Revisiting the 154 Game Season

Convention is the vehicle, which drives thoughts and perspectives in a way familiar with society. Their motives and ideas are reliable and can resist alteration of the norm. The principles, philosophies, and significance emerge as conservative beliefs. By contrast, innovation creates progressive strategies introduced to an unfamiliar mass. Fear of an unknown along with the break from monotony and repetition bring hesitation, seemingly incredulous of feasibility, which causing endless debate.  Following the retirement of commissioner Bud Selig back in January, successor Rob Manfred continues to seek alternatives to the commonplace within baseball. Shrinking the regular season to 154 games would be at the behest of the Player’s Association could be perhaps his boldest pursuit, evoking memories of an era before postseason play where the World Series would be the sole award for collective accomplishment.

In a sheer sense of irony, Major League Baseball has witnessed an influx of change and metamorphosis during the past two decades. From interleague play to the wild card, the game is a shell of the one viewed passionately by those who grew up in a simpler time. Memories of a walk-off home run, no-hitter, or diving catch continue to resonate and attendance reaches a fiscal and physical apex with each passing season. Expanded postseason play created more opportunities for an elusive World Series title, reviving both interest and influence in cities customarily aligning themselves with pro football come the cool winds of autumn. The game today for many is perfect through the lenses common to them and any deviation conveys a shadow of doubt and skepticism, primary when it arrives in response to an epidemic.

From the advent of the American League in 1901 to the era of expansion six decades later, Major League Baseball consisted of a 154 game schedule comprised of 16 franchises, eight of which represented their respective league. Each club would play the same schedule with the World Series being the only postseason berth. The period would see the rise of teams such as the New York Yankees, with a litany of Hall of Famers appearing consistently in the Fall Classic. Following World War II, it seemed as though every World Series game would be played in New York City. The success of the Yankees, while endearing to the local faithful, represented an era with little competitive balance and the vast majority of teams seemingly out of World Series contention by Opening Day. The period of stasis would begin to wither away by the mid-1950s when the Boston Braves achieved greater appeal and widespread achievement in the city of Milwaukee. The Dodgers and Giants, mainstays of New York City, followed the Braves path and relocated to the west coast, creating the game’s own Manifest Destiny, leaving behind a dearth of National League baseball in the Big Apple. After years of fighting expansion amidst fears of overvaluation and a dilution of major league talent, baseball expanded, first in the American League in 1961 and in the National League a year later with the Houston Colt 45s and the New York Mets.

The addition of extra clubs, greater travel, and prevalent media coverage resulted in an expansion of the 154 game season to the now familiar 162 game schedule in 1961. The initial plan would be met with hesitation, as the status quo with the game would evolve and innovate in ways unimaginable just years prior. Records and statistical data would be altered based on excess games, casting uncertainty with single season records. The first test of these fears emerged in the initial season of the new schedule as Yankees sluggers Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle batting each other stride for stride to eclipse Babe Ruth’s single season home run record of 60, set in 1927. To preserve Ruth’s status and the integrity of the 154 game schedule, commissioner Ford Frick ruled that the duo and any other future player would need to set the new mark within the original 154 games. When Maris clubbed his 61st home run off Red Sox pitcher Tracy Stallard in the 162nd game of the season, the new record would come with an asterisk more fitting for the PED users in future generations, rather than a player who naturally reached his athletic peak in an anomalous season for the ages. As decades passed and the 162 game season became ambiguous with Major League Baseball, the asterisk would be erased from the record books, but the initial ruling evoked the memories of resistance and futile pursuits to preserve tradition no longer feasible within the game.

Each negotiation of the Basic Agreement affords the opportunity to change the course of baseball by correcting imbalance and devising efficient solutions to growing problems. During his brief tenure as commissioner, Rob Manfred has attempted to make strides in those areas, through initiatives regarding pace of play and expanded instant replay. With the Basic Agreement due to expire at the end of the 2016 season, the players have discussed the possibility of compressing the length of the season to 154 games. “Players have asked about 154,” Manfred said to reporters last Wednesday in Houston. “I think 154 is a topic that is complicated. It has big competitive and economic ramifications. Having said that, I think in the 20-something years I’ve worked in the game, there’s more conversation about it than there has been in a long time.” ( The current big league schedule consists of 183 days over a six month period with just 21 reserved for travel. Since 1961, the additions of interleague play, contractual obligations for national television and expansion to 30 teams, make traveling as grueling as the season itself, leading to performance fluctuation and middling returns. “One hundred and sixty-two games in 183 days, and a lot of those 21 days consumed by travel, is a pretty demanding schedule,” Manfred said to the AP. “By reputation I work pretty hard, and I don’t think I work 162 days out of 183. It’s a tough schedule.”

In theory, a 154 game schedule can provide much-needed relief in injury recovery and perhaps bring an end to the debate for a six-man rotation. Fewer games in practice create higher demand, coupled with more compelling pennant races; however, economic ramifications make this pursuit an idealistic one. Shaving eight games off the current ledger would result in the removal of four home games each club, curtailing attendance gains and salaries for stadium employees. Consequently, team owners would request a reduction in players earnings, much to the dismay of the uniformed 25, with greater performance demands to recoup economic losses. Elimination of one scheduled week could also mean fewer national telecasts for broadcast partners FOX, TBS, ESPN, and MLB Network, each of whom pay nearly $7 billion for television exclusivity. With an investment of that magnitude and few advertising dollars, due to quicker games, the economics of baseball would suffer greatly absent of perhaps an expansion of the Wild Card playoff and Division Series to a best-of-3 and best-of-7 respectively. Expanded postseason unfortunately cannot recoup lost revenue for the 20 franchises, which fail to quality for the playoffs in any form. Lost funds would ultimately be passed on the consumer, as rising ticket prices soar precipitously to stratospheric heights. Fans who never feel the urge to attend any live games would also see their cable bills skyrocket, further damaging the game’s economic bottom line and potentially eradicating the record-setting $9 billion revenues of recent seasons along with prestige among the four major sports.

Many say that one incident can change the course of events. Instances of judgment absent of the foresight of consequences can hinder the growth and stability of any business. A decision, which seems lucrative one day, evolves into a callous albatross as years go by. Major League Baseball during its recent history taught us that decisions made to create immediate benefit have a tendency of both alienating the public and causing massive rifts where time is the only elixir to correct inefficient assessments. Increasing rifts between the Major League Baseball Player’s Association and team owners during the later portion of the 1980s would lead to the infamous 1994 players strike, costing the game one of its most potentially rewarding seasons. Pursuit of unlimited flows of cash steered baseball to massive financial losses with television, causing the sport to broadcast games for two seasons in-house without any means of compensation from rights holders. While many surmise baseball’s recovery beginning in the 1998 season, mounting steroid use within the game would hamper its integrity, a battle, which continues to this day. Though a 154 game season can rekindle recollections of nostalgia and wistfulness, the complications of implementing a proper schematic without incurring barriers and obstacles make this proposal ideal in nature and a concept with endless stances and thought. The 162 game season provides the proper symmetry of a six month war of attrition between Spring Training and postseason rewards. The trails and tribulations of a campaign filled with a myriad of triumph and disappointment provide the drama and interest necessary to spur demand and leave us wanting more than provided.


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