How can physical players like Kevin Pillar be expected to play like they can for 162 regular
season games each year? (Photo courtesy of Keith Allison)

Prior to 1961, the regular season in Major League Baseball was 154 games, which in itself still seems like a lot, especially when compared to the other three major league sports in North America.  For the past 55 years, the MLB regular season has been a ridiculous 162 games, plus playoffs if you’re lucky to be one of the ten teams that make it that far.  Using the Toronto Blue Jays 2016 schedule as an example, their regular season began on April 3 and ends October 2.  A period of 183 days in which they’ll be playing 162 games.  Over the course of the six month regular season, Toronto has 21 off days, which will probably end up being reduced to accommodate cancellations due to rain.  Although a reduction of eight games doesn’t seem like much when going from 162 to 154, the reduced schedule should have a considerable impact improving the game.

Baseball, more so than any other sport cherishes and is fascinated with statistics and its records.  The fact that a 154 game schedule will impact players statistics and the record books will not be an easy pill to swallow for many traditionalists.  One thing to consider if that sounds a bit like you, is that many of the single-season records are already untouchable (take for example Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI) for players today even with a 162 game season.  Reducing the season by eight games won’t impact the record books too much because so many of the records are already next to impossible to bettering.  What will change though is that fewer players will reach those seasonal milestones that are such a special accomplishment…200 hits, 20 wins, 30 home runs.

Some people argue that ball players have it easy and they’re just standing around anyway.  But that’s exactly it…most games these day last in excess of three hours, and a player is on their feet for at least half that time, not to mention the strain on the body that comes with sliding on the base paths or diving for balls on defence.  It would be ideal to watch these incredible athletes playing at close to 100 percent health, but the reality is that a 162 game schedule is such a grind that players often play nowhere near what they’re capable of. Just prior to the All-Star break, the Blue Jays played 36 games in 38 days.  During that stretch, Kevin Pillar was quoted as saying…

“There’s no way that fans, if it’s your first time coming to watch us play, there’s no way they’re going to get the best product.”

Baseball players are tough individuals, and some are a lot tougher than others.  Those tough players are normally the ones who play the game hardest and are the most exciting to watch. Players like Kevin Pillar, Josh Donaldson, and Rickey Henderson only know/knew how to play the game one way, and that was full-out.  But when those kind of players are banged up because the toll their physical style of play has on their bodies can’t keep up with the constant and lengthy schedule, then their play suffers and fans don’t see these exceptional athletes play anywhere near their best.

There are certain things in sports history that we look back on in amazement and wonder how on earth were they able to do that.  The 100 round bare knuckled boxing match, or the pitchers from the late 19th century who pitched 600 plus innings in a single season (check out Will White’s 1879 season with the Cincinnati Reds).  Fifty years from now, people will look back on the 162 game season with a similar feeling of awe and amazement that players were expected to play that many games in one season.

The move from 162 to 154 games is a wonderful sign for professional sports.  In an effort to continuously make more money, the four major professional sports leagues in North America are endlessly trying to expand and get bigger.  More teams and more games mean more money and profits.  Now, for the first time in as long as I can remember, a major professional sports league is taking a step back, and saying that perhaps less is more.  This is the kind of move that’s great for the game, and during a time when most leagues are sacrificing the quality of their product to increase profits, Major League Baseball will hopefully be doing the opposite.