Rule change: Baseball At 16 Games

So, a couple of friends suggested to me that instead of making this a series of rule changes I would like to see (and will never happen), I should instead come up with “Five things that might make you think differently about baseball.” That does seem to make a bit more sense. My first rule change to cut out the soul-killing intentional walk in baseball. The second was not a rule change at all but a plea to make the minor leagues more autonomous and, in that way, bring real baseball to places all over America.

This rule change is not a rule change or a plea. It’s … well, I’m not sure what it is. I hope it’s interesting.

The other day, I was thinking about something that maybe you’ve thought about too: What would baseball be like if there were only 16 games in a season? I’ve often toyed around with that thought. I sometimes write columns when the baseball season is 16 games old. But I must admit I had never REALLY thought about how this would affect baseball. This time I did.

And I came to believe this: If a baseball season was just 16 games and structured like the NFL season — Major League Baseball would look A LOT like the NFL.

Here are six ways that MLB at 16 games would look like the NFL:

1. You would have one starting pitcher. He would be the focus of the team, not unlike the quarterback.

I’m not sure if any of these things are true, of course. They’re guesses. It is possible that if there were only 16 baseball games — one a week — that managers would not have starting pitchers as we know them now. They might have several pitchers with different roles. They might have three pitchers designed to go three innings.

But I can’t help but think, no, they would have one starter — maybe, for some teams, two starters (righty and lefty) — who would pitch every single week. This just makes the most sense to me. The quarterback comparison is too strong. I would say there are fewer than 30 GREAT pitchers in baseball right now, just like there are fewer than 30 GREAT quarterbacks in the NFL. There are teams who would have superstars like Clayton Kershaw and Justin Verlander and Adam Wainwright and Cliff Lee and Felix Hernandez. They are like Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and Drew Brees and so on. Then there’s a tier of very good pitchers (Max Scherzer, Zack Greinke, Chris Sale, Yu Darvish representing Joe Flacco and Cam Newton and so on). You would have your phenoms (Matt Harvey = RGIII; Stephen Strasburg as Andrew Luck). You would have your game managers. You would have your lousy starters too.

I think teams would take on the personality of their pitcher the way NFL teams take on the personality of their quarterback. You would have announcers saying that you can’t win without a great starter the way they say you can’t win without a great quarterback.

As far as the rest of the pitching staff goes, I envision a staff of five pitchers. You’d have a starter, his backup (and people would shout for the backup — another way it would be like the quarterback position) and then three others. One would probably be an emergency starter/reliever. The other two would specialists of some kind.

I’m sure there are some of you who would disagree and say that teams would carry more pitchers to try and dominate opponents lineups — three or four lefty specialists, three or four late inning specialists, but I think not. Here’s why. There’s only so much you can do with pitching. That is to say, you can’t hold a team to LESS than zero runs. There’s a point of diminishing returns with pitching. With one or two excellent starting pitchers and a couple of relievers, you have enough pitching I think.
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2. You would see much more managerial strategy in baseball than is used now.

Let’s assume that teams would keep five pitchers. That would accomplish two things. One, it would mean the quality of pitching would go way, way up because you would essentially be dropping more than 50% of the pitchers used in baseball right now.

But, more significantly, assuming rosters stay at 25, it would mean that managers would have 20 everyday players to use. Think about that. TWENTY. With that many players, a manager would have room on his roster for players of many different talents. You want a designated pinch runner. Heck, you can carry two. Go to the Olympics, get Usain Bolt. You want a designated bunter? Heck, call David Eckstein, get him out of retirement, he’s yours. You have room for defensive wizards and power-hitting slugs. You have room for designated double-play-breakers and catcher-smashers. You have room for pretty much any kind of ballplayer you would want.

And then, because every game would be so important and every run would be so precious, you would have managers trying all sorts of crazy things to score runs. I’m confident they would come up with strategies that no one has dreamed of in the 140-plus year history of the game. Why? Because they would HAVE to come up with new ways to score runs. There wouldn’t be a choice.

The strategies would be wild, I’d bet. You know the shifting defenses that are beginning to play a big role in the game. Managers and coached would supersize them. They would play a different kind of shifting defense every game and for every player. There would be 20 different kinds of hit and run. Base stealing would become a much bigger part of the game. And I think there would be all sorts of innovations that my mind can’t reach now. Baseball would get its own Bill Walsh or Sid Gillman who would revolutionize offense. Baseball would get its own Buddy Ryan or Tom Landry who would revolutionize defense.

There’s a commonly held believe — I hold it — that football is a game more designed for strategy than baseball. Every play has its own special design. Coaches are placed all over the field to make adjustments. Teams huddle up before every play to talk about what they will do next. But maybe a big reason is football coaches simply have MORE TIME to design the game. If baseball was played only once a week, you better believe that managers and coaches would use every second of it to come up with ways to win.

Which leads to this:

3. There would be a lot more film watching in baseball.

I’ve spoken to many former baseball players who see no value at all in the video work that teams do. They say that breaking down the swing too much can mess with your mindset. They say that breaking down the pitcher fills the mind with too many thoughts. Hitting is a natural act. “See the ball, hit the ball,” Tony Perez always said.

