Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Major League Copycats?

By Anthony Brancato

As Ryan Fagan has reported in The Sporting News, Major League Baseball's 30 owners held a virtual meeting last Monday, at which they agreed to hold the same 82-game schedule that the NBA has held since its 1967-68 season, and the NHL has held since its 1995-96 season.

And if that's enough, the baseball owners have agreed "in principle" to increase the number of teams making the playoffs from 10 to 14 — just like the NFL now does, effective this year.

Guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!

How will the 82-game Major League Baseball schedule work?

The most logical format would be to cut the number of times division rivals play each other from 19 to 13 — and as already announced at the virtual meeting, each entire division from one league will play six games against each team from the entire corresponding division of the other league; i.e., National League East vs. American League East, National League Central vs. American League Central, and National League West vs. American League West.

This assures that the vast majority of "interleague rivalry" games — Mets vs. Yankees, Cubs vs. White Sox, Dodgers vs. Angels, etc. — will be played; and since 63.4% of all games will be within the same division, the playoff format would have to be heavily division-based, most likely the first- and second-place teams in each division, along with the third-place team with the best record, making the playoffs in each league, with only the top seed getting a first-round bye. Sound familiar?

Plus, the convenient emergency will likely allow baseball to expand the wild card round from a single game to best-of-three (with Game 1 at the lower seed's home park followed by a scheduled doubleheader at the higher seed's home park, the second game therein only played if necessary). And once they "get away with" doing that in 2020, they will be able to "get away with" doing that in every year thereafter — just like the NFL "got away with" playing Super Bowl XXXVI in February due to 9/11 — and they have "gotten away with" playing every Super Bowl but one since (the following year's Super Bowl, whose date had already been pretty much set in stone) in February.

Baseball probably won't keep the playoff field at 14 though (the NFL went to a 16-team "Super Bowl Tournament" in the strike-shortened 1982 season, but reverted to the 10-team playoff that was normal at the time in 1983) but baseball going to 12 cannot be ruled out.

Furthermore, expanding the wild card round will result in there being some support for returning the regular season to its "traditional" 154 games. All that would be necessary is to reduce the number of games between division rivals from 19 to 17.

Also on the hopper is a universal designated hitter — obviously to gin up fan interest, the same way that baseball looked the other way at obvious steroid use after its 1994-95 strike, and the NHL implemented the shootout in 2005-06 after a lockout had wiped out the entire 2004-05 season. When the home runs fly over the fences, the fans watching in their homes or at Buffalo Wild Wings (if they are ever allowed to go to such places) will forget all about how many games there are — especially since this situation is neither the fault of the owners nor of the players.

The one possible threat to all this is the owners and players not being able to come to an equitable split, financially speaking. But with Major League Baseball Players Association executive director Tony Clark widely regarded as one of the sport's good guys (and at 6'7" is tied with Aaron Judge as the tallest non-pitcher in baseball history), the smart money — no pun intended — is that this will not happen.

One final point: in 1982, the NFL played a nine-game schedule — just over half of its normal 16-game schedule. And 82 is just barely more than half of 162.

You can't make this stuff up.

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