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2020 Vision (Part 4): More sprint, less grind?

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Does the baseball season need to be 162 games?

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Maglie In The Locker Room Photo by George Silk/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

(In 2020, baseball fans experienced a lot of things they were heretofore unaccustomed too. In this series, I’ll be looking back at some of the changes that pandemic baseball necessitated, giving my thoughts on them, and then asking for your opinion.)

Part 4: A shortened season.

Of all the major professional sports, MLB features the longest schedule. From 1920-1960, 154 games were completed from April-September. In 1961 (‘62 for the NL), that number was upped to 162. Unlike the once-a-week clash of the titans in the NFL or the every-few-days events that compose NBA/NHL action, baseball players take the field nearly every day for six months (seven, if you are fortunate to have a deep playoff run). The MLB season is often referred to as “the grind”, and a relatively new book contemplates that very topic.

In 2020, what with the season not getting underway until late July, the “long grind” was reduced to more of a “short sprint” (only 60 scheduled contests). This was by far the least amount of games that still resulted in an officially sanctioned season in the sport’s history.

Before I pontificate a bit, let me be clear: 60 games is not enough baseball—not by a long shot. I would consider any scheduling number under about 120 to be vastly under-serving the sport and its fans.

Baseball has always been a marathon, and I think it should stay that way (at least to a certain extent). Unlike the more conspicuous physical tolls that football, basketball, and hockey dish out upon the human body, baseball is predicated upon short bursts of energy that allow for day-in, day-out play. Because of this, a longer season can transpire almost by design, with the teams winning the most of those micro-events ultimately advancing to the playoffs. In order to gain the largest sample size possible to that effect, the more games the better.

But does the schedule have to play out that way? If the grand total was rolled back to, say, 140 games, would the effects (other than historical stat comparisons) be all that noticeable? I’m a bit of two minds on this subject:

On one hand, I’m not married to 162 games/season. The simple inertia of that number’s existence plays perhaps as big of a role in its continued presence as any well-crafted, competitively-driven reason.

On the other hand, I’d only want to see 162 chopped down if a concrete reason were given for the subtraction. For example, I very much enjoyed how the ‘20 season was completed before the scary costumes and trick-or-treat bags came out. In other words, I’m not a fan of late-October (or even November) baseball.

Daily News front page headline Nov. 1, 2001, Derek Jeter as
I don’t like baseball being played into the 11th month of the calendar year.
Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

Not only can it lead to harsh playing conditions in cold-weather climates like that occupied by Twins Territory, but in a more oblique sense it also just “feels wrong”. Preferably, I would have the World Series conclude in mid-October. If chopping a few weeks off the regular season—especially in the face of an expanded playoff structure that might be here to stay—is the only way to make sure baseball isn’t being played until turkeys start disappearing from grocer’s freezers, I’m okay with that.

Though too difficult to succinctly summarize in poll form, I’d love to hear your opinions on the MLB schedule length. Would you be okay with a shorter regular season, and in what capacity/rationale?