A new wrinkle was presented Wednesday night when ESPN reported players want a longer -- not shorter -- Major League Baseball season in 2020.
At least 100 games was the number used. Maybe up to 120. This is a complication.
First, map it out. Be generous and say the season begins July 1. Typically, teams receive 2-3 off-days per month. So, reaching a half-season -- 81 or 82 games -- is feasible with a July 1 start and standard start time for the postseason. July, August and September will fill out a clean schedule with 27 games per month. That’s doable. It makes sense.
Adding 20 games becomes difficult. Adding 40 even more so.
Why would the players be interested in this?
Well, their finances are likely to have a direct tether to the amount of games played. Which means their thinking could work like this: we are already assuming risk, so why not maximize the revenue while assuming it? Also, there’s a chance of progress over time as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic. That could mean fans in ballparks -- even if spread out.
Here is Max Scherzer to NBC Sports Washington on March 31:
“All these challenges that are in front of us with trying to make a schedule is going to be extremely difficult and what our appetite is going to be for doubleheaders and all the other rule changes that could be about it,” Scherzer said. “I think everything’s absolutely on the table of what we want to be able to do to get the most amount of games in, and I think that includes playing through October. And just finding any which way we can to get in as many games as possible to have it be a reflective season, so that when we do have the playoffs, when we have a World Series champion, whoever wins the World Series this year is going to earn it.”
This parlay by the players is part of a standard negotiation process. Side A is way over there, Side B is way over here, they bicker until their heads butt, everyone is exasperated and they capitulate.
But, an extended schedule only manufactures further risk and logistical challenges on top of the already present, and very long, list of issues.
If the season moves into the cold-weather months, as it would at 100 or 120 games, locations would become compromised. The postseason would likely have to be held in one stadium which can control the environment. Picture the Yankees versus the Dodgers in Miami.
“I think once you get into playoffs in November, those games have to be at neutral sites,” Scherzer said in late March. “Playoff series at the beginning of November have to be neutral sites because you have to be able to guarantee weather. The teams in the north, once you get into November, the weather can be too cruel for baseball. So, this isn’t a permanent thing. But this is just what we have to do to be able to play baseball and try to get as many games in.”
Circle back to now, two months after Scherzer made those statements. He’s on the MLBPA’s eight-member executive subcommittee. His voice is powerful in any negotiation. So, what was reported Wednesday is a concept clearly percolating long before. Once is an accident, twice is a trend.
And, perhaps the NHL’s “hub city” model is one Major League Baseball can use. Maybe it’s even a chance to expand the game by providing the postseason more of a March Madness feel.
But, to get there, so much more has to be worked out. An 82-game season is a clean slot on the calendar. It would end around the normal time, providing a sense of standard season and standard offseason, one without encroachment on spring training 2021.
The expanded regular season would push the calendar now and later, provide a risk of playing during a spike in coronavirus cases, add extra pressure to precisely follow health protocols for a longer period, and necessitate a new postseason plan. It’s complicated. Just like everything else going on now.
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