Wednesday August 31st, 2011

When baseball fell into its current schedule more than a century ago, the National Pastime owned the sporting landscape. There was no professional football, and college football was a regional enterprise in a nation where few folks even had a college alma mater to care about. In a culture still quite agricultural, the schools started later, so in effect, the harvest extended summer. Baseball could pretty much do what it wanted. The 1911 World Series didn't start till mid-October. After all, because of the cooler spring weather and the nice autumn days, the one-hundred-and-fifty-four game schedule didn't begin till mid-April, leisurely, when God made baseball weather.

Now, of course, the season is a hundred and sixty-two games, which forces a start, chilly and damp, two weeks earlier and, with playoffs, runs till about Halloween---- a time when only the most involved fans can be weaned away from football fantasy and point spreads. The situation is exacerbated because baseball mandates that a smaller percentage of its teams qualify for the postseason, and since the rich teams can buy success easier than in other sports, the fans in many cities are virtually driven out of baseball, into football's arms. Or, guess what: there're television programs to watch now that weren't around in 1911.

Hello, baseball: the culture has changed. It's time to adapt. Even though most teams have no chance and the kids are back to school and football is starting, baseball is still going to limp along for another month before crowds, as the old saying goes, where "a lot of fans come dressed up as empty seats." Stop it, baseball. Do two contradictory things:

First, end the season on Labor Day. A one-hundred and-forty game season will do just fine. Other sports are not prisoners to old records.

But second, as you reduce the regular season, add teams to the playoffs. There're eight now, and talk of adding two more. No---- double the qualifiers: sixteen playoff teams---- like the NBA and NHL do. Give fans hope. Even more radical, who says all playoff teams have to play protracted head-to-head series? Start off with four-team round-robins, as they do in the soccer World Cup.

Like the dimwits who run college football, the fundamentalists will cry that this diminishes the regular season. OK. So what? Baseball is not an ecclesiastical calendar. It's an entertainment. Do you want to diminish the regular season or diminish the whole sport---- because that's what the current arrangement does? September should be a climactic month for baseball. Instead it's a calculated delaying action until you can play the most important games when it's too cold for baseball, and too late at night for disenchanted baseball fans to watch.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.