By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Honestly, I want to discredit this baseball season. But as much as I'd love to sit here and tell you that 60 games isn’t enough to make any sort of definitive judgment on anything, here’s the general truth:
There are outliers, of course, most recently the 2019 Washington Nationals, who were 19-31 after 50 games and won the World Series. But the Nationals were an exception. The truth, for decades, is that many baseball evaluators have believed that 60 games is a representative sample of a major league season and that strengths and weaknesses are affirmed during that time. The Moneyball concept was at least partly built around that belief, leaving the rest of the season as a test of nothing more than durability and depth.
And this year, the two teams with the best records after 60 games – the Los Angeles Dodgers (43-17) and the Tampa Bay Rays (40-20) begin the World Series tonight. The Dodgers and Rays finished a respective first and third in the majors in run differential.
But this isn’t about the Dodgers, the Rays or the World Series, per se. It’s about the state and future of baseball – assuming there is one. If 2020 just proved that 60 games is all we need, then maybe it’s time for baseball to take a good, hard look at what it can do to improve its product and adapt to the times.
Wait, I take that back. It’s beyond time for baseball to do that. But there is now an indisputable opening. Or maybe it's more like a drop-dead line in the sand.
Lest anyone forget, baseball is still in the midst of labor strife. The collective bargaining agreement between owners and players is up after next season, and there was serious talk of a work stoppage pre-COVID. As soon as the World Series is over, baseball players and owners are going to start bickering again – and you should brace yourselves for a lockout or strike at the start of next season.
And remember: there is no indication at this stage that 2021 will be anything close to normal. Which means now is as good a time as any for baseball to introduce some new concepts, from the pitch clock to a shorter regular season with expanded playoffs. Anything and everything should be up for discussion, including split-seasons where the winner of each half-season – call it 72 games – qualifies for the playoffs.
Will MLB do it? I doubt it. But now is a better time than any.
Now look, I know what you’re thinking: baseball had a chance this year and embarrassed itself. And I agree. But teams were already at spring training when COVID hit, forcing a complete reassessment on the fly. The schedule was made. The format was set. Renegotiating all of that on the fly was challenging – admittedly, for baseball more than most – but asking anybody to make radical changes overnight is a tall order.
Now, unlike the spring, baseball has time - or, at least, more time than it did in the spring. The CBA is about to expire. A 60-game season produced results that many would have predicted over 162 games. If baseball has any designs on ever changing, now is the perfect time to introduce more variables than the game has ever introduced before.
And if it doesn’t?
Well, then baseball owners, executives and players would be telling us that the game has no intention of ever changing at all, which is valuable information just the same.
After all, having served as America’s pastime for a very long time, baseball’s unwillingness to adapt is how we ended up here in the first place.