I’m not sure how much of that is true but I do believe this: If they played baseball just once a week, managers and coaches and players would SCOUR over video just like in football. They would not only break down pitchers to the nth power, they would break down each individual hitter. They would break down each individual fielder. They would break down the other coach’s tendencies. They would gameplan each game differently.

The managers would do more of these things NOW except there’s no time. There’s another game tomorrow. And another game the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. There are too many pitchers to study intently, too many hitters to build a thorough portfolio on, too many fielders to worry about. There’s more gameplanning in baseball now than even three years ago. Specialty defenses. Expanded hitter breakdowns. Deeper scouting reports on pitchers — those old ballplayers say they used to get information like “Steve Carlton: Watch out for his slider.”

But if the game was once a week, there would be an information explosion. Like the NFL.

4. Baseball would become dramatically more violent.

I’m not 100% certain of this, of course. But I am probably 75% certain. Right now, we don’t tend to think of baseball as a contact sport. There IS contact — plays at the plate, double-play meetings at second base, the occasional hit-by pitch and ensuing bench-clear — but it’s mostly tangential to the game. Football, meanwhile, is violent at its core. Or anyway, that’s what we think now.

Except — baseball was extremely violent in its early days. And I think that if the game was played just once a week, if you faced each team only once or twice a season, if every game was critical, there would be a lot more violence in baseball. Collisions at the plate would be intensified. Nobody would concede the double play without really taking out the fielder. Pitchers would be much more likely to send message pitches. And I think you would probably find violence where there is none right now.

Here, think about it another way: What would happen to football if there were 162 games in a season. It’s unimaginable the way football is played now. Players could not survive. But if there was a 162-game football season, football WOULD NOT be played like it is now. Not even close. I think the violence would drop to almost nothing. It would become a glorified game of two-hand touch. Big hits would almost never happen — maybe in the playoffs. There would be less coaching. There would be less intensity. Football would HAVE to evolve that way for survival.

5. Baseball would get much better TV ratings and much bigger crowds.

Again, there’s a deep belief that football is a better television game than baseball. Again, I believe it. But part of the reason is the scarcity of pro football on television. Baseball is everywhere, all the time. The baseball game of the week is wonderfully done by ESPN with the fantastic Dan Shulman doing the games (and the equally fantastic Boog Sciambi backing him up). But it’s not the event that Sunday Night Football has become because you can watch those baseball teams play any night you want all summer long.

If each baseball team played just 16 baseball games, all the numbers numbers would jump. Ratings would jump. You would see 80,000 people at baseball games even though the ticket prices would go way up. Interest in each game would skyrocket. The World Series, at one game, would have a Super Bowl type quality.

Would that be good for baseball? No, not scaling all the way back to 16 games. There’s no way to make up for all the lost revenue — even if you did get 80,000 per game for eight baseball games, that’s still only 640,000 people, which is way less than half of what they drew in Tampa Bay this year. You could double or triple the ticket prices and never make up the lost revenue. And while the national television revenues might go up, the regional numbers would go down.

BUT there are many people who think, for the long-term health of the game, they absolutely SHOULD cut the schedule back fairly dramatically, create a bit more scarcity, make itself more of a national television product. I don’t sense people in baseball will go in that direction. They simply would not give up the gate.

6. Baseball statistics would mean a lot less.

People do follow football statistics, largely because of fantasy football. But everyone knows that baseball is the numbers game. This again is at least partially a function of the 162-game schedule. It isn’t necessarily that the baseball statistics are BETTER than the football statistics. Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t. But baseball has so many games, the only way you can really keep up with the game is through the numbers. We need them to make sense of a very long season with millions of events. If baseball was only 16 games, we wouldn’t need those numbers in the same way.

And, obviously, with the much smaller sample size, they wouldn’t mean as much either.

I should add a seventh thing: I think the better baseball team would win a much higher percentage of the time. Just like in football. They would win a much higher percentage of the time because, well, each game would matter so much more.

Obviously baseball is not going to a 16-game schedule. Baseball won’t even shave a few games off its schedule. But, I do think it’s interesting to think about how much of baseball’s character is the game itself is locked up in the length of the season. I do think it’s interesting to realize that the baseball we watch is not the only way to play baseball.

80 thoughts on “Rule change: Baseball At 16 Games

  1. John

    I’ve said for years that baseball needs to start by pulling back to the 154 games season that was the norm until 1960, if only for the sake of shortening the season to balance the addition of the extra playoffs.

    Reply
  2. Jay

    I have often wondered about cutting just a few games off of the schedule to make improvements. Say we go to 150 games instead of what we have now.

    1. We could probably eliminate the day games, this would add more revenue because some cities have historically low attendance of ‘businessman specials’
    2. The World Series could be moved up, this would lessen the overlap with College and Pro football.
    3. Lower maintenance costs, this would less the operating cost of a stadium or the money it takes to actually put on a game

    Incremental changes like cutting a few games and rearranging income and expenses could probably negate the loss of gate revenue from a few games. I just not sure the current format is what will serve football in the future. I feel already it has lost so much to football that it will never get back.

