MLB is about to embark on an unprecedented experiment: a 60-game season.
It's the result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the contentious negotiations over pay and safety between owners and players that followed.
There will (almost certainly) be baseball. Fans of the game should be happy. But with no fans at games, ongoing health concerns and high-profile players opting out, it's worth asking: Is this good or bad for baseball?
Let's explore that question one piece at a time before coming to a conclusion, with the obvious caveat that we'll ultimately need to see how this whole strange dance plays out.
Argument for Bad: A Season of Asterisks
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The length of MLB seasons has varied through the years amid rule changes, world wars, strikes and other factors. But the 60-game slate will be the league's shortest since 1878.
For a sport built around statistics and milestones, that's a problem.
If a star player such as the Los Angeles Angels' Mike Trout manages to hit .400 for the first time since the Boston Red Sox's Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941, it will never be seen as fully legitimate. That indifference will be multiplied if the player in question is a relative unknown who happens to get hot for a couple of months.
The same will go for any other non-counting-stat records. And what about the eventual champion? A World Series win is a World Series win.
But consider the Los Angeles Dodgers, who have built a perennial-contention machine yet haven't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988. Will winning a ring in a 60-game sprint feel as sweet?
Or how about the Cleveland Indians, who haven't won a Fall Classic since 1948?, the longest active drought in baseball?? Obviously, they'd be happy to change that in 2020, but it would always come with a "Yes, and yet..." qualifier.
In the end, this will be the season that stands apart from all other seasons. That'll make it memorable, but it will also tarnish anything a player or club accomplishes.
Argument for Good: Increased Stakes and Excitement
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Here's an interesting way to view the 60-game schedule: Compared to the 162-game marathon, every win or loss will be the equivalent of 2.7 wins or losses.
If you enjoy the languid pace of the typical MLB campaign, that might feel like a bad thing. But for those who say the baseball season is too long and slow, this will ratchet up the excitement.
Every sweep will change the dynamic of a division race. Heck, every rough bullpen outing or even big inning could impact the playoff picture.
It will lead to small-sample oddities and might disproportionately benefit clubs on the fringe of the playoff picture. But is that a bad thing?
If up-and-coming teams like the San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox are able to make the dance ahead of schedule and give rising stars such as Fernando Tatis Jr. and Luis Robert a chance to shine, who loses?
Overall, the short season could excite more fanbases and generate more interest, which is exactly what MLB needs.