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A Modest Proposal: The MLB Should Only Play a Season Once Every Four Years

Recently, Jeff Passan reported that the MLB and MLBPA have discussed the possibility of major rule changes. These include a universal DH, a three-batter minimum for pitchers, and many more possibilities that would greatly alter how the game is played. While none of those rule changes are likely to be implemented within the near future, that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate on some other possible changes the MLB could (and, potentially, should) make to improve the product on the field, and generate increased fan interest. This is Part 1 of my “Modest Proposal” series, where I will examine several unorthodox ideas that might add a spicy new layer to Major League Baseball. Check out [link Part 2] and [link Part 3] here. 

When I tell people I write about baseball, a good portion of them respond with the same eye-roll and annoying catchphrase: “But baseball is so boring!” It’s a contention that is, troublingly, held by a growing number of individuals. Luckily, those people aren’t exactly paragons for excitement; usually, they’re dumb, from Texas (what’s the difference), or worst of all, former players. (I don’t want to specifically call anyone out, so let’s just call the former players “John Smoltz.”) These people want baseball to be more like football or basketball. They crave the barbaric, primal thrills of the former (i.e., smashing your head into someone else’s head, saving a timeout for just the right moment to rattle a kicker, or punting it inside of the 20 yard line), and the epic, soap-operatic narratives of the ladder (KEVIN DURANT IS SIGNING WITH THE WHITE SOX).

Arguing with those people won’t do much good. They’re set in their ways, stuck in what baseball used to be, refusing to evolve along with the game they claim to love. If they had it their way, baseball would return to the glory days of Ruth and Mantle, when *checks notes* minorities couldn’t play and uniforms were basically wool suits. The biggest issue that critics of baseball have is its slow, methodical pace of play. A game, they argue, shouldn’t meander for 3 hours and 5 minutes when the same amount of action could occur in a snappy 2 hours and 58 minutes instead. So, using that line of logic, I’ve taken it upon myself to craft an idea that would not only make baseball cooler and more appealing, but would also make it far less frequent. Because who doesn’t want something they love to happen a lot less often? That same logic is exactly why pitchers are choosing to strike out fewer batters, who, in turn, are deciding to hit less home runs. Wait…

Let me throw some buzzwords out at you: Innovation. Synergy. Silicon Valley. Got your attention yet? Here’s a few more: The Olympics. The World Cup. My father telling me he loves me. Leap Day. The Presidential Election. Noticed a pattern? All of those words are dynamic, marketable, and best of all, they only occur once every four years. If the World Cup happened annually, nobody would care. I only watch soccer when I know I won’t have to subject myself to it again until the next go-round, where I once again spontaneously become really patriotic for a month, and start constantly googling “How to play the vuvuzela.” These kinds of events are cool because the buildup and anticipation generate just as much interest and excitement as the actual events themselves. The last time the Summer Olympics were on, I stayed up until three in the morning every night and made milkshakes while I watched Michael Phelps set records and Ryan Lochte do weird stuff at a gas station. It was awesome. You watch the episode of 30 Rock where everyone celebrates Leap Day by singing a rousing song, and you look me dead in my eyes and tell me that that same enthusiasm would be present if it happened every year. And the Presidential Election generally leaves half the country in an existential crisis, but that’s a part of the experience. It’s what makes democracy so infuriatingly beautiful.

Now, imagine if the MLB adopted this mindset, and only played one season every four years. Sure, there are plenty of legitimate reasons that this idea is terrible, the least of which is how it would absolutely destroy revenue in the game. But who needs money when I, in the words of Leslie Knope, “have the most valuable commodity in America: the blind, stubborn belief that what I’m doing is right.” And once you take a look at the myriad of benefits that would come with this new plan, I think you’ll agree that I’m right, too. 

Reason #1: Playing only one season every four years would solve the pace of play issue

Rob Manfred is the Commissioner of the MLB, and his desire to speed up baseball is a secret as open as the gap between his front teeth. So far, his strategies haven’t worked. Eliminating the necessary pitches for an intentional walk only serves to deprive us fans of the hilarity that comes with a botched one, and limiting mound visits has a relatively minimal effect on game time. He’s running out of options: he could start extra innings with a runner in scoring position, hire someone to assassinate David Price, or make every game start in sudden death, but those would all be cosmetic fixes. He has to tackle the root of the problem: baseball isn’t time consuming because individual games are so long. It’s time consuming because we play it too frequently.  