    Reply
    1. Ernie

      You would not add more revenue by cutting 12 games even if they are day games. Revenue is sales from tickets, food and merchandise. So even eliminating the most sparsely attended game would lower revenue because those sales are now gone.

      Reply
      1. Jay

        I do not really care about revenue, I care more about cost. If you go from 82 home games a year down to 75, there would be reduction in what you needed to pay for food, ticket takers, ground staff, announcers, guys in mascot costumes, and a whole lot more that I don’t even know about.

        My argument is that it takes X amount of dollars just to get a game ready before the 1st pitch is even thrown. If you reduce the number of times that cost X has to be incurred, in this case 75 vs 82 and hopefully redistribute more fans down to the 75 then you should at least break even. This is no different then a consumer company cutting bad products from its lineup of products (sparsely attended day games) and maximizing sales of your most profitable ones (night and weekend games)

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        1. indyralph

          There are many teams who sell out, or nearly sell out, every game. Your argument definitely does not work for them. And I have a hard time believing that even a game with attendance of 10k results in revenues less than costs.

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      2. Yogi

        Sure, you would “lower revenue” but from what I’m reading, you would get rid of loss… Revenue is above the line, but if you have more expense than revenue i.e. stadium expense to have a game might be higher than the revenue generated on those “historically low” attendance games. So you can’t just look at revenue you have to look at the cost to generate that revenue…

        Reply
    2. jason paul richmond (@azulum)

      Here’s how to make games matter more while keeping the number of game near the same:

      Cut the amount of games played by 10% or so. Then change the impact of a game a week so that it would be worth 5 times a normal game. Then the best starters would be on a different rotation, ensuring that the fans who would pay extra, maybe double or triple, for that game would see the best players playing. These games would be intense, much like the playoffs. Imagine, win five regular games in a row and lose one BIG HIT game, you just went .500 for the week. Lose the majority of regular games and win all the BIG HIT ones, win the division.

      24 or 25 BIG HIT games. 8 of them home/away against divisional opponents, one home or away against each in the league and the rest a random smattering of interleague play. 120 to 125 regular ones. If you ask me, that would make baseball more exciting than ever, with better ratings, higher *and* lower ticket prices (with greater revenues overall), and more opportunity for more teams to be able to make a run at the end of the year (or screw the pooch). And the last BIG HIT game of the the year — the one-game playoff to decide the wild card.

      And then comes the 5-year, $200M contract for the elite pitchers.

      Reply
  3. wordyduke

    Think of the ridiculous assertions that would be made by announcers needing something, anything to say. They would look at the 16-game sample size and conclude that David Ortiz was greater than Babe Ruth.

    Dropping a dozen regular-season games would improve the product. Late-October night baseball in New England, with the dugouts and stands full of people in parkas, is not what Abner Doubleday had in mind.

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  4. Scott P.

    Joe, I don’t think you’re right about the statistics. A starting NFL QB has about as many pass attempts as a MLB regular has plate appearances in a season. The numbers are there, even in 16 games.

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    1. Patrick M

      Scott, in a 16 game season, a hitter who played the entirety of every game would have ~65 plate appearances. That is nowhere close to being an adequate sample

      Reply
  5. Cathead

    From Tom Boswell’s “50 reasons why baseball is so much better than football.” Reason #21: Having 162 games is a year is 10.125 times as good as having 16.

    Reply
  6. ericanadian

    Even if you cut it back to 4 nights a week, say Saturday, Sunday, Tuesday & Thursday. Football had already shown three nights a week to be viable from a national television standpoint. Four should be functional given that there is no sports competition for baseball in the summer. You would still play roughly 100 games.

    You would offset the loss in gate revenue with additional television revenue along with lower maintenance costs at the stadium. You could cut roster size and reduce costs further as teams could play with 3 or 4 man rotations under such a schedule.

    I think Basketball & Hockey would benefit more greatly from reduced schedules, but it seems to me that baseball could as well.

    Reply
    1. Richard

      “You would offset the loss in gate revenue with additional television revenue along with lower maintenance costs at the stadium.”

      1. TV revenues would not jump so much that they offset the massive reduction in gate revenues.

      2. Stadium maintenance costs are almost nothing compared to the gate receipts of even one regular home game.

      “You could cut roster size and reduce costs further as teams could play with 3 or 4 man rotations under such a schedule.”

      So the players and players union would be against it.
      So the owners would be against it because they make less money and the players would be against it because they make a lot less salary. So who would be for this plan?

      Reply
  7. Oliver Staley (@Ostaley)

    The quality of pitching may go up but the hitting would decline. Batters benefit from repetition and facing live pitching only one day a week would erode their skills. Plus, if you had essentially 11 pinch hitters on a roster, some of them might not bat for weeks at a time, reducing their abilities even further. Sounds like a lot of 1-0 games.

