How many baseball games should MLB teams actually play in a normal regular season?

Extreme circumstances sometimes force sports to operate in ways that break from tradition. Sometimes that means the NBA starts its season on Christmas Day after a lockout, and some even call for the measure to become permanent.

This year, the coronavirus pandemic will force Major League Baseball to shorten its season if any baseball is played at all. A game bound by tradition and obsessed with the sanctity of its statistical records, MLB last changed the length of its regular season — inching up to 162 games from 154 in the midst of expansion — in the early ‘60s.

But the thought of morphing the framework of the sport has at least occurred to us here at Yahoo Sports. As a one-off 78- to 82-game slate is considered for 2020, we decided to rethink the ideal number of baseball games that should go into a regular season.

150 games: Keep it in season

The baseball season is too long. I say this not because I prefer to see less baseball, but because I prefer to be less cold.

Did you know that in some postseason games — I’ve seen it in a player in Detroit and a coach in San Francisco — some of the participants beat back the cold by wearing wetsuits? Full, zipper-in-the-back wetsuits. They’re supposed to be playing baseball, not hunting lobster.

Baseball is not a cold weather (or aquatic) sport. It’s a summer (non-aquatic) sport.

(And, somehow, in spite of seasons that routinely run into parka and trapper hat weather, northern stadiums are being built without roofs, retractable or otherwise. Anyway.)

One-hundred-and-fifty games are plenty. Lose 12 games, that’s two fewer weeks of baseball, though that’s also assuming the league wouldn’t immediately expand the postseason by a round or two, putting us right back to Nov. 2 in, I don’t know, Minneapolis.

On that day, we — the fans, the players, the coaches, the owners, the TV execs — would expect the tautest possible baseball game. Instead, baserunners can hardly bend their knees, so they stilt around like snow-suited Ralphies from “A Christmas Story.” Masked outfielders look like they just knocked off three different 7-Elevens and happened into the same hideout. And invited 40,000 people to come.

That doesn’t look like baseball. Sometimes, it isn’t played like baseball.

<a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/8861/" data-ylk="slk:Mike Trout">Mike Trout</a> layered up and shrouded his face on a cold April night in Kansas City last season. (Photo by John Sleezer/Getty Images)
Mike Trout layered up and shrouded his face on a cold April night in Kansas City last season. (Photo by John Sleezer/Getty Images)

I’m all for elements. For variables. For playing the game in front of you. It also shouldn’t cost you three toes and half an ear. In the end, if you’re wearing a wetsuit, you might be playing the wrong game. - Tim Brown

140 games: Cut to the chase in September

I've long favored a more compact regular season. I do think there are creative ways to play 162 games in closer to five months than six months, which would allow the postseason to be played in decent weather. But the ideal number to me is 140 for a couple reasons.

First and foremost, the season would retain its marathon status. Baseball prefers large sample sizes to determine which players and teams are having the best seasons. I feel like 140 games would allow those determinations to continue being made definitively.

On the flip side of that, the season wouldn't overstay its welcome. We usually know which teams are contenders and which teams have packed it in by the trade deadline. By the time Labor Day rolls around, there are few mysteries left to solve. We wouldn't lose any drama without those 22 extra games. It would just get moved up into August. Better yet, we'd eliminate dozens of September games with non-contenders that hurt the integrity of the standings and cause more wear and tear on pitchers. It also allows for more flexibility and a potentially beneficial extended All-Star break.

I think 140 games makes even more sense if MLB is looking to expand the postseason. Let's get the wild-card games going in mid-September. I don't see any appeal in prolonging a battle for the sixth or seventh seed when those teams could be one and done anyway. I think 140 is a nice, round number that, even with an expanded postseason, will allow baseball to conclude before everyone is raking leaves or shoveling snow. - Mark Townsend

135 games: Lean, mean, done by Halloween

Schedule-making, particularly in baseball, seems like something you need to be really good at math to do well. I suck at math, so this won’t be a well-computed look at the perfect baseball season based on any sort of number-crunching.

My take on the ideal length of a baseball season is more of a feel thing: Opening day should be in April and the season should be done well before Halloween. 

Baseball was supposed to start in March this year. Seems early. We’ve had World Series games in November in recent years. No way, that’s football’s domain. 

Quite honestly, I think you can shave two weeks off each end of that. Give me, say, an April 10 opening day and an Oct. 19 World Series Game 7.

What are we losing? Ten to 15 games on each side. Owners won’t like that, but the idea here wasn’t to create a schedule that owners liked. If so, the Yankees and Dodgers would probably come to town more often than you’d like.

I think a lean 135 games sounds good. That’s still a haul. It’s still a test. It still separates the legit baseball teams from the flukes, but it alleviates some of the grind. Players have wanted more off days, which is part of the reason why the season stretched the way it did. It was the same number of games, just covering more real estate on the calendar.

Baseball is a sport where less is probably more. Keep your stars on the field. Don’t overwork their arms. Keep them healthy for the postseason. And get enough padding in the schedule to try some crazy ideas — like the October madness tournament I’m still stumping for. - Mike Oz

125 games: Made for TV

I don’t actually have an issue with the number of games per se — the constant presence of baseball is a great companion or fallback plan for every summer night. I do, however, worry about the increasingly difficult task of creating mass interest in any given matchup or subplot.

Baseball would be wise to find ways to make it easier for fans and casual observers to follow its brightest stars and biggest games. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)
Baseball would be wise to find ways to make it easier for fans and casual observers to follow its brightest stars and biggest games. (Photo by Rob Tringali/MLB Photos via Getty Images)

So my thought is to create a schedule that operates with an eye toward creating a rhythm for the viewing public, momentum toward the most intriguing and worthwhile entertainment the game has to offer. 

The pitch: One game and one day of the week for each member of a starting rotation. In theory, the best pitchers take the mound in predictable clashes of titans, say in the ideal national TV slots on Saturday and Sunday. No one wonders which day they can watch Tom Brady play; perhaps they shouldn’t have to wonder that about Max Scherzer, either.

That comes out to five games a week, for 25 weeks — we’ll avoid starting the season mid-week and make the All-Star break a clean seven-day respite — and 125 games. But to achieve the desired effect, this setup still requires some stipulations. Every week would consist of one series, five games in five days against the same team. These series would begin on Saturdays and run through Wednesday, with Thursday and Friday (the worst day for TV ratings in America) as the off days. Maybe (maybe!) we toss in a little guidance to make sure the aces stay on Saturdays, such as turning the run differential from weekend games into a key tiebreaker, which may be needed if division opponents play an even number of games against one another.

The result: Appointment viewing and a regular cadence to help people get excited for it. - Zach Crizer

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