Former Cleveland Indians outfielder Albert Belle misses baseball just like the rest of us. He has a few thoughts on how MLB can salvage the 2020 season.
With so much uncertainty surrounding when–or if–the season will start, there is an equal amount of uncertainty as to what the schedule could look like.
The league would like to play as many games as possible in order to minimize revenue losses. The players would like to play as many games as possible because of how dependent salaries are on large sample sizes of statistics and performance.
Even though both sides are in agreement on the idea of manufacturing a semi-normal season, it’s not at all unrealistic to speculate that they’re going to have to make some concessions in that regard. A season usually played out over the course of seven months, largely in outdoor venues, is going to be hard-pressed to recreate normalcy under present circumstances.
Belle’s idea is to simplify the process, first by redrawing and balancing the schedule.
“You have 30 teams, 15 in the American League and 15 in the National League,” said Belle. “If each AL team plays each other four times at home and four times on the road that’s 112 games. You’d have the same thing in the National League. Forget about the interleague play. Forget about the All-Star Game. Just play.”
Most fans seem to be either indifferent or outright opposed to interleague play, so scrapping the season-long version of it for one year in the interest of not making an extremely complicated situation more complicated is a perfectly reasonable suggestion. The question becomes how to go about that, since eliminating interleague play entirely would mean there was always one team in each league with no opponent.
Unless the league wants to carve out something of a “bye week” into everyone’s schedule, the simplest solution is to have each team play one six-game season series against their closest geographical interleague counterpart, increasing Belle’s proposed schedule from 112 games to 118. In some cases that’d be easier than others. The Rockies, for instance, would have to travel relatively far to play any AL team, and vice versa.
In any case, cutting down every team’s interleague schedule to six games is probably the best compromise available.
As Hoynes notes in his story, Belle’s proposal would also level the playing field in both leagues.
It would also cut down the number of games teams play within their division. Under the original 162-game season for 2020, the Indians would play 19 games against their four division rivals.
The Indians and Twins would not have the benefit of nearly 20 chances to pad their record against teams like the Tigers. Contenders in the AL East and West would play teams like the Orioles and Mariners just as many times as everyone else in the AL.
Belle also offered thoughts on how to minimize needless travel.
“Let’s say you play an eight-game series at home,” said Belle, “then you could go on the road and play those same two teams. You could keep travel down, keep player exposure down. It simplifies everything.”
This isn’t quite as simple as Belle draws it up, but it’s doable. MLB could create six geographical pairings and one three-team grouping in each league. Consider the following:
- Indians, White Sox
- Twins, Tigers
- Red Sox, Blue Jays
- Orioles, Yankees
- Rays, Royals
- Rangers, Astros
- Angels, Mariners, A’s
- Cubs, Brewers
- Cardinals, Reds
- Marlins, Braves
- Mets, Nationals
- Phillies, Pirates
- Diamondbacks, Rockies
- Dodgers, Giants, Padres
These groupings aren’t flawless, but they are reasonable considering the way the league is (literally) mapped out. MLB could draw up a new schedule in which the goal would be to have each pairing travel to the locale of another pairing, which isn’t all that fundamentally far off from the way a regular schedule is created.
For instance, the Indians and White Sox could alternate between facing the Rangers and Astros in Cleveland and Chicago, then travel to Texas to alternate between facing those two teams in their home parks. Just like that, the season series among those four teams are complete, and each moves on to another pairing.
The waters muddy a little when you factor in interleague play or the absence thereof, when teams within a pairing could play each other, as well as how to navigate the three-team groupings. But at least with this foundation, the league can find a way to make it work. (If anything, this entire discussion is evidence that MLB needs to expand to 32 teams at the first possible opportunity.)
Belle’s proposal calls for the season to begin on or near Memorial Day weekend, which can be classified as cautiously optimistic at best. Still, in a baseball-less world, it’s fun to discuss ideas on how to bring the game back.