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  8. Jarid

    I think the quantity of a team’s pitchers would probably be dependent on the quality of the #1 guy. Obviously, someone like the Tigers can get by with few pitchers, because you have a front-line starter with a lot of stamina who’s better than anyone in the bullpen. But for a team like the Twins, with a rotation fronted by Kevin Correia, I could envision Gardy sticking with his current bullpen (which was legitimately pretty good) and playing the heck out of matchups all game long. Or, he could start Perkins, but knowing that Perkins failed as a starter, he’d give him two or three innings and go to someone else – basically, actually acting out the old “Why don’t they just use a bunch of relievers every game?” idea that people halfheartedly suggest all the time and no one ever does.

    I’d note that the Twins’ Starting Pitcher (if they went the traditional route) would probably be somewhat better than Kevin Correia simply due to supply and demand – since having three or four above-average starting pitchers is no longer particularly useful, there would be a tendency to distribute good pitchers more equally around the league.

    Reply
  9. ceolaf

    The manager job would be totally different. The demands on managers would be totally different, as Joe starts to describe.

    This means that a different kinds of manager would be needed. This means that the kinds of people who have traditionally made good managers would not be appropriate.

    But I don’t know what kind of person would be right, as I don’t really know what the new job would entail.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      A lot of managing, good managing, is winning games while making sure to navigate the team through a long season without burning out key players, especially veterans. The playoff effort is quite different. Saving Craig Kimbrel for the ninth inning makes all the sense in the world in July…. Not so much in October. That’s one of the reasons why managers look so bad in the playoffs. Many cannot adjust to managing games where every pitch could end or continue your season. Bold moves are often required, and many managers either can’t make bold moves or don’t know the difference between bold and hair brained.

      Reply
      1. Which hunt?

        I think that’s right. Farrell and Matheny actually looked pretty good in my opinion, but Mattingly? Yeesh. The skill set for coaxing players through an epic hot streak in August is just totally different from managing the during playoffs. His lack of tactical acumen was exposed for all the world to see.

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  10. JimW

    Four things I think would happen:

    1) Pitching strategy and staff size would be dictated by whatever the allowed roster size is changed to. We wouldn’t lose the “starting pitcher” concept, there’d be waaaaay too much pressure to ride the Kershaws of the world as much as possible. Only the dregs of the league would consider a 3/3/3 kind of setup, much like only the dregs of the NFL have a revolving door at QB. What happens after the SP depends on how many pitchers it makes sense to carry. I wouldn’t be surprised if a rule tweak was needed to prevent managers from switching every batter if staff sizes were too big.
    Best guess: there would be one Fireman who is always tasked with the last 6-9 outs (so if they blow it the manager can say I Put In My Guy), backed up by 2 lefty specialists, 2 righty specialists (so the manager can look like he’s managing, they loooove hand splits), and 1 long guy to soak up innings and take it into extras. I see that long guy as being a Kicker analogy; when the game is forced on his shoulders and he fails it’ll be triply annoying because he’s not the guy you ever wanted out there.

    2) Truism: with nothing but regular BP for six days between games, facing an ace every single game, hitters will have no chance. Most need that game every day to keep their timing; same logic applies to how rare it is to excel at pinch-hitting. Maybe they’d evolve, but we also have a large surplus of former MLB pitchers who no longer have a job. As a result, I think you’d see a “practice squad” concept emerge, that allows MLB teams to keep 5ish on the roster but inactive on gameday, just so hitters can scrimmage with live MLB-quality-stuff pitching as much as possible during the week.

    3) The overall quality of fielding would go up sharply. You can only swing the bat so many times and there’s a lot of time to fill during the week. Even The Tigers couldn’t help but knock some of the iron out of their gloves.

    4) Once the concept of playing once-a-week was established, the regular season would quickly expand to 25 weeks or so. Would start to resemble soccer more than football, and it would be completely unsurprising if satellite tournaments played midweek sprung up as well.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      I wouldn’t entirely dismiss a 3-3-3 approach. Someone will try it, have success, and others will copy it. I know this is a youth league example, but when I played, the standard was to try to ride your starter as long as possible. We tried it and didn’t have success. My Dad was the manager and concluded that our two pitchers, including myself, we’re trying to pace ourselves through the game and failing at the task. He went to 3-3 telling us both to go 100% hard for 3 innings. The other pitcher, more of a control pitcher, pitched the first three. i was the power pitcher and pitched the last three. We only lost one game the rest of the season…. And we shut everyone down…. Not only did 3-3 work, but teams were worried that they had to do their damage early or they’d lose, which got into their heads….at one point, I hadn’t allowed a run in 21 straight innings. And by the end of the season, two other teams had copied us.

      Reply
  11. Michael Monk

    Actually, that is not a bad idea. But what if it changed to the now 23 weeks it is (april till september), with one 3 game series each week. I think all the strategy stuff you talk about would still be there, teams would need 3 starters instead of 1 or 5, with maybe 5 bullpen guys, so 8 man pitching staff instead of the normal 11-12 you get now. Then you would have managers being able to make changes game to game to game to counter what someone has done. This would still give a 69 game season, with each team getting 11 home series and half the teams getting an extra home series, alternately each year. I would say play each team in your own division twice (home and home) that would be 8 series, once each for same conference for 10 more (alternating home and away each year) and one interleague division rotating, so 5 more.
    This way, each series means a lot, so each game still does.

