It is hard to find much of anything both the owners and players union would agree on in any sport.
However, despite their many differences, both Major League Baseball and the MLBPA have pulled it off. A general consensus appears to have been reached: Not enough days off.
Now don’t get me wrong. Athletes from other leagues face a much more demanding environment.
Hockey and football present a far higher risk of concussions, and the athleticism required to play in the NBA is off the charts.
But nowhere is the schedule any more of a grind than the 162-game marathon players have to endure at baseball’s highest level.
While a consensus appears to have been reached about reducing the demands of the players and coaches, the solution has not.
They tried starting the season a bit earlier this year in an effort to spread out the games a little more and create days off that way, but that hasn’t really gone as planned. The cool (and sometimes downright wintry), wet weather of late March and early April contributed to a slew of postponements which broke the all-time record for the first month of a season.
That killed any mileage the 2 sides had hoped would ease the schedule over the final 5 months.
Talk of simply reducing the schedule has been doused by historians of the game who demand the preservation of comparisons to statistical performances of years gone. The American League adopted the current 162-game pack in 1961 with the National League doing the same a year later.
There have been a few labor disputes along the way which have been the exceptions to the rule but by in large, the amount of games to be played by each team has remained unchanged since Roger Maris set the homerun record of 61 in ’61.
Players were tough back then but also weren’t expected to train just about year-round like they are now. The offseasons were a picnic in those days. Not anymore.
I’ve got a better idea to solve all of this and the answer is right under our noses.
The Western Major Baseball League is arguably the country’s best all-Canadian baseball league.
Some of the greatest American collegiate players come North of the Border to experience Canadiana and keep their swing loose during the summer break.
Stretching from small-town Saskatchewan to suburban Calgary, the WMBL has come up with a novel idea to reduce its own 48-game grind packed into a 2-month window.
When a rainout occurs, the teams can simply schedule a doubleheader with a twist: Both games only go 7 innings (barring extras of course).
And while no real comparative study has been conducted yet, league Vice-President and Regina Red Sox General Manager Bernie Eiswirth is intrigued by the potential for MLB—and maybe even his own league—to consider putting the practice to use earlier in the spring.
“They don’t happen that often because they’re not scheduled,” Eiswirth explains.“It’s kind of a last resort that we do it that way. The only time we ever have them is when we have a rainout.”
“If you schedule a doubleheader, both games have to be 9 innings. The only time you bring in two 7 inning games, has to be to make up a rainout.”
The practice has been ongoing for 2 years now and a longer-term study might show MLB an idea it never considered: Schedule a 7-inning doubleheader in each of the 6 months during the regular season.
A 2-for-1 could spur some bigger crowds than teams normally get at the gate and better beer sales too. Factors which could mitigate any revenue loss while keeping the integrity of the 162-game schedule intact and provide teams with a crucial extra 6 days off.
Would the WMBL be willing to act as a guinea pig and generate a test-drive for the majors in doing this more often?
“It’s something to consider,” Eiswirth says. “I can tell you we’ve never really talked about that.”
If anybody should be talking about it, Major League Baseball should be the first in line.
(Photo: AP Photo/Jason Behnken)