Here is a chart examining the average length of game time over the past four seasons:

Year Average Game Length
2015 3:00
2016 3:04
2017 3:08
2018 3:04
Average 3.03

Assuming that each regular season features 2,430 games, and each postseason has around 30 more, that’s 2,460 baseball games per year. Five years of games gives us a total of about 9,840, and if those games average 3.03 hours, that leaves us with a whopping 29,815.2 hours of baseball played out since 2015, and this doesn’t even include Spring Training. However, if baseball was only played in one of those years, the number of hours falls dramatically, all the way down to 7,453.8 hours. With this single, simple rule change, we’d shave off roughly 22,361.4 hours of baseball action. That’s an insane amount of time, and that’s just over the course of a tiny four-year span. Imagine how much time we could save from the horrors of watching a baseball game over the course of 10 years, 50 years, 50,000 years. We’re talking huge reductions in the amount of precious Earth hours being wasted on baseball that we could spend doing things like learning to surf, working with clay, rewatching The Office for a 14th time, or writing dumb articles like this one that propose new ideas to cut EVEN MORE time off of baseball games. This is big stuff, not just for baseball, but for humanity, and I am the visionary behind it. It might be an indirect way of tackling this issue, but sometimes you have to think outside the bun. 

Reason #2: Injuries would be way less frequent

The baseball season is long and grueling, and inevitably results in a lot of injuries. Well, this new plan offers a radical, roundabout solution to that problem, too. The season itself wouldn’t be shorter, but players would get three whole years to rest up and bandage their wounds after each 162 game stretch. Now, we won’t have to deal with a player suffering a gruesome injury and choosing to sit out so they can “make a full recovery.” Instead, they can just gut it out, play on their broken leg, and rest once the long night comes. What’s more, during those three years of no baseball, injuries would fall to the lowest levels the sport has ever seen. If you’re not playing the sport, you can’t get injured! (Okay maybe you can. Yeah, you definitely can. It honestly seems like you probably will. It is inevitable. Maybe playing baseball actually reduces your chance of injury. The world is a cruel, dangerous place. Never go outside. Or inside.)

Reason #3: It would be super easy to enforce

The 2018 season saw the introduction of a new limitation on the number of mound visits a team could make per game (six). However, as far as I’m aware, no team tried to break that rule, which prolonged the most intriguing question the change provided: what happens if a team tries to make more than six mound visits? How is it enforced, and what would the subsequent punishment be? It’s one thing to even settle on a suitable penalty (automatic ejection of the offending manager or player seems too extreme, but simply sending them back to the dugout would be too lenient). It’s another thing entirely to see how the umpires would handle the situation, if they even cared enough to do anything at all.

Case in point, batters are technically supposed to remain in the box as a part of the pace of play initiative. Pretty much everyone disobeys that rule, and it’s exceedingly rare to find an umpire that doesn’t just unabashedly watch it happen without blinking an eye. A hitter could travel halfway across the world while the pitcher gets ready to throw the next pitch, and the ump wouldn’t call a thing (unless the ump was Joe West. Then he’d call fan interference). But this new rule is so simple, and so, so easy to enforce: you can only play baseball games every four years. If two teams tried to play a game in between, they get in trouble. “Hey, are you playing baseball? You can’t do that for two more years. Now you’re in trouble.” That’s my impression of Rob Manfred talking to teams who try to break the rule. Then they would say, “Okay, I’m sorry. We are the Yankees and we suck and we broke the rules.” Yes. I like this rule very much. 

Reason #4: It would make players better

The Olympics are so fun because they’re filled with athletes who have spent their entire lives working tirelessly to hone their craft. They truly are the best physical specimens on the planet (although that doesn’t stop me from literally every Summer Olympics declaring that I could be an Olympic swimmer due to my long arms, Sasquatch-esque feet, and love for the movie “The Shape of Water.”) 

Baseball is a really hard sport, arguably the hardest in the world. Over the course of a season where teams play 162 times in some 180 odd days, it’s difficult to find opportunities to rest and revitalize yourself, let alone practice the minutiae that make players special. There simply isn’t enough time. But if we gave players three full years to work on stuff, they’d thrive. Imagine how good of a fielder Bartolo Colon could become after exclusively practicing PFP’s for three years, how much better of a hitter Mike Trout would be given countless days to dial in his mechanics and learn to switch hit, or how much faster The Freeze would run. We could very well end up in the premier age for baseball talent, watching inhuman performances on a nightly basis, simply because of the increased rest and practice time playing only once every four years would offer. 

