After a lengthy standoff between the Major League Baseball owners and the Players Association, baseball is finally slated to return July 23rd after three weeks of “Spring” Training beginning July 1st. This agreement was not reached without its share of controversy, as the two parties struggled to come to terms with the length of the season, level of pay, and the rules and regulations that will be put in place to address the current situation of COVID-19 and professional sports. Finally, it was agreed that teams would play a 60-game season with the postseason beginning in late September. A shortened MLB season will undoubtedly bring significant changes to the way the game is played and how clubs approach contests on a week-to-week basis. This raises the question of what exactly Major League Baseball would look like if a shorter season were to become commonplace in the future. Although unlikely to actually happen, there are a variety of reasons as to why this format could, or could not, work in the Major Leagues.
As with any sport, playing more games means that each individual game carries less meaning and has less of an impact on a team’s record and playoff hopes. For example, a five game losing streak has far less of an impact on an MLB team, where the standard season is 162 games, than an NFL team, where the typical season is only 16 games and a five game losing streak is likely to take a major toll on a team’s divisional standings. This is especially true for games early in the season and is easily observed in professional sports. Nearly every year in baseball there are a handful of teams that start off on extreme hot streaks in April and May and shoot to the top of the division but come the fall are struggling to even remain in Wild Card contention. The long season format requires consistency over long periods of time while still giving teams wiggle room for slumps, injuries, rest days, and any other forms of adversity that they may face.
If shortened seasons were to become the norm in baseball, teams would have much less room for error. A team that gets off to a slow start would require a quick turnaround if they would hope to keep their postseason chances alive. This format would reward teams that get off to a hot start, as teams that would normally start hot but peter out in the fall would be able to bypass the late-season doldrums and put themselves in great position for the playoffs early on. This would likely cause players to have greater motivation to perform to the utmost of their ability and maybe think twice before taking a day off or sitting out for a minor bump or bruise. Overall, the short season format for the MLB would likely create a league with a higher level of urgency and efficiency, as teams would be expected to perform and deliver from the very beginning.
It can certainly be argued that the current 162-game standard is the optimal length for a Major League season. Baseball is known as a game of ups and downs and consistency is often what separates the good players and teams from the great ones. Players can’t necessarily be expected to excel right at the start of a season, as it takes time to get loose and get into a rhythm. The beauty of the game as it is is that time is the great equalizer between franchises. Teams go through cold stretches but still can end up on top in the same way that teams that go on hot streaks are only one slump or injury away from going back to the bottom of the barrel.
On the other hand, it is worth mentioning the invaluable joy that six months of baseball brings fans of all ages across the entire world! It is also worth noting that it is unlikely that the MLBPA would ever allow for a shortened season to become the league norm as less games equals less revenue for the league and would ultimately lead to less pay for the players while also hurting “small market” teams whose owners may be less wealthy than a team like the Yankees, for example.
For better or for worse, the MLB will be playing 60 regular season games in 2020 and players and fans will be able to see how these hypothetical pros and cons will play out in a real-life context. Whether the short season will prevail or flop entirely, baseball fans can sleep well at night knowing that the American Pastime is finally on its way back to stadiums and televisions nationwide in less than a month.