Matt Tait: Shortened 2020 baseball season should mark the beginning of meaningful changes for Major League Baseball
I’ve long been a believer that baseball, in the world we currently live in, is in need of a tweak or two that brings a little excitement and urgency to the ballpark.
And it appears as if Major League Baseball is on the brink of delivering that. At least temporarily.
No, the decision to turn the 2020 season into a 60-game sprint — officially agreed upon Tuesday — will not be the same as starting batters with a 2-1 count, putting a runner on second base in later innings or turning college baseball games into seven-inning affairs instead of nine. I’m in favor of all of those tricks, by the way.
But it’s possible that MLB’s shortened 2020 season will have a similar impact at least in terms of excitement and fan interest.
Think about it.
During a regular 162-game season, you have to get to at least July before the games really start to mean something.
Opening day is nice. And, sure, the division races take shape between March and June. But in terms of playoff positioning and setting the stage for the portion of the season that really counts, very little of what happens before July ever matters. And that’s with the players, managers and owners all carrying a win-every-game attitude.
That won’t be the case this season, provided baseball is able to get through it.
A team that loses its season opener on July 23 or 24 will feel the impact immediately.
Dropping just one game during 2020 will be the equivalent of suffering a three-game losing streak during a normal season. Losing three in a row, which is not all that uncommon, will carry the weight of a bad couple of weeks. And so on and so on.
Talk about intensity. Talk about fun.
While that reality has the potential to add some serious drama and pressure to each inning of each game for the players, it also could add some wild entertainment value for baseball’s fans and gamblers.
We’re not talking about the die-hards here, who have their team’s Tuesday night games on the radio in their garage while they whittle away at a woodworking project. Those fans will always be interested. And to them, all 162 games will always matter.
But for the casual fan — and let’s face it, baseball is losing this group little by little with each passing season — the excitement of every game meaning more, meaning something, could make 2020 one of the more enjoyable seasons in years.
In addition to the adrenaline rush of a shorter sprint, the idea of expanded playoffs should keep more fans interested, as well.
While talent is still likely to prevail in the long run, all it takes for a team to get a seat at the postseason table is a couple of hot weeks.
The Kansas City Royals, smack dab in the middle of their latest rebuild, are certainly capable of getting hot and playing their way into the 2020 postseason. An even younger bunch had stretches of seven wins in nine games and six more victories in a seven-game span during the second half of the 2019 season.
Can you imagine what a trip to the postseason in 2020 would do for baseball in Kansas City and the future of the organization?
There has been talk for years about the potential benefits of shortening Major League Baseball’s regular season. The 2020 season now can function as a trial run, and the powers that be should take full advantage of that.
Pay close attention to ratings. Talk to fans at the ballpark. Survey fans on social media. Find out what they want and then find new ways to make baseball a game that appeals to a wider range of sports fans.
Because without the fans, baseball doesn’t have the same pop in the modern world as its NBA and NFL counterparts.
There has to be a way to keep them happy while preserving the game for the purists at the same time. The next few months might just put us on that path.