    Reply
    1. bellweather22

      Weekday games, especially when school is in session…. And it starts back mid August here…..don’t draw flies. I think MLB could go 6-7 games a week during summer when school is out, and dial it back to 4-5 games when school is in…. Even with fewer games, the Marlins on a school night, in Sept isn’t even worth the effort to put the game on.

      Reply
      1. Richard

        Depends on the city. The Red Sox had a sellout streak (selling out every home game every year) for almost 10 years.

        In 2013, along with the Red Sox, SF, StL, and Detroit filled 90% of all possible seats for all 81 home games. Philly, the Yankees, and the 2 LA teams were over 80%.

        Reply
  12. Tofu

    Reducing staffs to five pitchers would not improve the quality of pitching, at least, not without a lot of blowback. Pitching is specialized, for one (that would go away). And limiting workloads allows pitchers to put more into each pitch. Pitchers can pitch more innings, but not at the same high level they currently do.

    This isn’t to say it’s not a great idea, just that it you wouldn’t be getting the same top 150 pitchers you have now both because a) they would all have to throw differently, thus making them de facto different pitchers and b) longevity and stamina would matter more, which means the current top 150 would not be the new top 150, so you’d have LITERALLY different pitchers, too.

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  13. Tofu

    I don’t really follow the “diminishing returns” argument. It’s true that you can’t hold teams to less than zero runs, but it’s also true that shutouts are incredibly rare. This might be an interesting point in a dead ball era where even merely above-average pitchers could sport sub-.2.00 ERAs or something, but that’s not the case now, and it sure won’t be the case if pitchers have to alter their styles to throw more innings at lower intensities and with less specialization than they have now.

    Reply
  14. Lang

    Why not go all the way and have a complete separation of offense and defense? Assuming a 25-man roster, let’s take Joe’s estimate of five pitchers, add in nine designated hitters and eight designated fielders, leaving three bench spots for substitutes.

    Reply
  15. AMR

    1. Fans will know umps and their strikezones very very well, leading to:
    1a. Computer strikezeone
    1b. Complete Instant replay, College or NFL football style TBD.

    2. NL rules will be better. SP and RPs will learn additional defensive positions. If Starter is RHP, and a high-leverage situation with a lefty batter arises, Loogy comes in, SP takes a defensive position, Loogy faces that batter, SP then comes back to pitching. If the lineup is LRL, Loogy may switch to that defensive position and play there until that spot in lineup comes up.

    Reply
    1. ghaff

      That was a point I wondered about as well. If (as lot of commenters on this thread are assuming) it becomes even more a pitcher’s game, it may make sense to keep more than 1 pitcher in play. You’re still constrained by where they are in the batting lineup but, given a presumed significant drop in batting averages, the difference between a journeyman right fielder and a pitcher who trains part-time for that position may not be a huge defensive difference.

      Reply
  16. Dan

    Very interesting idea. Maybe we could start a renegade league with 16 games in cities not served by MLB (Portland, Nashville, Charlotte, Houston- sorry Astros fans). That would kill two birds (rules/ideas #2 and #3) with one stone. I nominate Joe as commish.

    Reply
  17. Richard Aronson

    The biggest expense (aside from player salaries) of playing a baseball game is the Stadium. Most MLB teams would go bankrupt only playing 16 games a year. Most teams in baseball make money on every home game because the biggest costs (player salaries and ballpark) are fixed. It’s why McDonalds (and now most others) sells breakfast: their biggest costs were the physical plant, and the more times it could be making money, the more money can be made.

    The real problem is that football (and basketball) are much better games for television. The ball is larger and the human eye can usually follow it (although misdirection plays in football sometimes fool the camera men). Baseballs and hockey pucks travel so quickly they are either too small to be seen on panoramic shots, or move so fast they’re off camera on closeups. Football and basket make more money from television because they’re better television. That viewership led to a stronger fan base, and provided good reasons for salary caps and shared television revenues. With only ten home games (two exhibitions) most season tickets cost under $1,000, making sellouts the norm. So even bad teams sell almost every seat. You almost never see lots of empty seats.

    Baseball’s big money is local;attendance, television deals for big markets (Yankees, Dodgers), and radio. Profit sharing is highly limited, and the rich clubs strongly resist it. Because there are so many games, teams never sell out the entire season on season tickets; not even New York has enough people who have the money and interest to sell out Yankee Stadium. That in turn makes it essential to have a winning team to sell out most games. There are over 80 home games, so only the worst seats in the house cost under $1,000. So in order to make money from ticket sales, teams must play well. I’ve never attended a football game where they gave away free stuff to sell tickets. But our baseball season tickets (which we split up) let to a constant stream of free Dodger merchandise.

