Like all of you, over the last few weeks, I've had plenty of time to think. Between the TV watching, the news reading, the board game playing, the many hours of FaceTime talking, and the sleeping, I've been thinking. Put that way, it certainly seems like I've had a lot more to do than what it has felt like in actuality. But even with all of these engaging "activities," I've had plenty of time to think.
Of course, my mind often drifts to baseball. As COVID-19 has seemingly shut the entire world down (as it should, stay home!), baseball was no exception. Major League Baseball shuttered operations indefinitely in the middle of spring training, with the initial hope being that the league could return just a couple weeks following the scheduled Opening Day, which, unfortunately, was today.
In the time since, the CDC announced recommendations to halt all gatherings of more than 50 people since mid-May, with the current counsel being no more than 10. Almost every college and university has moved online for the remainder of the academic year, and Virginia became the second state to shutter public schools until September earlier this week. This is certainly something that is much bigger than baseball, but baseball is impacted all the same.
With all of this time to think and to sleep, I've felt much more refreshed and full of ideas. I've asked a few times on Twitter as to whether my followers think baseball will return this season; they've been pretty positive so far. I think my own optimism has only increased, especially in light of Rob Manfred saying on ESPN last night, "Baseball will be back. Whenever it's safe to play, we'll be back. Our fans will be back. Our players will be back. And we will be part of the recovery, the healing in this country, from this particular pandemic."
Building off of that vote of confidence, Jeff Passan wrote more in-depth about the possibility of baseball's return. A couple highlights: a 162-game season is pretty much out of the question, doubleheaders could be increased, the possibility for a neutral site World Series to allow an extension of the regular season.
All of those ideas seem realistic in accomplishing the main goal here: getting as much baseball played as possible. But, in all reality, where will the cuts be made? How will this season remain legitimate in the eyes of history? Last week, former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera made some pretty valid points when he said, "I don’t think you can play a 60-game season and you call yourself a champion. Anything can happen in 60 games."
He's not wrong. As the math (and really, conventional wisdom) would show, the fewer the games, the more variability. Even in an 81-game season, the margins are halved. Teams who were projected to win their divisions by 14 games, for example, would now only be projected to be up seven, and that increases the odds that some chasing team gets lucky and clinches the top spot.
I don't know where the magic number is -- really, I don't think anyone does. But I do think there are ways to increase legitimacy even with a much shorter season.
The first thing I would do is cut all interleague play. That's already 20 games, or roughly three weeks of the season, removed from the schedule. It's not hard to understand why these should be the first to go. They mean the least in terms of the standings. Even games against other non-divisional league opponents could matter for the Wild Card hunt, especially in the era of two Wild Cards.
If you're Major League Baseball, that definitely buys you some time. I think just about everyone would agree that a 142-game schedule, especially with every game coming against fellow league opponents, would be legitimate.
The problem with that, though, is that it's probably not enough. I have no idea when the season will start, and while Manfred is seemingly pushing for a May Opening Day, I have a hard time seeing it. I think June 1 might be possible, but I'm not an epidemiologist or even have taken a college Biology class (though that will change starting Monday).
Let's say June 1 is the target. That means that baseball is about 60 games behind. If we try to hold ourselves to the 142-game target, that'll require some creative ideas. At this point in the season, there are roughly 16 weeks to go to make up 42 games. If baseball instituted two doubleheaders per week in an attempt to make up games, then they would only need to extend the year by about 10 days in order to fit everything in. If you take that down to two doubleheaders every three weeks, then they'd need probably about two extra weeks. It's just linear.
Ultimately, other rash changes would be necessary even to account for this. One idea I've had is to allow teams to carry 40-man rosters at all times, while only activating the 26-man roster prior to each individual game. Thus, tired relievers could be shelved for a night, guys wouldn't need to be shuttled back to Triple-A, and maybe (just maybe!) more players could accumulate major league service time.
All of this would need to be hashed out further. I'm sure MLB has thought long and hard about this, but I figured I'd just share my thoughts. I've done a lot of thinking about baseball, especially on this should-have-been Opening Day, and at a minimum, it's been a good distraction from everything else in the world.