Legends On Deck

The 60 Game Sprint: How a Short Season Could Broaden MLB’s Appeal

After a long battle between the MLBPA and the team owners, MLB finally agreed on an abbreviated 60 game season.  As players return to training camps, they should realize the opportunity ahead of them.  Some major changes are on the horizon for the season as well.

Here’s some of the highlights:

  • New schedules will include 40 division games and 20 inter-league games between teams in their region.  This means AL East vs NL East, AL Central vs NL Central and AL West vs NL West.  The goal here is to limit travel.
  • Universal designated hitter rule.
  • During extra innings, the team batting begins with a runner on Second Base.
  • No restriction on position players pitching.
  • Three batter minimum for pitchers.
  • Trade deadline moved to August 31 and September 15 is postseason eligibility deadline.
  • Clubs can carry up to 60 players in their Club Player Pool.  Opening Day roster can include up to 30 active players and reduced to a maximum of 26 players after day 15.
  • No arguments or bench clearing brawls.
  • Long list of health and safety provisions that includes no spitting and pitchers are allowed a wet rag to get moisture to grip the ball.

Breaking Down the Changes

These rules will impact the game in a wide variety of ways and reflect some of the changes MLB has been considering for years.  A universal DH will certainly upset some of the NL purists, but has been discussed for years.  The extra innings rule has already been tried in the minors.  It’s really baseball’s version of the shootout.  Three batter minimum rules have been a topic of debate for a while now.  In a previous article, I proposed that MLB should consider a major realignment to the league structures beyond the 2020 season.  This would reorient the league toward a more regional approach that is reflected in the 2020 schedule.

The Opportunity

Rule changes will be debated by writers and fans, but the 60 game schedule may actually work to baseball’s advantage.  Sports fans have been denied most live sporting events since March.  By the end of July, they will have MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and the PGA.  Many casual baseball fans will arguably be more likely to tune in this season.  This excitement for sports to return combined with a 60 game schedule is likely to peak the interest of a wider audience.  Let’s face it, in the era of smartphones, social media and streaming services, baseball is competing with an attention deficient culture.  It takes a lot of dedication to follow a 162 game schedule.  Players and owners should look at this abridged season as an opportunity to recapture lost fans and bring in new ones.  Consider it a showcase for all the modern game has to offer.

There’s no doubt that the loss of the minor league season will have a negative impact on the future of MiLB, but it also gives MLB teams no other baseball competition.  Fans in minor league towns who might have attended or tuned into their local games will now likely focus on MLB.  And it’s hard to say if this short season advantages any team.  Surely, pitchers should benefit from fewer overall starts or appearances.  The grind of 162 games puts a lot of wear on the body.  The teams projected to have a good season like the Dodgers, Yankees, Braves and Astros will still have an edge.  However, with only 60 games, a team that gets hot can make a serious impact very quickly.  An 8-10 game winning streak means a lot more.

The Future

The 2020 MLB season seemed like it would never happen.  Yet, we are just a couple weeks away from Opening Day.  The players and owners almost messed this up for all of us during the negotiation process.  The minor leagues are withering on the vine.  The College Baseball season ended early.  It remains uncertain whether fans will actually be able to step into a ballpark at all this season.  Without crowds, this puts more pressure on the broadcasters and players to entertain the audience.  This is an opportunity to highlight your stars and vet some rule changes.  It’s an chance to garner interest from causal sports fans who may drop in just to see what baseball is doing.

It’s up to you Major League Baseball.  Don’t mess it up.

Brian Koss
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