    If you want baseball to again be the national pastime (and I do!) I think it’s time for improved technology. Baseballs could be made with an RFID chip at their core, the same technology that causes beeping for shoplifters or unscanned library books. A camera could be made with technology to follow the ball. Sure, there would be some balls that fail (a ball hitting a bat concentrates far more energy than any collision in football) but I suspect that we can make balls that would survive almost all the time*. That would enable close up views of every play. It would make baseball much better television. Psychologically, when watching on TV, you know you’re missing many plays, and have to hope a replay camera got a good picture and you get to see it. It just doesn’t feel as satisfying. Put one such camera behind home plate in every park, use the other cameras for the specialty views and blocked views (say, on plays at the plate; but those are almost always seen coming and the director can switch to one of the other cameras and television ratings would go up. With more television money available, then you can reduce the number of games and do more profit sharing.

    * It would also end controversy on who actually caught important balls. The ID part of RFID.

    Reply
  18. Anon

    to those talking seriously about shortening the season just. . . .just stop it. Not going to happen. Name the last time any of the sports shortened the schedule (other than for labor stoppages or perhaps world wars)? Right. That would be never. Basketball, hockey, baseball, football – they’ve all increased the schedule, increased the playoffs.

    I think baseball would be better if they got rid of the playoffs and just had a 15 game WS between the 2 leagues. Not going to happen, not ever.

    Joe’s column was an exercise in thought and an interesting one, but it’s not going to happen.

    Reply
  19. Frantweet (@frantweet12)

    I really disagree with the point about more violence in baseball. Basketball and hockey have season lengths much more similar to baseball than to football, and both those sports are feature more physicality than baseball. Football would get less violent with more games, and baseball might get a bit more violent with fewer, but I don’t think it would be drastically different.

    Reply
  20. Ryan

    My god, can you imagine how much money Clayton Kershaw would make?

    I mean, they’re already talking about a $300,000,000 contract for him and he’d be pitching the majority of his team’s innings in this scenario but many fewer innings total (thus lessening the injury risk).

    Reply
  21. Jamie Allman

    I also propose Joe Posnanski write only 16 blog entries per year.
    Here are six ways Joe’s limit of 16 blog posts would help the internet and the common good.

    1)Pretend baseball fans like Joe would choose another topic to write about and not feel compelled to fill the space with dumb crap that he and his buddies talk about . (that must have been a fascinating conversation with the buds, btw. You the same guys who think you should be able to just kidnap girls and not suffer the dating process?) Like it would be with managers, there’d be much more thought put into blog posts.

    2)Joe would not make bloggers appear vapid, bored, and addicted to puking out any stupid idea that comes to them over the 7th Pale Ale. By Joe’s own brilliant thinking about baseball, , his audience would grow exponentially if he wrote less.

    3)Joe’s life would become more efficient, as his productivity at his real job (let me guess: a stay at home dad), would increase dramatically without having to type regular inanities.

    4)Joe might actually have time to expand his duties and make more money, so he would not have to be jealous of people who make money off of providing a service and being great at what they do.

    5)Joe would become dramatically more violent.

    6)Joe’s commentators would become dramatically more violent.

    Reply
    1. ralph

      I agree that this post, at least as written, is stupid. I suspect that if indoor soccer was the most popular U.S. sport, and also happened to be 16 games, Joe would say baseball would look much more similar to indoor soccer if the baseball season was 16 games.

      Reply
  22. AJ

    We don’t need to shorten the season, and we should expand the playoffs. NBA & NHL already go twice as long. NFL a different animal because viewership depends upon hype, gambling, alcohol, not the actual game, which most ignore. NFL attendance drops yearly.

    Baseball has the shortest postseason in professional sports, and the World Series legitimately went until the first day November just once. (And if it did again, who cares? That’s just two teams competing on the ultimate stage, whereas all 30 play in early April when temperatures are actually colder than in the fall.)

    No sport has made more wise changes (immensely popular interleague play, divisional and league realignment, the aforementioned postseason format tweaks, cutting back playoff days off, minor use of instant replay, etc) than MLB the past 20 years. And the success of said changes is shown via the game’s incredible popularity (rising attendance nearly every season).

    Reply
  23. Missy Markum

    You might know baseball but not football. Buddy Ryan was a hack. Landry was great on both sides of the ball. RGIII is not a phenom but not doubt Bob Costas called and required some QB minority representation.

    Reply
  24. JS

    I quit following baseball after the 1994 season for the most part. And the addition of that used-car salesman, Bud Selig, was the final nail on the coffin for me.

    Reply
  25. Jerry Goldblatt

    I think some of your assumption about pitching are faulty. Managers would adopt a pitching strategy that fits the available talent. Teams with a Justin Verlander would go with a single starter, setup man, a closer and a mop up guy. However, it would be just as effective to have three setup guys, closer and an emergency pitcher. Pitchers are fairly fungible. You also wouldn’t need 20 position players. .Fifteen would be sufficient.

    W-L would be clustered around 500 because the games are going be pitcher dominated. That means low scoring games and only an occasional blow out. There would probably be a couple teams with extreme records one way or another because of the way random events fall.

    Baseball wouldn’t be very interesting with this kind of format. It would quickly die out.

