April 11, 2000
The Daily Prospectus
Warming Things Up
Over the past few days, we've been treated to the annual sight of watching baseball players play the game dressed like skiers, as a cold snap ripped through cities like Cincinnati, Chicago and Milwaukee. I was born and raised in the Northeast, and while my playing career ended a long time ago, I can still remember the sting of being jammed in 35-degree cold. It's not fun, even with aluminum bats and pitchers throwing in the 60s. I don't even want to think about what it feels like to have an 85-mph slider leave a four-inch piece of wood in your hands in that same cold. It's a problem, because there's no way to play high-caliber baseball in hockey weather, and you can't avoid this weather in April in much of the country.
Now, in two years, baseball is going to look completely different than it did in 1992. We'll have more realignment, more interleague play and two leagues with differing playoff structures. So take the following with a grain of salt, but there are elements of it that can be folded into any new MLB plans.
One way to lessen the number of games played in 30-degree weather is to shorten the season by one week. Right now, the season runs 26 weeks, with teams playing an average of six games per week. With three tiers of playoffs, and no desire to play World Series games in November--I'll come back to that--the only way to shorten the schedule is to reduce the number of games played.
This, of course, meets with some objections. A 154-game schedule reduces each team's home dates by four. If you're the Indians, of course, that's millions of dollars gone. Teams in new parks or with strong fan bases will also suffer a revenue hit. Additionally, reducing the schedule by eight game makes it less likely that baseball's single-season records will be challenged. Yes, many were set in 154-game seasons, but the idea of the mythical "asterisk" has long been retired, so we regard chases the same way we used to. Cutting games off the schedule decreases the chance that players will challenge marks and pique fan and media interest in the process.
There are also issues of player compensation: the immediate effect of a reduction in the schedule would be to lower the counting statistics of all players, which could become a factor in salary negotiations. It's even possible that some owners would take the tack that salaries should be collectively lowered by the same 5% that the schedule is being reduced.
Nothing is going to address all these concerns. What I suggest, however, is the following: reduce the schedule to 158 games on 154 dates over 25 weeks, beginning the second Monday in April. To make up the four games, teams can schedule two games with the same opponent in one day, to be played consecutively for the price of one admission. While this idea may seem radical to many of you, believe me when I say that it is workable. In fact, I even have a name for the concept: the "doubleheader". Catchy, huh?
This isn't going to make the six to eight franchises who sell out, or nearly sell out, most of their games happy. They're also the ones making enough money that they're not going to go belly-up by implementing this. On the other hand, teams that might only bring in 15 to 20,000 people on a Sunday could see that number grow considerably, making them a few extra bucks four times a year. Consider this another small way to help the nominal "have-nots" in the baseball universe.
Starting the season one week later won't avoid all the bad weather. That's where the idea of playing the World Series in November comes in. In most of the cities where weather is a concern, the first week of November is generally milder than the second week of April. There is certainly less chance for snow. Moving the season's start back to the third Monday in April would have an even greater impact on the number of lousy-weather games without having much of an impact on the World Series conditions. Mixing in a--wait for it--day game or two in the Series wouldn't hurt, either.
Sure, a lot of this sounds like old-guard media bleating about the good old days, but these solutions would help to solve some of the problems with squeezing a championship season and three tiers of playoffs into seven months. Baseball wouldn't damage the chance of another summer of 1998 too badly, and could even garner good publicity with the newfangled "two games for one price" gimmick.
It beats "Turn Ahead the Clock" night, that's for damn sure.
Joe Sheehan can be reached at email@example.com.