over the top. We had Anthony Rizzo just the other day, complaining the baseball season is too long, and should be more like 120 games. Now, Rizzo has been excoriated by a certain type of fan, accused of being lazy and entitled (which, yeah, of course, because that’s just what people say about athletes any time they express dissatisfaction with their lot in life, since we all wish we were professional athletes and we would play for free if only we had anything approaching the skills that would make others actually want to watch us do the thing we wish we could do), but it’s not as if he expressed some opinion no one else is. Joe Sheehan, who I love and respect as much as any baseball writer out there (longtime subscriber to his newsletter, as should you all be), was on Bernie Miklasz’s show a couple days ago saying he would like to see the season reduced to 132 games. Weather was a part of it, but there’s also a hobbyhorse aspect to Joe talking about shortening the season, as he seems to have conflated the fact the baseball season often begins and ends in weather less conducive to the game than a hot June day and the fact people care more about postseason success than they do regular-season excellence and formed a theory that there simply needs to be less baseball. Personally, I really like Joe, but I just can’t go with him on this one.
See, here’s the thing: I like baseball. I do. I know, you might be surprised to learn that, but I really do! I like it when baseball is on. I don’t like it when baseball isn’t. Cutting out such a big chunk of the baseball season is just....ugh.
Let me put it this way: I like baseball. You know what else I like? Sex. Like, a bunch. It’s a lot of fun. Almost always! Having sex is better than not having sex. And at no point in my life have I ever been engaged in the act of copulation and thought to myself, “You know what is even better than this whole sex thing? If I could have like 75% as much of it. Yeah, that would be sooo much better.” Nope, for me, more sex is better than less. More baseball, better than less. So in general, I’m against any plans that are going to deprive me of baseball, or require me to keep my pants on more often than is currently the case.
However, as much as I cannot agree with any plan that’s going to truncate the baseball season by some huge amount, I actually do think the season could do with some mild shortening. Knocking a couple weeks off the season, to try and avoid the worst of the cold spring days around the end of March and beginning of April, and prevent the World Series from pushing into November, would, in my ever so humble opinion, be a net positive for the game. As such, I’ve give the matter some thought, and I would like to present to you my own personal plan for condensing the baseball season, if only slightly.
I do appreciate the cosmic humour of writing this column on a day when the Cards-Cubs midday tilt has just been rescheduled for tomorrow, by the way. Anyhow, moving on.
So here is my plan for shortening the actual length of the season, without losing too many of the games. First, we drop from 162 games back down to 154. I know that the chief issue with any proposal to shorten the season is going to be the loss of revenue to the teams from fewer tickets being sold, but we’re only talking about roughly 5% of the total number of games falling off here. That, to me, is an easily absorbable hit. I think that is you’re only losing 5% of the dates on your calendar, most teams would actually see the tickets that would be bought on those days shifted to other dates. If you’re cutting out 10%, or 20%, or more, I don’t think you could move enough of those ticket sales to other days to make up for the loss. But losing five percent? I think you could make that up just by running slightly closer to capacity the rest of the games.
There would also be the nice historical symmetry of going back to 154, which was the number for a large part of baseball history. You lose the appealingly tidy trimester system of 54/54/54, but that’s okay. It’s not the end of the world, certainly.
Dropping down eight games would, obviously, net you eight extra days in the schedule. I have a second portion of the plan, though, that would pull in some extra time as well. I propose that every team plays one Sunday doubleheader per month, each of the six months of the baseball season. Not every team would play the same weekend; my goal would be that every Sunday during the baseball season there are a handful of clubs playing doubleheaders. Now, it is obviously a non-starter to have the old-school style of doubleheader, where you just play two games back-to-back, nor would it even really be desirable, in my opinion. Rather, you would have the split day-night doubleheaders, with something like a 12:00 pm and 6:00 or 7:00 pm start time. Separate tickets, obviously, as they are two separate games, but perhaps teams could offer packages with tickets to both at a discounted rate.
My goal here is to create an event feel for fanbases, in which you know that one Sunday a month there’s just going to be baseball on pretty much all day. The biggest built-in advantage football has, as most people see it, is the fact it is largely (though less so these days with the proliferation of non-Sunday games), confined to a single day, and thus every contest has the feel of a shared event, rather than the friendly all-summer background hum of the baseball season. You’re never going to recreate entirely that feel of the event in baseball, simply because 150+ games doesn’t allow for for the same level of drama in a single contest as a 16 game schedule does, but all the same, if one day a month you know you’re going to be able to have baseball on more or less all day and into the night, I think there could be more of a social event feel introduced to the game. Think of the boon it could be to the areas in which baseball stadia are located; 30,000 people flooding into your city’s downtown to simply spend the whole of a Sunday, with a break between the games in which the crowd would likely be looking for food and entertainment in the surrounding area, could drive revenue for the surrounding businesses. People gathering at other places to watch a whole day of baseball would be another bonus; doubleheaders too often would make them seem not special, but once a month? To me that feels like it would still feel special, and exciting, and would allow for plans to be made for doubleheader parties.
Now, as to the logistics of the thing, I could see the players’ union objecting to pushing these much longer days into the schedule, and I wouldn’t blame them for it. However, I also believe that players would be less bothered by the long day of a doubleheader than having fewer days off in between. I know that I would rather work a longer time less often at my job, rather than a shorter time but every single day.
So on any given Sunday during the season, there would be either eight teams playing doubleheaders, or six. The Monday after the doubleheader day would always be an off day, and if you really wanted you could even throw in a Friday off now and again, with three games on Saturday-Sunday making up the whole of the series. Personally, I would prefer to use the extra days to shorten the season, but I could see the argument.
On the day of the doubleheader, clubs would be allowed to call up two extra players, one pitcher and one position player, and those two players would not be subject to the usual ten-day wait for callups and the like. So no worries about trying to plan for a guy to be called up without an injury and that sort of thing; the doubleheader 27-man roster would function separately from those normal rules.
So under my plan, we would lose eight games from the season, but actually shave off a full fourteen days from the schedule. It’s not going to help avoid all the bad weather in April and late October, but moving the start of the season back a week and bumping the World Series up a week would, I believe, help out a fair deal. (I would also try to condense the playoffs slightly, with a little less time off within the series, but I’m not wedded to the idea.)
I don’t think, in this plan, we would lose so much of the season as to feel like there is meaningfully less baseball, but would still be able to avoid some of the less desirable playing conditions. In addition, we would gain those big-event doubleheader days, creating a draw once a month for people to really go all-in on a day of baseball. Or, at least, that’s my hope. None of this is extreme, but I think it could actually make a meaningful improvement to the schedule.
Now, if we could just figure out some way to get more balls in play in the game. Three true outcomes baseball may be sabermetrically sound, but it’s kind of fucking boring, and I really don’t like the way the on-field product looks right now, if I’m being completely honest....