Why MLB should give a 50-game season some serious consideration
Major League Baseball is considering a 50-game regular season during negotiations about how to restart the coronavirus-shortened season.
Yes, just 50 games, just a sliver of the typical 162-game regular season.
It is, almost assuredly, just a negotiating ploy to scare the players. A 50-game season with prorated money would allow for just 30.8 percent of salaries to get doled out. The players have asked for a 114-game season, or 70.3 percent of salaries. And that’s just one front of a complicated game of revenue-sharing chicken.
If this is even formally presented to the union, it’ll probably be quickly rejected. Here’s guessing an 80-something game compromise is eventually reached.
Whatever. No matter how unlikely it is to occur, let’s consider this 50-game idea anyway.
Baseball is a game of attrition, a long, summer slog where endurance, depth, focus and consistency tend to win out. You have to ride out highs and lows and blown saves and 0-for-4 days at the plate and come back the next day to do it again. It requires 162 games to just reach the postseason, which can then last up to an additional 20 more contests.
That’s part of the ethos of how the sport is played. Slow and steady.
Fifty games would be the antithesis of that, a veritable sprint of a season. By the point of the season that 50 games have been played (in general, late May) teams are still working out the kinks of who they are and who they might be. The standings barely even matter. Pretty much no one is out and no one is in.
Indeed, in 2019, the eventual World Series champion Washington Nationals were just 19-31 (the second-to-worst record in the entire the National League) after dropping a 6-4 game to the New York Mets on May 23. The Chicago Cubs, who had the second-best record in the National League at the time, didn’t even make the playoffs.
So, yes, a 50-game season would be a total farce.
It would also be a lot of fun.
This would be the wildest pennant race of all time. Instead of the typical marathon, it would be a demolition derby charge where literally any team could make it or miss it. This is essentially like having every team in the majors tied in the standings in early August.
If this was the normal 2020 season, teams such as Detroit (47 victories a year ago), Baltimore (54), Miami (57) or Kansas City (59) would enter low on hope. Not this time. Any team can hold it together for 50 games. Right? At least they’d think they could.
Just about every game would matter, certainly at the start, and perhaps all the way through. With so few games, even an opening day result would need to be fought over.
In a sport where there is always a margin for error (get a hit in one out of three at-bats and you’ll wind up in the Hall of Fame) there’d be none.
Any hot streak would be important. Any slump would be devastating. Injuries would be crushing. A rookie on a roll would be powerful. One of those classic, late-inning, only-in-baseball, ‘how’d-we pull-that-one-out?’ victories might flip a season.
This would be like baseball playing football — every game matters. And while, in normal times, baseball shouldn’t try to emulate a different sport, these aren’t normal times. A global shutdown created this. When life gives you the coronavirus, give them the Daytona 500 on manicured grass.
A 50-game season is about as close to everyone making the playoffs as is possible. The end of the season might require so many play-in games and tie-breakers (for home field advantage) you’d need an abacus to keep track. Hey, that’d be part of the fun.
There is added excitement. Could someone hit .400, which hasn’t happened since Ted Williams in 1941?
Well, Chipper Jones was batting .417 for Atlanta after 50 games in 2008. Washington’s Daniel Murphy was at .400 after 38 games in 2016, Miami’s Dee Gordon after 40 in 2015, Colorado’s Troy Tulowitzki after 44 in 2014, the Mets’ David Wright after 45 in 2012. Someone would make a run at it.
Baseball purists would no doubt want asterisks splashed all over the place. Others might just want to cover their eyes and wish this tricked-up effort was never conceptualized in the first place. Ever heard of a six-win Cy Young winner?
If 114-games causes some to cringe, then 50 will result in conniption.
Yeah, well, it isn’t any more absurd than MLB owners and players are arguing over money as protests and a pandemic overwhelm the country.
So while it is one weird idea, it’d also be weirdly fun to watch. At least once.
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