As an added bonus, players would also have more time to explore other interests. If Francisco Lindor wanted to get really into watercolor painting, dammit, he would have time to do that! I know that I would buy a portrait he made of Corey Kluber (stone faced, of course) in an instant. Paul Goldschmidt wants to open a bakery? He’s got three years to forge a business plan, open the shop, and get to baking various buns, loaves, and other assorted pastries and treats. If “Sir” Didi Gregorious wanted to move to England, join the royal army, save the Queen’s life from a foreign spy attempting to poison her, and get knighted so he could literally be “Sir Didi,” his time commitment to baseball would no longer be standing in his way. We often forget that these players are people, too, with real feelings, emotions, and hobbies. Playing a sport professionally is exhausting and time consuming, and probably leaves them feeling drained. A new hobby would re-spark their lust for life, and in turn, give them a more fulfilling relationship with baseball. They’d be happier, in an overall sunnier mental disposition, and would have a more unique, well-rounded understanding of their interests as people. That can only serve to improve the quality of their professional output. 

Reason #5: The record books would be rewritten

Let’s assume for a second that this rule became an actual thing. That Rob Manfred got ahold of this article, wept in his shower (clad in his Tobias Funke-jean shorts) over the gap-tooth joke I made, wrote me a letter demanding that I apologize to him, I refused, he sued me for emotional damages, I countersued for control of the MLB, and I won and became commissioner. Then, I passed this rule into law. Bam. Suddenly, baseball is only played once per four years. Except, there’s big problem. If players now only play a fourth of the amount of time as their historical counterparts, they would be limited to around three to five seasons over an entire career. Suddenly, records that we once eyed would be impossible to break, which eliminates everything that makes them fun. To fix that problem, the league would have to go back and retroactively declare three of every four seasons void. In the spirit of college basketball, the wins would be vacated, the championship banners burnt in effigy, and the stats crossed out with a sharpie in the official books.

Baseball history would be born anew. No longer would we be subjected to debates about the validity of Barry Bonds’ home run record, forced to live with the fact that the all-time hit king isn’t in the Hall of Fame, or bombarded by a constant chorus of Yankees fans chanting “27 rings!” Things would be different. Better. 

For the sake of the next few exercises, we’re going to consider 1903 as the first official year of Major League Baseball, as that was the year of the inaugural World Series. With the new rule in place, that would void the 1904, 1905, and 1906 seasons, but 1907 would be back in action. For those of you doing math at home, that would make 2015 our most recent legitimate season, and 2019 (hey, that’s this year!) our next one. We’d be left with the following World Series winners:

Year Winner Loser Series
2015 Kansas City Royals New York Mets 4-1
2011 St. Louis Cardinals Texas Rangers 4-3
2007 Boston Red Sox Colorado Rockies 4-0
2003 Florida Marlins New York Yankees 4-2
1999 New York Yankees Atlanta Braves 4-0
1995 Atlanta Braves Cleveland Indians 4-2
1991 Minnesota Twins Atlanta Braves 4-3
1987 Minnesota Twins St. Louis Cardinals 4-3
1983 Baltimore Orioles Philadelphia Phillies 4-1
1979 Pittsburgh Pirates Baltimore Orioles 4-3
1975 Cincinnati Reds Boston Red Sox 4-3
1971 Pittsburgh Pirates Baltimore Orioles 4-3
1967 St. Louis Cardinals Boston Red Sox 4-3
1963 Los Angeles Dodgers New York Yankees 4-0
1959 Los Angeles Dodgers Chicago White Sox 4-2
1955 Brooklyn Dodgers New York Yankees 4-3
1951 New York Yankees New York Giants 4-2
1947 New York Yankees Brooklyn Dodgers 4-3
1943 New York Yankees St. Louis Cardinals 4-1
1939 New York Yankees Cincinnati Reds 4-0
1935 Detroit Tigers Chicago Cubs 4-2
1931 St. Louis Cardinals Philadelphia Athletics 4-3
1927 New York Yankees Pittsburgh Pirates 4-0
1923 New York Yankees New York Giants 4-2
1919 Cincinnati Reds Chicago White Sox 5-3
1915 Boston Red Sox Philadelphia Phillies 4-1
1911 Philadelphia Athletics New York Giants 4-2
1907 Chicago Cubs Detroit Tigers 4-0
1903 Boston Americans Pittsburgh Pirates 5-3

