Camden Yards this past May. Just think how many empty seats this month.
Complaining about baseball is in itself nearly a national pastime, and despite the fact that the game is in very good shape, you have your pick of poisons these days: The pace is too slow. Relievers are starting games. The shift. Analytics. And on and on.
While there certainly ARE problems in the game, none of those qualify. September IS a problem. Two problems specifically:
A) The fact that rosters expand up to 40 percent for the final month of regular-season games; and ….
B) The fact that they’re playing regular-season games at all.
The first one is an obvious problem, everyone agrees, everyone knows the arguments, and I haven’t seen too many people try to defend it. The bottom line is it fundamentally changes how managers approach game strategy. You’re essentially playing a different kind of game, and there’s just no need for it. Can you tell me any other pro sport that does this? The solution is easy: Expand the rosters, but only slightly. Go up to 28 instead. Give yourself a couple extra arms down the stretch and give your prospects a glimpse of major-league curveballs. But that really should be enough. Done! Solved!
The second one is more problematic, but there IS a solution. Even as football’s popularity has begun its decline, there’s no denying it remains immensely popular, and sports fans rightly equate the start of September with the start of football. And direct their attention spans there. Meanwhile, September baseball is a drag for teams not in the pennant chase, or already have their playoff place assured (no question they will be a wild-card team or a division winner). By my count, this season only 11 teams are truly playing for anything as of September 7 (Astros, A’s, Mariners, Braves, Phillies, Cubs, Cardinals, Brewers, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Rockies). Admittedly, this year is a bit of an anomaly; the previous two seasons that number was 14-15 on this date. But each year as September wears on, teams drop out, and engagement (attendance and TV) drops rapidly as attention shifts to football.
Baseball needs to get its regular season out of the way once football begins. So the answer (you guessed it) is a reduced schedule. There’s no reason why a 140-game season can’t be completed by Week 1 of the NFL season, with the playoffs starting a few days after the first Sunday of the NFL season.
(OK, there’s one reason: money. Nobody wants to make less money, and 10-11 fewer home games per team will not exactly stimulate gross revenue. But maybe less is more, especially given attendance at games with nothing at stake)
A broader view is needed. Nobody’s going to pay much attention to Rangers-Angels next Tuesday night, in the afterglow of NFL Week 1. But what if this Tuesday night featured the Yankees-A’s wild card game? What if, next weekend, the competition against the NFL was Cubs-Braves Game 3 instead of Cubs-Reds Game 148?
Yeah, the NFL would still win that ratings battle. But at least baseball would be relevant.
There are several more aspects of making the 140-game schedule work, but it CAN work; I have answers, and there’s more blog space in the future for that. Meanwhile, think of the possibilities: the regular season would end this weekend, playoffs begin Tuesday/Wednesday, and the World Series is all wrapped up in warm weather by the first week of October.
It’s time! Bring on the 140-game season. And bring your best product to complete against football head-to-head.