- Tuesday, September 13, 2011 4:14 AM
- Written By: Andrew Simon
The start of the NFL season always lends itself to mass hysteria. When one loss can move you a sixth or an eighth of the way toward playoff elimination in a 16-game season, it's understandable. Every game takes on a tremendous significance, and maybe that's just one reason -- along with the violence, of course -- that football is the most popular sport in the country.
A single baseball game, however, carries little meaning when playoff teams often have 70-plus losses. The day-in, day-out grind takes precedence over the all-consuming hype of once-a-week competition. I appreciate that difference in the two sports and wouldn’t want either to change.
But, as a thought experiment, what would happen if Bud Selig went craaaaaaaaaazy and decided to
adopt an NFL scheduling system of 16 games, played once a week?
The answer, obviously, is quite a lot.
In terms of how teams are run, this would completely destroy the current methods of roster construction. A club could go an entire season using one starting pitcher, unless it wanted two or three in order to play to matchups or hedge against slumps. The resulting demand for aces surely would be ridiculous and drive their salaries through the roof, increasing the pressure to develop a home-grown pitching stud.
With each date on the schedule of crucial importance, managers would be forced to do their jobs differently, particularly in terms of deploying a pitching staff. Where a No. 1 starting pitcher normally might get a long rope with which to work out of trouble or push his way through a tough outing, the 16-game schedule would force a skipper to pull his ace at the first sign of serious danger to prevent a game from getting away. If you think that today’s baseball features too few complete games and too many pitching changes, look out. Sure, a team might have only one starting pitcher, but it also might employ a 10-man bullpen and a manager who walks to the mound twice an inning late in games. Every skipper would be Tony La Russa on speed.
Outside of the playing of individual games, a 16-game schedule would throw the sport into absolute chaos in terms of results. Think about how it often seems like anything can happen in the postseason. Well, now the regular season would be about that length. Under the current system, media and fans frequently get bent out of shape about small sample sizes (A six-game losing streak! He’s 0 for his last 17!) When there are 162 games, that’s silly. If there were 16 games, it would be entirely justified. The vagaries of luck that constantly fiddle with the fortunes of players and teams would be handed the keys to the control panel of the entire season.
Keeping in mind that this all occurred as a small piece of a long season, here are some things that were true after 16 games in 2011:
- The Red Sox were 5-11. The Indians were 12-4. The Royals were 10-6. The Braves were 7-9. The Rockies were 12-4. The Diamondacks were 8-8.
- Of course, it also must be said that the Yankees were 10-6, the Twins were 6-10, the Phillies were 10-6 and the Astros were 5-11. Not everything goes haywire in two weeks.
- Albert Pujols was hitting .239/.288/.433. Matt Kemp was hitting .474/.545/.719. Sam Fuld was hitting .396/.431/.604. Dan Uggla was hitting .177/.203/.371. Great players can look bad for 16 games, and vice versa. In 2006, Chris Shelton hit nine homers in the Tigers’ first 13 games; in other words, strange things can happen.
So a 16-game schedule would take a Prince Fielderesque bite out of baseball’s traditional sense of roster construction and game management. It would turn every regular season into not necessarily a crapshoot, but certainly a much more unpredictable free-for-all. It would detonate current salary norms, the arbitration system and much more of the game’s infrastructure.
It would be pandemonium. And as tempting as it is to imagine New York talk radio after a 2-5 start by the Yankees, I think we can all agree this would be one massive cut our country doesn’t need.
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