Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dear Commissioner Manfred: MLB must return to a 154-game season, and the reason is none other than Babe Ruth

Dear Madam or Sir,

Quickly now - no Googling - who are the top five MLB single-season HR sluggers? Well, there's Barry Bonds, right? And Mark McGwire? It's Sammy Sosa, it's - um - guys who, if you read pious sportswriters, cannot set foot in Cooperstown without bursting into flames. They represent a dark era in our nation's past - the nineties - when players popped pills to win. (Actually, that's the entirety of baseball history, but - hey - that's another story.)

The single-season record stands at 73, held by Bonds. Next comes McGwire at 70, then Sammy Sosa at 66, then McGwire at 65, then Sosa at 64, and Sosa again at 63 and by now, we all get the joke, right? The truth is there is no HR record worth remembering, because for a few years, the game turned into pinball scores. The historians will say that MLB winked at steroids as part of a marketing strategy: It sacrificed HR records so the public would forget baseball's darkest era - the 1994-95 strike.

As a result, the greatest record in sports - Babe Ruth's 60 home runs in 1927 - was tossed aside.

I mention all this because of your recent statements about possibly shrinking the size of the regular season. Such a move would reduce the grind on players, as well as their families. The Yankees just finished a grueling two months - at one point, 30 games in 31 days - during which they lost three pitchers - Masahiro Tanaka, Chris Martin and Chase Whitley. Nothing batters a pitching staff more than seven games in seven days. Once upon a time, teams fielded 10-pitcher staffs. Now, the Yankees use 12 and still must regularly shuttle arms up from Scranton. One 15-inning game, and the bullpen becomes a MASH unit.

Now, you are saying a reduced schedule can be considered in future talks with the players union. Clearly, the owners will expect the players to take less money. Thus, in the end - as always - it will come down to greed, right?

Sir, don't let this happen.

Don't let a few dollars get in the way of doing the right thing.

Baseball needs a 154-game schedule. For starters, eliminating seven eight games won't change the tenor of a pennant race. It's plenty long enough. Sprinkle eight seven off-days across the schedule, and you might spare five pitchers from Tommy John surgeries. When a game is rained out - or postponed due to riots - it won't inflict a crushing blow to a team's schedule in September, as they play the new "twi-night doubleheader," where the crowds are replaced. (Not a fan-friendly situation either.) 

But here's the main reason: For a decade now, MLB has sought to put the tainted steroids era behind it. Some probes were arbitrary and - I believe - unfairly targeted against New York City teams, because they play in a media vortex. A-Rod and company faced unrelenting scrutiny, while players in smaller markets received raised eyebrows and winks.

Now, MLB has a chance to put the steroids era into the backwaters of its history. By moving to a 154-game season, the HR record would revert back to Babe Ruth. The other records came in 162-162-game years, with asterisks, as Roger Maris learned. (BTW, he should be in the Hall, dammit.)

Return to 154, and future sluggers will chase the immortal Babe, as they should. 

Return to 154, and the game can heal over Bonds, Clemens, McGwire - maybe even A-Rod - as it should.  

Some might argue the HR record is still held by Bonds or McGwire, because maybe they hit more than 60 home runs in 154 games. That's stupid. Do you chose the first 154 games of the season, or the last 154? Are you just looking for a stretch of 154 games... because that's not a season. It's a single-season record, and they didn't play in a 154-game season. Thus, their totals don't matter. They can hold the 162-game record throughout eternity. So be it.

Shrink the schedule. Save an elbow. Save a marriage. And save Babe Ruth. Damn, it's so simple. Let's get this done.


John M said...

That's a really interesting idea, and Ruth is still the greatest of any player when you look at his performance relative to the other players of his era (and most other eras) and his amazing pitching record before he was moved into the everyday lineup.

You might want to correct that '161' to '162' before the wolves come out.

Honey Barnes said...


el duque said...

Thanks John. Correction made.

ceeja said...

They'll expand the rosters, or reduce restrictions on calling guys up for temporary duty. They'll never reduce the number of games.

joe de pastry said...

They should go back to 154 AND expand the rosters. Adding another player making a million or less won't bankrupt the owners, and considering how much more playoff TV money they get now cutting 8 games off the schedule won't seriously hurt the bottom line. But because all the steroid guys hit more than 60 within their first 154 games, Ruth's record will still not be recognized.