Baseball Headed “Back to the Future?”

Call it Babe Ruth's Revenge.

In 2017, under not-so-subtle pressure from the Major League Baseball Players Association, the owners got rid of the ridiculous rule that gave the league that won the All-Star Game home-field advantage in the World Series from 2003 through 2016, after the 2002 All-Star Game ended in a 7-7 tie after 11 innings when both teams ran out of pitchers. (What? No "emergency pitchers" in baseball like there are "emergency quarterbacks" in the NFL?).

Starting in 2017, home-field advantage in the World Series has been awarded the way it always should have been (and has been in the earlier postseason rounds since 1998) — namely, to the team with the better regular-season record (although, strangely, the same prohibition against a wild card team ever getting home field advantage does not apply in the World Series as applies in the earlier rounds of the playoffs).

Well, now the owners want to bring back the 154-game schedule, which will warm the hearts of all the surviving "purists" — if anything can.

The owners proposed this on January 31 — and so far, the union has yet to sign off on it.

While no details on how the regular-season schedule would proceed have been released, one would speculate that the number of times that each team plays each of its four division rivals will be reduced from 19 to 17 — 19 was always too many, and with the owners floating ideas of expansion (as Eno Sarris wrote in The Athletic on January 25), that number was going to come down sooner or later, unless baseball plans to realign the leagues into four four-team divisions when it does expand (probably an absolute non-starter after what happened with the NFL's "NFC Least" this past season).

If the owners hope to get the union to accept their proposal, they will probably need to abandon, or at least dial down on, their "squeeze play" — their proposal calls for 154 games to be played over 166 days. The pre-pandemic norm was to play 162 games over 186 days.

At the moment, the owners want seven teams in each league to make the playoffs (not clear if this would be the three division champions plus four wild-card teams in each league or first and second in each division plus one wild-card team — but if the number of intra-division games is cut one can pretty much bank on the former) and to keep the best-of-three format for the first round (which would be another awesome move — and even if the regular season is shortened by only eight days instead of 20, there would be no excuse not to observe a 1-1-1 format for these series, with the higher seed getting Game 1 and, if necessary, Game 3 at home, since three days would still be saved even if any series goes the full three games). The division champion with the best record in each league would earn a first-round bye.

One controversial gimmick — reminiscent of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that won the All-Star Game — is the owners' proposal to hold a live selection show in which every playoff team, in order of seeding, will get to select their first-round opponent. Hopefully, the union will oppose this in no uncertain terms, and force the owners to quash it.

The owners also advocate keeping the two biggest changes of 2020 — the designated hitter in both leagues, and extra innings beginning with a runner on second base (it will be runners on first and second at the Tokyo Olympics this summer) — in 2021, and perhaps beyond.

Now watch some dude hit 72 home runs this year (Barry "U.S." Bonds hit 73 in 2001).

Just what baseball would need — another asterisk.

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