By: Garret Heinrich – @GarretHeinrich
Before the 2015 season, I took to SportsRadio610.com to let everyone know how and why Major League Baseball should switch to a 154 game season. That article didn’t start the groundswell of demands on the MLB that I was hoping for (you thousand people who saw that piece failed me! FAILED ME!). With the 2017 season about to kick off and for some reason my plan not coming up in CBA negotiations, I’m back to slightly alter my ideas and add some new ideas that include the expansion of the MLB Postseason.
Here are ten ways that Major League Baseball can improve the reach, enjoyment and popularity of the game revolving around the schedule.
- Drop the number of games in a season to 154:
Normally contracting the season by eight games would seem like a hard task. Luckily baseball has a fairly easy fix, Interleague. Remove the eight games from the current 20 interleague games that are being played by each team.
- Change the Interleague set up:
Now that the league has knocked out eight games from Interleague, how does Interleague work with 12 games to play? Each team will play an entire division in Interleague. (i.e. AL West vs. NL East) One match up of those five will be a four-game home and home series (If the team has a regional rival in that division that would be the four-game series). The other four series will be two home and two road two-game series vs. the other four teams in the opposing division. The next year the divisions rotate, and so on.
While this does take away the regional rivalry series that happens for 16 of the 30 teams in the League two of every three years, it would add excitement for that year when everything aligned. It also helps the teams that don’t have a regional rival (Astros, Rockies, Blue Jays, Braves) won’t have to be forced to face the same team every year for that four-game set.
- Add two scheduled doubleheaders to the schedule
The scheduled doubleheaders used to be a part of baseball scheduling every year. Bring them back. Keep the double headers all on Sundays and against the division with a day-off after. One road and one home doubleheader for each team. One in the first half of the season, one in the second half.
The two doubleheaders per year also allow the season to keep 17 of the 20 off days that players currently have during the season. So they get eight fewer games but lose only three off days. This should help with the players probably not wanting to play double-headers.
- Push up the start of the season:
The season is now 154 games; time to work on when the games are played. The season would start on March 23rd for this season, almost two week before it actually starts. The big fight against pushing the start of the season up two weeks is that the weather wouldn’t be good in some of the colder parts of the country. And while that would be an inconvenience, the counter argument to that is: wouldn’t we rather be having to make up a few games here and there for rain/snow outs in the first month of the season than playing the World Series in winter weather in late October and November?
The second argument is spring training. Pitchers and Catchers normally report the second week of February and position players the next week (Even though it seems like 80% of players are in Arizona or Florida before the official start date). So why not just knock out a week of games and have everyone reports on February 1st. Not a big deal. You play in Florida and Arizona for a reason.
- Push up the end of the season to Labor Day:
Starting the season two weeks earlier would push the end of the season to mid-September. Plus the removal of eight games from interleague and two game days moved to doubleheaders from the schedule and the season that normally would end on October 1st can end on September 4th, games Labor Day. A national holiday. The last game for every team is on a day when many Americans have the day off. Imagine the final day of the season starting at 12:30p EST and with the final first pitch of the year being thrown at 7:05 PT. A full day of exciting baseball to help celebrate Labor Day and the NFL hasn’t even kicked off their season. The attention of the entire sports world would be on baseball. And hopefully, there would playoff implications.
With 15 teams in each league, there would have to be at least one Interleague home and home being played on the last weekend of the season, but the Monday end to the season would allow for most of the series to be the one series that didn’t have a double header in the division. Which means the likelihood of two teams hooking up for a four-game winner take all pennant race series to end the year will be higher. More drama, more excitement, more people watching baseball.
- Move The All-Star Game to the 4th of July:
Baseball owns summer. Why not own the best holiday summer has to offer and put Major League Baseball on the center stage during another National holiday. With the season now ending earlier, the All-star game shouldn’t be played just 6 weeks before the end of the season. It needs to be pushed back a bit. Moving the game to the 4th of July also takes away the All-Star game from being played on a random Tuesday every year. The game could be played mid-day (think 4:05ET first pitch) so people will be watching as they are enjoying their pool parties and bar-b-qs. Tie America’s Pastime with America’s holiday. It’s a perfect fit.
Now we’ll move to the playoffs, which will have a lot of changes to both the current format and the format that I proposed last year.
