How eager are we for baseball? More than a little — heck, a lot. And now that we’re witnessing the industry tiptoe toward a plan for reinitiating the 2020 campaign for Major League Baseball, we can’t help speculating what a baseball season will look like. Last night, Bryce Harper got into the act, floating his own sketch for a 135-game regular season on Instagram:
As blue-sky speculation goes, there are things we should all like about Bryce’s plan. A lot of baseball? If everyone’s playing 135 games, definitely. (Of course, there’s that nagging question in the back of my mind: Does America need 135 Marlins games? We’ll put that aside for now.) And Sunday doubleheaders? Paging Ernie Banks, this sounds glorious, even if it means you put seven-inning games on the books.
That isn’t the only thing Harper is ready to shake up — he’s open-minded on the universal DH, and he seems to buy into the postseason tournament proposal that has won a few converts during the shutdown. And no TV blackouts? Thank you, a man who gets how self-spiting MLB’s blackout rules are in practice.
Harper’s plan for the postseason at least notionally ends things no later than Nov. 30, potentially using a neutral site — surprise, the Las Vegas native floats Las Vegas. Of course, that would come with other consequences, like a World Series likely to be an unending series of slugfests. Vegas might not have the weather-related problems we’d worry about at the end of November in most venues, but would we really want postseason baseball played in one of the Triple-A Pacific Coast League’s most high-octane, high-scoring environments?
So Bryce is pretty flexible on things that, just a few months ago, we might have imagined as unchangeable about the game, and good on him. If we’re going to get a baseball season, we’re all going to need to be adaptable.
Of course, it doesn’t address all the stuff that still needs to be negotiated, like the revenue split MLB has pitched to the players, which some have rejected outright and the union sees as a salary cap, which it would fight. And he doesn’t get into the details about the testing regime, which are still being sorted out. Let’s be generous and remember that even with Bryce Harper’s paydays, that’s probably above his pay grade.
But to take this seriously, you have to sweat the details. Where are they playing this season? In the 30 MLB stadiums? Or one group of teams in Florida and the other in Arizona? Expecting all 20 states with MLB teams, the province of Ontario and the District of Columbia to all be opened up and ready to roll by July 1 might be doable, maybe not, but let’s grant him that.
So if you’re doing a 15-15 split of MLB teams between the East and West, you run into two inescapable logistical facts: This would totally hose the West teams as far as travel is concerned, and with 14 teams based in the Eastern time zone and 16 in the Central, Mountain or Pacific zones, one of those 16 gets assigned to the East. Maybe you split the two Chicago teams up or put the Brewers or Cardinals in the East. With the long flights teams in the West wouldn’t be able to avoid, you might expect all four teams to volunteer to go East.
With that travel schedule, you have just that one day off every other week, which if you’re playing in all 30 sites means every team is still traveling between sites at least twice a week and also playing doubleheaders every Sunday. That will be especially brutal for the teams in the West, but even with the expanded rosters Harper proposes, is it reasonable to expect pitching staffs to fire on all cylinders with one day off every 14? Or does this turn the regular season into even more of a test of pitching staff depth for all 30 teams? Because even with the new three-batter minimum rule — remember that? — we’ll be asking all 30 managers to handle their staffs responsibly in a schedule that won’t have much wiggle room. And if we’re playing regular-season baseball into mid-November, what do you do about the inevitable rainouts or pennant-race-derailing snowouts?
So there are things to embrace about Bryce’s plan, not least the flexibility about what comes next that it represents. And there are things about it that probably wouldn’t work so well. But it’s a place to start a conversation, and as long as we’re talking about a future with baseball in it, that by itself is something we can all cheer for.