|

Exploring quirky history of season schedules

by

Is a 162-game professional baseball season too long?

Is a 143-game schedule too short?

Is a 154-game calendar just right?

According to a Bleacher Report article by Jacob Shafer last month, this could be the final year for Major League Baseball’s 162-game format that has been in place for more than a half-century.

The MLB collective bargaining agreement is set to expire at the end of the 2016 season, and the possibility of reducing the number of regular-season games played may be considered.

It used to be a balanced schedule was mandatory. There was an even number of teams — eight — in each of the American and National Leagues until the first expansion in the majors in 1961. They played a 154-game season, with each AL and NL club playing the other seven teams in its league 22 times; 11 games at home and 11 on the road.

When the American League added two teams in ’61, the now 10-team league adopted the 162-game card, with each franchise playing the other nine 18 times; nine as the home team and nine as the visitor.

The National League joined in playing 162 games a year when it expanded in 1962, and that number has remained despite three more expansions (1977, 1993 and 1997) that have left the majors with odd-numbered (15) member teams in each league and interleague play.

The extending of the season by eight games caused immediate controversy 55 years ago when New York Yankees slugger Roger Maris happened to hit 61 home runs to break Babe Ruth’s single-season record, hitting No. 61 in the Yanks’ 162nd game of the season. Ruth had held the record since 1927, the year the Bambino hit 60 in a 154-game schedule.

Then-MLB commissioner Ford Frick threatened to put an asterisk next to Maris’ record, since he had the eight-game advantage and did not hit 60 homers by his team’s 154th game of the ’61 season, but never did.In Japanese baseball, the situation is way more complicated because of the various numbers of games Central and Pacific League teams have played over the years since the two-league system was established in 1950.

Take 1953, for example. There were seven teams in the Pacific League, and they played a 120-game season. The Central League had six teams that year, and four of them played 130 games, while two teams — the Yomiuri Giants and Kokutetsu Swallows — played 125.

In 1956, the Pa League consisted of eight teams, the same as the American and National Leagues, and they played the same 154 games, while the Central circuit, still with six clubs, used a 130-game slate.

From 1968, the Japanese leagues began playing a uniform 130-game schedule with the six teams playing the other five in each league 26 times. This continued through 1997, and the season was expanded to 135 games in 1998 with tie games played off, giving some clubs a 136 — or 137-game schedule.

In 2001, Central and Pacific League teams went to a 140-game slate and, when interleague play began in 2005, the CL played 146 games and the Pa League 136. From 2008 through 2014, both leagues played 144 games and, from last season, 143. If Ford Frick were the NPB commissioner, there would be so many asterisks next to the records, it would make your head swim.

Japanese baseball may be the only major sports league that plays an odd-numbered game schedule, and it would appear the 143-game season will be with us for the foreseeable future, and we will see what happens in the majors after this year.

Most fans would say the more baseball, the better, but if going back to a 154-game schedule will help the MLB players go along with terms of a new collective bargaining agreement, it should be no problem. The last thing we want to see is labor unrest that would jeopardize the start of the 2017 season.

With expanded post-season playoffs in both the majors and Japan, there is enough baseball played anyway, from March through October. It is no secret the life of a professional player is a rat-race of travel, working with very few off-days and sometimes overtime (extra-inning games).

As Shafer wrote in his article, two advantages to reducing the number of games in the majors would be a probable drop in injuries and the chance to begin the playoffs earlier while there is still better weather. However, he also mentioned there may be reluctance on the part of some owners to cut down the number of games because some revenue would be lost.

In Japan, the 143-game format seems just right, and the travel is much easier on the players because the franchise map covers a much more limited area than in the U.S., and there is only one time zone. Most road trips are made by shinkansen bullet trains rather than airplane flights.

Also, games are limited to 12 innings, and the Japanese regular season begins two weeks prior to the MLB openers and ends after the major league clubs complete their regular campaign.

If MLB decides to roll back the 2017 schedule from 162 to 154 games, it would be fine with me. Just make sure there is a 2017 season. There has been labor peace since 1995, after that disastrous time in 1994 when the last one-third of the regular schedule, the playoffs and World Series were canceled.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com