A 154-Game Season? No, I Don’t Think We’ll Be Doing That

I understand Rob Manfred is following in the footsteps of a guy named “Bud” [Selig] who sat in his chair and enjoyed unmitigated (and perhaps undeserved) success for 20 years. I also understand due to the circumstances of his appointment, Manfred may feel the need to announce his presence with authority.

Major League Baseball Players Association head Tony Clark is also following in the footsteps of successful men (and unlike Clark, experienced labor lawyers) like Donald Fehr and the late Michael Weiner, who was universally loved and respected as a labor leader.

During Selig, Fehr and Weiner’s respective tenures, MLB grew at an incredible pace, becoming the most stable and well-run professional sports league in North America. Since the disastrous 1994 labor strike, MLB has evolved into a more sturdy (albeit less profitable) version of the NFL: an organization financially strong enough to out-run just about any problem, while maintaining unabated growth.

Players can compete with the security of guaranteed contracts while (most) owners can field competitive teams at just about any price point. Revenue sharing and the absence of a salary cap means everyone makes money. The recent infusion of incredible, diverse young talent means the on-field product is set-up for years, while some of the country’s brightest business minds identify new ways to improve player performance.

Manfred and Clark were handed the keys to a Ferrari. All they have to do is not crash it.

Which makes the league’s movement toward a 154-game season incredibly baffling.

Can’t handle a 162-game season? Extend the season’s start date and add seven additional off-days. Shorten spring training. Increase roster flexibility so a manager has greater options at his disposal. Put mileage limits on getaway day travel, instill cut-off times for rain delays, re-align divisions, require hyperbaric chambers in every clubhouse… whatever. Do NOT, under ANY circumstances attempt to reduce the number of games in a season.

Professional sports leagues don’t get smaller, they grow larger. However, moving to a 154-game season raises a myriad of issues beyond marketing. How will small and mid-market owners deal with the reduced revenue? Will TV deals need to be renegotiated? According to Manfred, less revenue means less money for players. How will the players feel about that? Are baseball’s leaders willing to sacrifice 20 years of labor peace in order to remove 5% of the schedule?

One of MLB’s most marketable and recognizable characteristics is its devotion to its history. While the sport still struggles to put Steroid Era performance into context, how will a shorter season maintain the integrity of that history? How does one reconcile almost 60 seasons played at 162-games?

Manfred and Clark would be smart to limit their scope for change to shorter commercial breaks and decreasing gratuitous batting glove adjustments, but anything that fundamentally changes the game (e.g., pitch clocks) or impedes its growth (limiting the on-field product) is a terrible idea.

After what happened in 1994, I never thought I’d say this, but Bud and Donald, it might be time to come and get your car back.

 

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