Time to Shorten the Season?

As the NHL begins the process of creating a 48-game schedule, just under 60% of a normal season, the question arises whether other major sports should follow suit even in non-lockout seasons.  The NFL obviously has something going for them with their 16 game, every minute means something, race to the finish season.  New fans every year jump on board, wives and girlfriends start playing fantasy football, and the show gets bigger and bigger.  Last year the NBA started at Christmas and played a 66 game schedule after their lockout.  Whether it was the shortened season or the arrival of Ricky Rubio, I know my eyes were locked in on the fast-paced, 7 games in 8 nights action.

Every year I hear family and friends complain or joke about how long and boring the MLB season gets.  My initial reaction sounds something like this: “Don’t watch then.”  It is a question worth asking, however.  Is the season too long?  Are there too many meaningless games?

Major League Baseball increased the schedule from 154 to 162 games in 1961, the year the Griffith’s moved the Washington Senators to Minnesota.  Since then, we have had three significantly shortened seasons – 1981 (110 games), 1994 (113 games), and 1995 (144 games) – due to labor issues.

What good would come from shortening the schedule?

  • Each game becomes more “meaningful”, although outside of reducing from 162 to 81 games or even less would change a single game’s importance much.
  • In theory we would see less injuries, especially to pitchers pitching fewer innings over a season.  This would lead to slightly longer playing careers, which would potentially improve the overall quality of the game.  Great players would play longer, leaving less room for rosters to become watered down.
  • Fans would have fewer opportunities to go to the ballpark.  Potentially we would see fewer empty stadiums as each game means more and fans have fewer chances throughout the summer to see their favorite nine.
  • The season could start a little later and end a little earlier, which means Josh Willingham wouldn’t have to bring his insulated gloves out to left field playing in Minnesota.
  • MLB would be forced to eliminate inter-league baseball!
  • The shortened schedule could create a situation where each team has a day off each week.  Teams could go back to 4 man rotations, again to combat watered-down rosters.
  • Season ticket prices hypothetically go down with fewer games to purchase.

Why should they leave the schedule alone?

  • More games equals more money for the clubs, owners, and players.  This doesn’t necessarily mean the Twins payroll would stabilize.
  • It would preserve some sort of uniformity to the record books and the history of the game, which is so important to baseball.  Although, a small reduction in season length wouldn’t shake up the statistical side too much.
  • Some fans do appreciate the chance to see teams and players from the opposite league play in their park every few years, so MLB could keep inter-league play alive.

Part of why baseball is so appealing to me derives from the history of the game, and how in over a hundred years, it really hasn’t changed that much when you compare it to other sports.  For me any change introduced, such as instant replay, gets me riled up in most cases.  I don’t like change, especially with baseball.  I like the game the way is, in many instances, and don’t think we should mess with it.

I do think there is some validity from a fan’s standpoint to shortening the season, however. I could see a 140-144 game schedule, move the Astros back to the National League, and eliminate inter-league play.  I’m all in favor of lengthening pitching careers or shortening the starting rotations.  I don’t think a reduction of 20 games will a significant impact on statistical records, other than that they’ll be tougher to break.  I say all of this knowing that owners would be hard-pressed to vote in favor of a shortened season.  If they aren’t making money, players won’t make as much money, which the players wouldn’t be in favor of either.  Is it worth it to shorten the season to appease a group of fans, or risk losing more fans to other sports by leaving it the way it is?  What do you think?

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.