Potential Longterm Impact Of A Shortened MLB Season

Baseball Netting
Photo credit fsstock/GettyImages

The delay in the NBA’s schedule for the 2019-2020 season has some thinking that the 2020-2021 season might not start until Christmas and that once the NBA goes that route, they might never go back. It got me wondering what changes caused by COVID-19 in the baseball world might become more than just a temporary change.

Unlike the NBA or NHL, MLB has a window - albeit as their 162-game season demonstrates a wide one - where the weather allows them to play. Even April is tough in the Midwest and sometimes the East coast, but extending the season into Mid-November or beyond is asking for trouble. What we know is that the MLB season will be shorter and we also know that owners won’t ever allow for that to be a permanent change. But, it could lead to something else…

For the last couple of years, Mike Bacsik and I have discussed the viability of Major League Baseball adopting the minor league setup of having split seasons. While neither Mike nor I have gone so far as to “want” this change implemented, it does have some enticing benefits that we might actually get to see in practice. Let me make this clear: I am not advocating for this. Before, splitting the season was just a fun idea for the sake of a discussion, but if the season is in fact just 81-or-so-games, then we could get a glimpse of what life would be like…

What do I mean by a split season? In most of the various MLB leagues, they offer playoff spots for first half and second half success. Full-season success can come into play from a tiebreaker standpoint, but you could lose every game in the first half and still be on equal ground for a playoff spot in the second half. 

Why would it be beneficial? A 162-game season is long and with games every single day, it can be a long road for teams out of it by the start of May. Non-competitive teams lead to disinterested fans and that’s not good for baseball. It isn’t entirely unavoidable, but perhaps there’s a way to mitigate it. If records reset at the midpoint, a bad team still might not stand a chance to make the playoffs but at least their fans could recapture that Opening Day hope for at least another month. It could also bunch more teams together to make for exciting races, which we do already have. 

There are several complications. The first one that jumps out to me is the trade deadline. My suggestion would be to move it back to mid-August and still have just one trade deadline. You’d need twelve playoff teams with division winners in each half receiving those spots. If the same team wins the division in each half, then the non-division winning team in the league with the best overall record gets in to the dance. Speaking of which, I’m in favor of eliminating divisions and having two leagues with a balanced schedule, but that’s for another time.

Again, improving excitement and interest for such a long season would be the biggest benefit. Two Opening Day feelings of hope in one year? Over 81 games a bad team could get hot long enough to have a playoff race when they otherwise wouldn’t be in the picture.

I don’t want this yet, but I’m excited to see how it could play out!