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Is MLB mandating a 48-game season even worth it?
The negotiations between the owners and players regarding the 2020 baseball season are still going quite poorly. At the moment, the likeliest path forward appears to be a 48-game season mandated by Rob Manfred according to an agreement between the two sides back in March.
The situation has clearly frustrated fans, who have no desire to hear billionaires and millionaires fighting over money in the middle of a global pandemic with millions unemployed and racial unrest in the streets. Having a mandated season isn’t all bad since having 48 games of baseball is objectively better than zero games, but having a year that short would open a huge can of worms for the history books.
One of the beauties of baseball is the idea that the season is a marathon, not a sprint, using six months to identify the best teams in a given season. Forty eight games is a sprint, and any team can do well over a short stretch of the season, adding more randomness to the results.
If there was a 48 game limit last season, for example, the Washington Nationals would have missed the playoffs due to their 19-31 start. Washington recovered down the stretch and ended up winning the World Series, something that could not have happened with this format.
The record books would also be completely shattered with a 48-game season. How would history judge a .400 hitter who only played in 42 games as opposed to Ted Williams, the last hitter to hit over .400 over the course of a season, who played in 143 games in 1941?
Voting on awards would also be skewed since there would be a very small sample size to judge. The Cy Young award could go to a reliever since most starting pitchers would only make nine or ten starts with the first several limited to a few innings due to the fact they weren’t properly stretched out. Could it even be possible for Jacob deGrom to win a third straight Cy Young award by going 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA?
There would certainly be some teams that benefit from a shortened season, but this outcome would also certainly signal a work stoppage is coming after the CBA expires in 2021. The relationship between the owners and players hasn’t been this bad since 1994 when the strike ended up cancelling the World Series and part of the 1995 season.
A 48-game season would be a sign these two sides couldn’t put aside their differences in the middle of a global pandemic, offering little hope they could reach an agreement in a more normalized environment. The biggest losers in this scenario are fans, which always happens when money holds the game of baseball hostage.