The start of the 2016 baseball season is now less than two weeks away, and talk about the future of the game rages on. The pace is too slow. If you ask Bryce Harper, there is not enough freedom of expression. The season is too long, and the game lacks urgency, energy, intensity.
Today, we hope to offer solutions.
Here are four suggestions — some fairly radical — in hopes of giving baseball a jolt of new life.
1. Shorten the regular season, introduce more playoffs
Basic, right? Here’s the general idea. Shorten the regular season from 162 games to 144, which translates into 24 weeks with six games a week. Using this season’s schedule as a model, the season would end on Sunday, September 18, which basically leaves another two weeks for additional playoffs. And the weather would be better. I’m no accountant, but I bet someone can come up with a formula to not only replace lost revenue, but increase it.
For example: expand the field of playoff teams in each league from five to six. The top two seeds, based on best record, are awarded byes. The other four would then play best-of-three series, with the winners advancing into the division round. Under this scenario, baseball would lose the one-game playoff, but that’s a 50-50 proposition anyway in terms of drama. Both play-in games last year were duds.
As for the three or four-day layoff for the “bye” teams, why is that a bad thing? Last year, the St. Louis Cardinals were off for four days before they began the postseason.
2. Regulate the schedule
We live in an increasingly busy world where people don’t have time to think. Is your team playing tonight or not? Sometimes, it’s hard to remember. Do they have on off-day this week or don’t they? When’s the next one? Teams can manage that, but fans can’t.
So how about this: six games a week, as mentioned? Every team gets Thursday off, every week. This gives everybody a mental break from the regular-season grind and allows some time to think through what just happened in the previous three-game series and what’s coming up in the next one.
A weekly off-day makes everything a three-game series. And that brings us to the next point.
3. Make teams win series, not games
Part of baseball’s problem is lack of urgency. On the current calendar, the season doesn’t really start until August 15, after the trading deadline. The first four-and-half months feel more like positioning rounds. May and June, in particular, really drag.
So let’s think of the season as 48 series, not 144 games. A team that wins a series gets points. A team that loses gets none.
What about the series finale if one team wins the first two games? The last game has to be worth something or teams will tank it when nothing is at stake. Maybe it’s worth double for the winning team. Again, I’ll leave the precise math to someone else. But you get the idea.
Teams often say their goal is to win a given series, but the singular wins present the only real value. Changing that — along with scheduling days off on Thursdays — could affect how teams line up their pitching, treat their bullpens and more.
And there could be additional benefits. With a day off every week, maybe teams would need less pitching, which would help speed up games and eliminate the bums who shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Then maybe teams with lesser payrolls — or talent — could better compete because they have a singular, dominant pitcher. Managers would actually have to manage for the short term as well as the long.
Traditionalists will argue that baseball numbers are sacred, that individual records were built on a 162-game schedule and so forth. But didn’t that all get blown up during the steroid era? Baseball’s past was a great asset at one time, but it isn’t anymore. So let’s focus on the present and future.
4. Scrap the All-Star Game
Please. It’s a waste of time, and everybody knows it. With a day off every week, why does baseball need it at all? The game certainly has some financial value, but TV ratings have been deteriorating for years — last year’s game was the lowest-rated ever. If people are stubborn about this, fine. Even with the All-Star Game, the shortened season would still end on September 21.
We live in a game of advanced metrics now. Records don’t mean as much because we don’t measure performance in the same ways anymore. (Quick, who led the majors in RBI last year?) Teams would still have aggregate wins and losses. Players would still have individual statistics. Baseball on a day-to-day basis may change a little, may become a little bit more intense and urgent. The games may mean more with something at stake every three days.
Anyone else have any ideas?
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.