- Expand the number of teams in the postseason for each league to six:
One of the biggest benefits to moving the end of the season up to Labor Day is that it makes the expansion of the postseason very applicable. We move the number of teams making the Postseason from five to six per league. Adding one more wild card team means that there will be three division winners and three wild-card teams. The teams would be seeded by division winners getting the 1, 2 & 3 seeds based on regular season records. The three wild card teams would be seeded 4, 5, & 6 based on their regular season records. dThe seeds will come into play for match-ups in the first two rounds of the postseason.
Expanding the number of teams for the playoffs means that more players are going to get into the playoffs, which means more playoff bonuses for those players. Also, for owners, it allows for them to make more money on the playoff games they are more likely to have. More chances at playoff games for teams also means more season tickets for the next season, which benefits the owners. This is a win/win for owners and players.
- Wild Card Series increased to 3 game series, Divisional Series increase to 7 game series:
Adding another team to the Postseason means two teams get first round byes (much like the NFL). The two division winners with the best records (Seeded 1 & 2 in each league) will not play in the Wild Card round. This rewards the division winners with the best records and allows them to set up their rotation from top to bottom.
The four teams that will play in the Wild Card series will be the 3rd best division winner (3 seed) against the 3rd best Wild Card winner (6 seed) and the best record of the wild card teams (4 seed) and the second best record of the wild card teams (5 seed) will play in the other match up. The 3 seed and 4 seed will hold home field advantage for this three-game series. The two Wild Card Series for each league would start Wednesday after the season ends for one league and Thursday for the other league. The next season the leagues would flip who starts on Wednesday.
The winners of the Wild Card series will move on to play in the Divisional round of the playoffs against the two teams with a bye. The teams will be reseeded for the Divisional round. The 1 seed will face the lowest seed left and the 2 seed will face the highest seed left. (i.e. If the 6 seed and 4 seed win their Wild Card series, the 4 seed plays at the 2 seed and the 6 seed plays at the 1 seed.) The 1 seed and 2 seed will hold home field advantage for the Divisional series.
For the League Championship Series the team with the best seed gets home field advantage.
Here is how it would look for the playoffs on the schedule (This is the 2015 dates because I had already had that mocked up so it was easier to edit, you’ll get the idea):
- Still October Baseball:
Baseball has always been played in October. The first game ever was played in Hoboken, NJ on October 6th, 1845. The first World Series started on October 1st. The earlier start and earlier end to the season won’t take October baseball away from the fans, it will just make the World Series start a little earlier in the month. If the schedule were to have changed to for 2017, the World Series would take place from October 4th to the 12th . This would hopefully ensure a bit warmer weather for the biggest event for the sport.
- Competing For The Spotlight
Having the Postseason earlier also gives baseball a much easier competition time for TV ratings against the most popular sport in America, the NFL. Currently, the postseason starts during week five of the NFL and finishes during week 10 when NFL teams are working to try and establish their place as a playoff team. Also, the NFL tends to see a rise in viewership as the season progresses. If the start of the MLB Postseason is before the NFL Season actually starts the focus is heavy on baseball while the NFL is working the early part of the season. Having postseason baseball compete against weeks 1-6 of the NFL seems like a much better proposition than competing against weeks 5-10. The schedule can be maneuvered so that postseason games are not held on many Thursdays or Mondays as to avoid going head to head prime time with nationally televised NFL Games.
Scheduling the MLB games for times that work with the NFL is also a key. On the days that the playoffs would go head to head against the NFL it is important to try and not go directly up against NFL Games. Only one Thursday and two Mondays would be scheduled for the playoffs. The Thursday games could theoretically be day games to not go up against opening night of the NFL, but maybe early evening works too. A 5:05 ET first pitch could see the game finished by the kickoff of the NFL season. Same thing goes for Monday games, a little earlier first pitch could ensure more casual fans getting invested in the game fully before taking in football.
On Sunday games, a 6:05 ET first pitch for any Sunday game makes the most sense. With the NFL starting at 1pm ET, 4pm ET & 8:30pm ET on Sundays, that start time would slide the game into the dead time on Sundays when everyone is just checking their fantasy scores and waiting for Sunday Night Football to begin. It would be a perfect time slot to have everyone turn to baseball and hold it there because the Postseason is better than any week 1-6 game.
These ideas aren’t small. They huge changes that obviously would need to be worked out with the owners and players during the next collective bargaining period. But when you are trying to compete to be the second most popular sport in America it is key to optimize the visibility of the game. Changes probably need to be made to the pace of play and other in-game solutions, but those are even more complicated to work out. The schedule is something that can be done and make an immediate impact. Now we just need the powers that be at Major League Baseball to be bold and make the changes needed (read: Make all my changes, because I. JUST. FIXED. BASEBALL.)