There’s good news and bad news in this table. The bad news is that, with only 29 seasons in the history books, you’d expect the Yankees to have some sort of World Series regression. Instead, remarkably, they still would have won seven rings, which would actually be an increase in the frequency in which they hoisted the Commissioner’s Trophy, up to 24.13% of the time (7 out of 29) from 23.68% of the time (27 out of 114). The entire 1940’s would’ve passed with only the Yankees winning it all, which seems unfair. You’d think after World War II, people would deserve something to smile about, but the baseball Gods apparently had other plans. 

The good news is that the Mariners are no longer the laughing stock of the MLB! Only 14 teams in this alternate history would have even won a single World Series, while notable victors like the Astros, Diamondbacks, and Phillies, among others, would now be left with a trophy-sized hole in their hearts. The Padres and the Nationals wouldn’t have even ever made the playoffs at all. That’s right! The Mariners wouldn’t have the longest postseason drought in the sport anymore! That alone should be reason enough for this rule to be implemented. 

Elsewhere, a lot of other important pieces of baseball history would be altered:

  • The Red Sox championship drought would’ve begun in 1915 instead of 1918, and ended in 2007 instead of 2004, extending it to 92 years. The Cubs, meanwhile, would maintain their original 1907 win, but would lose their 2016 title, and would still be looking to end the Curse of the Billy Goat. 
  • Ty Cobb would surpass Pete Rose to become the all-time hit king with 1,223 hits. Rose (1,077) and Hank Aaron (1,062) would be the only other players with over 1,000 knocks, while Willie Mays would have made the biggest jump (from 12th on the all-time list to 5th). 
  • On the subject of hits, in a stat that truly shows how insanely good Ichiro was, he would have lost his 242 and 262 hit seasons, and eight of his ten 200-hit seasons,. Still, despite this, and despite starting his MLB career at the age of 27, he still would have been just barely shy of cracking the Top 10. 
  • Hank Aaron would reclaim his rightful spot as the home run king, and would be the only player in history with over 200 bombs (208). Barry Bonds would fall to 3rd on the list with 190 homers, just below Alex Rodriguez, who would’ve hit 197.
  • Joe DiMaggio’s incredible 56-game hitting streak in 1941 is no longer canon. And going down the list, it takes a bit until we find  our new hitting-streak champion. Willie Keeler of the Baltimore Orioles had a streak of 45, but that took place from 1896-1897. Since that was before 1903, we unfortunately can’t count it as legitimate. Ultimately, our new all-time hits leader came away with the longest hit streak as well: Ty Cobb had a 40 game streak in 1911. It’s only 6th on the actual list, but would vault all the way to the top spot with this new system. For whatever reason, Ty Cobb was really good at being good the specific years this experiment requires players to be good for. Perhaps he knew that, someday far in the future, a handsome young lad (these are his words, not mine) would put hours of research into this dumb article and crown him the hit king; and perhaps it was the burden of this knowledge of what awaited him in the future that made Ty Cobb such a notorious dick. Either way, he was really good. 

Conclusion

Yesterday, I drank a lot of tea. It was a really good tea, and I liked it a lot, so I kept drinking. But after my eleventh cup of it, I started to feel sick. Usually when I feel sick, I drink tea to settle my stomach, so I forced down another three cups of said tea to see if it would help, but that just made everything worse. The point is, good things are good until there is too much of them. From now on, I’m only going to drink one cup of tea every four years. And baseball should be the same. Right now, the sport is plagued with too many, too long games, and there is no solution around the corner to make things better. Playing a season once every four years would revitalize the game, allow players to express themselves like never before, and would make baseball a quadrennial event as big as Leap Day. So mark your calendars, sports fans, because 2019 actually counts. After that, you can settle in for a nice long rest, and wait for baseball to be back in 2023.


Featured Photo Credit: Wikipedia commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2015_-WinterMeetings-Rob_Manfred(22985699933)_(cropped).jpg

Dakota Lovins

Dakota is a sophomore in college, and one day he wants to be a baseball announcer. He is 6'5'' with size 17 shoes, a fan of the Boston Red Sox, and he is afraid of moths. Last year he finished in 5th place out of 10 in his fantasy baseball league. Follow him on twitter @kotalov16.

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