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Mulvena: MLB needs to get with the times

| Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The baseball season is way too long.

I love baseball. I grew up in a household where baseball, specifically the New York Mets, reigned supreme, and it’s my favorite sport to follow by far. And yet, I still have trouble making it a point of emphasis to tune in for a Tuesday night Mets game against the Braves, one of 20 times the two teams will meet this season.

Baseball is dying. Viewership is down and millennials are killing America’s pastime. Baseball certainly isn’t what it was 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago. I don’t think the lively spirit of what baseball once was is unsalvageable, but I also don’t think limiting mound visits or implementing shot-clock-esque time limits on pitchers will revive what used to be a real part of American identity.

Maybe the solution is simpler. Major League Baseball (MLB) should take a page out of the NFL’s book — perhaps the only page worth paying attention to — and just make the season shorter.

The 2017 MLB season spanned from early April to November 1. That’s roughly eight months of virtually non-stop baseball. Of course, some of the other major sports, like hockey and basketball, rival the MLB in season length in terms of months, but when you take into account the 162 games each team plays, the MLB season sometimes seems like a never-ending marathon.

One-hundred-sixty-two games is a ton of games, and when you play so many, each individual contest loses significance. Division rivalry matchups, much like a Mets–Braves game, become easy to ignore, and as a result, it can be easy to lose track of a team’s season progress. Soon enough you find yourself approaching playoffs and your team’s season is a blur.

I get it, each game means something, each out counts, each pitch is important: “That’s the beauty of baseball.” But come on, a Tuesday night Padres–Rockies game in June doesn’t exactly move the needle for the average fan.

Plus, baseball is naturally a warm weather sport. It’s played outside, on dirt and grass, both of which need to be manicured in April, not November. Have you ever tried to hit a baseball in 22-degree weather? It’s not fun, and it’s hard. When it’s cold, pitchers can’t throw as hard, the ball doesn’t pop off the bat like it does in July and the level of competition isn’t nearly as good as it is in warm weather. If the majority of the season is played in 70-degree weather, why would you schedule the most important set of games, the World Series, in November? Let’s keep baseball in the spring and summer, and to do that, you can’t schedule 162 games.

How about a 90-game season? You can cut the season down by about two months — start it in late March and end it in late August or early September. Each game would matter more. With teams no longer playing each other upwards of 17 times, division rivalries would likely heat up and with more emphasis on each game, it’s likely that viewership would increase, as fans are less inclined to skip games and lose track of their team’s season. The level of play would be higher — pitchers would pitch fewer games, so we probably wouldn’t hear about a UCL tear every other day on SportsCenter, and players wouldn’t get injured as frequently. And 90 games is still more than enough baseball, so the hardcore fans can still get their fix.

Now, I know old school baseball fans tend to get all up in arms when you suggest changing something about the sport. God forbid the “purity” of baseball be tainted by something as heinous as the wild card or the designated hitter. But baseball fans on the whole need to face the facts. People don’t want to watch 162 three-hour games that don’t have playoff race implications. If baseball purists continue to refuse significant change, then baseball may actually die. I would personally rather a new baseball that people still care about than a “pure” baseball that doesn’t exist.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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