For the seventh time in the history of its sport, MLB is headed for a shortened season. The coronavirus pandemic has pushed back Opening Day — originally scheduled for Thursday — to mid-May at the earliest, with league officials heeding the recommendations of public health experts on when it will be safe to start ramping up baseball activities again.
The regular season typically stretches from late March/early April to the end of September before the playoffs consume most of October. If the league decides it doesn’t want to push games into November and beyond, Colorado Rockies manager Bud Black has heard an idea being tossed around that he thinks could be feasible for increasing the number of games on the schedule.
“I think all of us want to try to play as many games as possible to keep the integrity of winning a championship or getting into the playoffs,” Black said on MLB Network Radio. “I’m not sure what the right number would be and I’m not so sure we’d have to split them…but I’ve even heard there might be talk of being creative and making [doubleheaders] two sevens.”
Over the past few decades, MLB teams have played fewer and fewer doubleheaders. When they do play two, it’s usually because a rainout forced a game to be rescheduled. The home team charges admission for each game separately, called a split doubleheader.
A traditional doubleheader allows fans to attend two games for the price of one. But as the New York Times reported in 2017, “rising attendance and escalating salaries led baseball owners to abandon them as an unnecessary giveaway since it amounted to a game’s being played free of charge.”
Former Cubs manager Joe Maddon told the Chicago Tribune in 2018 that traditional doubleheaders are easier on the players because they don't have to be at the stadium all day. Seven-inning games would shorten that time even further, making the idea one that the players union could favor.
“We’d have to look to make sure it works for both sides, both teams and the union and the owners,” Black said. “But I would be up for some sort of doubleheader situation."
Perhaps the biggest downside of the seven-inning doubleheader would be the fact that the parameters of what a baseball game is would change. Starting pitchers would have a much better chance of pitching complete games. The top of the lineup would have fewer opportunities at the plate.
For now, MLB has given no official indication as to what it plans to do with the 2020 campaign. And until a firm date is given for play to resume, that likely won't change.
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