    Reply
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  27. Orthodox

    Since there’s only 16 games, I’d have several foul ball specialists. The starting pitcher would be done after the third inning on a good day, definitely by the fourth or fifth. The game might be 0-0 and he’d have 9 strikeouts, but he’ll have tossed 100 pitches. I’d make them waste all their pitchers and then look to win in the later innings. The games would take at least 5 hours, maybe more, because of all the pitches thrown. I don’t know how effective a foul ball specialist could get, and you could argue a team could do that now, but if a team tried this now, they’d probably be ostracized and pitchers would might throw at them. In a 16 game season where most games might have soccer scores? Fire away at my batters!

    Reply
  28. Gordon

    A 16 game season would cause changes to the way baseball is played but I would be careful assuming that this is the only reason why football is more popular than baseball. I think the popularity of football is also helped by having their games televised on a national basis on Sundays at a time of the year when the change in seasons means that more people are staying indoors. Also, much of the country was once ruled by blue laws which also meant that Sunday was a good day of the week to watch games. I think these factors have helped to establish watching NFL games on a Sunday as a national tradition.

    MLB could expand its popularity without such a drastic change if it had a better sense about technology and economics. Baseball is an easy game to follow if all you can get is the audio commentary. And that helps to explain why baseball was so popular during the radio era. Before MLB started charging to listen to audio broadcasts, I knew a number of people who used to follow the games via the audio streams from radio stations covering the games. By charging for streaming audio, MLB is squeezing revenue from those people who are already fans and place a high subjective value on being able to listen to the games. Having an ad based, no fee audio stream could help to expand the fan base. For example, MLB could partner with Pandora to do this. And removing the fee based disincentive to listen to games may be the wise thing to do given that people are watching less TV these days.

    Reply
    1. Which hunt?

      Agreed. I don’t have cable, and MLB.com lifted the charge for audio fees, and I had a great time listening to the St.Louis/LA series. Vin Scully didn’t hurt either. He doesn’t do the whole games on mlb.com at least and was introduced for the first time seriously to Orel Hershiser as a broadcaster and he was really insightful and excellent as well.

      Reply
  29. AQ

    Pitching would dominate. Thus scoring would decrease dramatically. A 9-7 score would be a rarity. Mostly 1-0, 2-0, 2-1, etc. Which I believe would cause a tune-out factor. Fans wanna see offense.

    Reply
  30. Which hunt?

    Here’s my crazy scheme:
    Four Divisions and two expansion teams to make them even. The FOUR best teams that don’t win their division go on to a one game Wild Card Day elimination game. Two wild card games for each league. I would play all four games at the same time so it could be a major event with switching between the games as one emerges as great, and as big plays happen. The winners go on to the DS as usual. It’s basically what we have now, but it really gives incentives for winning (more difficult) divisions, it keeps the integrity of the different leagues, there would be crazy jockeying for the last wild card places and two more teams. It could look like this:

    NL West
    Los Angeles Dodgers
    San Francisco
    Colorado
    Arizona
    San Diego
    Chicago Cubs (go west to keep rivalry with SL)
    St. Louis
    Milwaukee

    NL East
    Atlanta
    New York Mets
    Philadelphia
    Miami
    Washington
    Pittsburgh
    Cincinnati
    Louisville (fun right?)

    AL West
    Seattle
    Oakland
    Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (or whatever craziness they are currently going by)
    Texas
    Houston
    Portland (why not?)
    Kansas City
    Minnesota

    AL East
    New York Yankees
    Boston
    Tampa Bay
    Toronto
    Baltimore
    Detroit
    Cleveland
    Chicago White Sox (Go East to keep playing Detroit and Cleveland)

    Reply
    1. KHAZAD

      It is very difficult to make up a schedule with divisions that large.

      I would prefer 8 divisions of 4 teams. You would play a home and home (6 games apiece, or 72 games) against the other teams in your league that are not in your division. You would play 22 games against each team in your division. (Two 4 game home and away, + a 3 game home and away, 66 games total) Then you would play your interleague games NFL style, doing away with the silly rivalry games that decrease competitive balance. You would either play an entire division home and away (every 4 years) or you would play 3 game series against two divisions from the other league, one division at home, the other away. (Under this system, you would play each division in the other league every two years, but would only see them at home every 4) Either way that would be 24 interleague games.

      162 games, 50 series, 13 built in days off.

      With competitive balance restored and smaller divisions, there would be no need for wild cards. If you can’t win a 4 team division playing the same schedule, you probably shouldn’t be eligible for the world series. If they absolutely had to have a wild card, they could have one, with a short 3 gamer ( or even a one gamer) between the best non division winner and the division winner with the worst record.

      Reply
  31. Brent

    Some of the Caribbean leagues have played schedules like that during their early history. For example, the 1902 Cuban League played an 18-game schedule over 5 months (January 1 through May 25). The Habana team won the championship, going 17-0 (presumably one of their games was rained out). The team had one starting pitcher, Carlos Royer, who was credited with all 17 wins. Over a 4-year period from 1901 through 1904, Royer went 63-18 and accounted for all but 9 of the team’s decisions.

    Reply
  32. Phil

    If having more batting and pinch running specialists is a good thing, then that could be accomplished by increasing the maximum roster size without having to cut pitching staffs.

