This is the third installment in our Things We’d Change in Sports series. To see the full list, visit this page.
You tired of pennant races becoming obsolete?
You sick of the only September drama being little more than playoff seeding?
You miss the days of Bucky Beeping Dent’s homer, Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ‘round the world, Merkle’s Boner Game?
Well, we have a solution.
Let’s go to a split-season schedule in Major League Baseball.
Hey, it works in the minor leagues. It was pretty cool in 1981 after the players’ strike. And, man, does it ever give new life to teams who are hopelessly out of it by the All-Star Game.
It will strongly discourage teams from tanking. It will permit teams who suffered a rash of early injuries to recover. And it gives renewed hope to everyone who stunk the first half.
Certainly, it helps the small-market teams. They may not be able to compete for an entire 162-game season, but surely they have a shot to contend for 81 games.
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“I know people roll eyes at it,” Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz says, “but it works in the minor leagues. Teams can now compete in the second half instead of just dumping everybody. How are you going to tell your fan base that you’re not going to try in the second half? Who says you can’t have a nice second half? You could see teams reconstructed and change philosophically.”
Eliminate divisions and have two 15-team leagues.
The playoff format would be simple: Whoever wins the first or second half would qualify for the playoffs and earn the top two seeds in each league. If the same team won both halves, the second-best team in the second half would get the other top seed. The No. 1 seed would go to the team with the best overall season record between those two teams.
The final three spots would be determined by overall record, with the two final spots serving as the wild-cards.
All tiebreakers would be determined by scoring differential.
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“The best part is that teams are given a chance to win in the second half, so they’re not going to dump everybody at the trade deadline,” Smoltz said. “How are you going to tell your fanbase you’re giving up when you’re only three games back at the break? Who says you can’t put a nice run in the second half?
“You would have trade deadlines that mean something instead of becoming a dumping station for teams. It would change the way the game is played.”
The only actual negative to the concept is that it’s possible for a team to finish with the best record in the league over the course of the season, and still not make the playoffs. It happened to the Cincinnati Reds in that 1981 strike-shortened season. Yet, it’s simple to rectify, assuring the team with the best record had an automatic playoff berth, at least as a wild-card team.
The biggest change, Smoltz believes, is that teams would no longer be so quick to wave the white flag. If they have a terrible first half, there would be incentive to trade for players to start the second half instead of giving up. You would have two trading deadlines instead of just one. If the first half ends around July 1, a June 1 deadline could be set, with no trades until the second half starts. A second deadline could be on Sept. 1. Who knows, teams might even play their best prospects at the start of the season instead of delaying their debut because of service time?
“We’ve got to get this game vibrant again,” says Smoltz.
Certainly, it’s an idea worth discussing.
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale