The rad­i­cal change needed to save base­ball

142-game sched­ule would im­prove MLB’s prod­uct

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Nancy Ar­mour

Less is more. Or it would be where Ma­jor League Base­ball is con­cerned.

The rash of post­pone­ments be­cause of snow and cold in the Mid­west and on the East Coast — 24 and count­ing, and the sea­son is just 19 days old! — ought to ac­cel­er­ate con­sid­er­a­tion for short­en­ing the sea­son. Base­ball isn’t meant to be played in bala­clavas and parkas, and the only time fans should need a blan­ket at the ball­park is when there’s a movie night un­der the stars.

By do­ing away with in­ter­league play, base­ball could go to a 142-game sea­son — and the sched­ule wouldn’t look all that dif­fer­ent. The sea­son could start April 15 and end Sept. 15, with the World Se­ries end­ing by Oct. 15. There would even be room for ad­di­tional off days.

I real­ize re­duc­ing the sched­ule by 20 games is some­thing akin to heresy. The ma­jor league sea­son has been 162 games for 50-plus years now, the one con­stant as base­ball has added the des­ig­nated hit­ter, seen the Mon­treal Ex­pos come and go and en­dured a strike that nearly brought the game to its knees.

It also will cost own­ers and play­ers money, be it TV and ad rev­enue or ticket sales.

But the sea­son is too long, and the game is be­ing hurt as a re­sult.

What with the ex­pan­sion of the play­offs, the ad­di­tion of in­ter­league play and Ma­jor League Base­ball’s at­tempts to tem­per the six-month grind with more days off, the sea­son has grad­u­ally gone be­yond its his­toric boundaries. Last year’s World Se­ries ended Oct. 31. This sea­son be­gan March 29.

Com­pare that with, say, the 1987 sea­son, which be­gan April 6 and ended Oct. 25.

When 18 of the 30 teams play in cold­weather cities and only two of those teams have domes, that’s go­ing to be trou­ble. And it is. The 24 post­pone­ments are the sec­ond-most Ma­jor League Base­ball has had in April since 2000, and there’s al­most half the month to go.

The Min­ne­sota Twins have al­ready post­poned four games, in­clud­ing three in a row over the week­end against the Chicago White Sox. Both Chicago teams were snowed out at home April 9, and the Cubs had to post­pone Mon­day night’s game against the St. Louis Cardinals af­ter more snow and wind chills ex­pected to be in the 20s.

(Even domes aren’t fool­proof, with the Toronto Blue Jays an­nounc­ing that Mon­day night’s game against the Kansas City Roy­als had to be post­poned be­cause of fall­ing ice at nearby CN Tower.)

It’s not much bet­ter at the end of the sea­son. Two years ago, Game 2 of the World Se­ries had to be moved up be­cause of the threat of rain in Cleve­land, and Game 7 was de­layed by more show­ers.

Re­duc­ing the sched­ule might help base­ball’s sag­ging at­ten­dance, too.

While base­ball’s TV rat­ings and dig­i­tal reach are solid, ball­park at­ten­dance has steadily de­creased since the record of 79,503,175 was set in 2007. Last year’s paid at­ten­dance was 72,670,423 fans, the first time since 2010 that base­ball drew less than 73 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Forbes.com.

But is it any won­der, when most fans’ ball­park ex­pe­ri­ence the first month is that of a pop­si­cle? How many sim­ply pass on those games, know­ing there will be far nicer days to spend at the ball­park over the next five months?

That first month isn’t ex­actly con­ducive to at­tract­ing young fans, ei­ther. What bet­ter sou­venir could a kid want than frost­bite or a cold?

Base­ball purists might howl at the thought of aban­don­ing a sched­ule that’s been in place since their par­ents and grand­par­ents learned how to keep score. But the game changes. It sur­vived the ad­di­tion of in­ter­league play and it could sur­vive its sub­trac­tion.

By play­ing fewer games, Ma­jor League Base­ball and its fans would get far more out of the sea­son.

The Wrigley Field grounds crew works in the snow be­fore a game be­tween the Cubs and Pi­rates on April 9. DEN­NIS WIERZBICKI/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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