    Reply
  33. y81

    Expanding on the mirror question of what football would look like if it were played 162 games, i.e., every day, I think the tackling would look it does in practice or Australian rules. I’ll defer to anyone on this page who played in college or pro, but in my high school, during practice scrimmages, hardly anyone ever did one of those head-up, full-on tackles like you see on TV: you bear-hugged the runner around the shoulders and wrestled him down. Australian rules football looks the same. So my guess is, if the NFL played every day, even in pads, that is how they would tackle. That would make the game a lot less violent.

    Reply
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  37. Carl

    Hi Joe,

    Speak to your friend Bill James. In the late 70s/ early 1980s he wrote an article and included it in one of the Baseball Abstracts about what would happen if baseball was playe donly once a week. He also compared the SP to the QB (back then only 14 NFL games per year).

    Reply
  38. D Traver Adolphus (@proscriptus)

    People have mentioned soccer a few times, but not the English Premiership system. It’s dead simple. The team with the best record at the end of the year wins, no playoffs. The three worst teams get demoted to the Championship, essentially AAA ball, while their best three come up. And that happens through FIVE levels. With vision and hard work a team can hope to move up to the big leagues. Screw up and you end up playing A-ball for a generation.

    Premiership football is considered by many people to be the single best sporting series in the world, because the stakes are so high. Finish low and you aren’t rewarded with prime draft picks or something–you’re demoted out of the majors. And yes, it has resulted in a Big Four of perennial top teams, but…Yankees, anyone? Teams like Stoke City, however, show you really can come up from several leagues down to compete at the highest level.

    Reply
  39. Eric

    A lot of the things you describe can been seen, at least in shadow form, in high-end fast-pitch softball (like at the CWS or World Cup of Softball). Because one or two dominant pitchers can carry a team, and the resulting run environment is much less favorable than baseball. (Also, the small diamond makes both stealing and GIDPs very difficult to execute. You end up with a lot of specialized fielding/hitting roles, and in fact some obscure substitution *rules* that support even more of that. And you end up with strange (to baseball eyes) hitting (slap hitting, slap bunting, slashing) and defensive (middle infielders even with pitcher, no outfielder-setups) configurations.

    Reply
    1. ghaff

      I’m not sure how much you can infer from softball. There have long been incredibly dominant pitchers there because of the nature of the game. (As, indeed, slightly altering some physical parameters of the baseball diamond could radically change the game.) That said, there’s probably some truth to your basic point.

      Reply
  40. Walt French

    It’s hard to infer intent. So instead of outlawing it, just have 4-0 counts be good for a double (which would possibly move a runner into scoring position and reduce the risk of a double play on a subsequent weak hit.

    Reply
  41. barry waldman

    Joe, baseball already has something like a 16-game schedule. It’s called the playoffs. The League Championship Series and World Series are seven games of unrivaled intensity. They play at regular-season intervals, not once-a-week, but the rest of the analogy holds.

    So what is the result? We see more managing, more doubling-up of starters, somewhat higher ratings and a constant drumbeat of almost completely meaningless stats. I’m not sure we see more violence, though.

    Reply
  42. ozsportsdude

    I dont understand why Baseball dont do more with Fields now. In our game in Australia, Cricket, you will often have bowlers bowl outside the off-stump and then have a 7-2 field (7 on the offside, 2 on the on-side) and invite the batsman to take crazy risks to score runs. Well in Baseball couldn’t you stack one side of the diamond, maybe with a 5-2 or even 6-1 field and then just pitch on that side of the plate, and invite the hitter to take a crazy risk to try and pull a ball off the outside side of the plate into the open field, or else have him with no gaps on the outside, not even for a blooped ball.

    Just seems like it should work, dunno why you dont do it.

    Reply
    1. Richard

      You do see some pretty extreme shifts for some hitters, like that 5-2 you mentioned.

      You pretty much will never see 6-1 because
      1. If you shift an outfielder, any ball that goes in to the other corner will be an inside-the-park home run.
      2. There’s no need to shift the last infielder because 3 infielders on one side of the diamond is enough to cover almost any ball hit to that side of the infield.

      You also don’t see shifts that often because most hitters are capable of hitting the opposite way no matter how you pitch them.

      Reply
      1. ozsportsdude

        I understand that with the strike zone, unlike Cricket you can’t bowl outside off-stump, but are there really hitters that even if you pitch on the outside edge of the strike zone are able to pull the ball to the outfield, I’m not saying they can’t, I am just asking the question?

        Reply
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  45. wizardofoz

    One result of 16 games would be that the quality of the game would be much lower. Pitchers and hitters need 2-3 full seasons in the minors before they are ready. Even then they need a couple of ML seasons to get going. Imagine if an entire career was shorter than one season today. I believe this is partly why NFL players go straight to the pros and baseball players rarely do. The gap is much greater from college in baseball.

    Reply
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  49. the_slasher14

    But the whole reason football plays only 16 games is the violence. If football was two-hand touch, there would be no reason they couldn’t play a longer schedule — maybe not 162 games but certainly 80-some like the NBA or NHL. Baseball plays 162 games because it CAN; football plays 16 because it can’t. Joe has that one backwards.

    Reply

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