The World Baseball Classic is cool and good and should happen every June

At this blog, we’re going to take it for granted that Shohei Otani is cool as shit (and should be a Met by this time next year). The World Baseball Classic had a ton of highs, and I’m sad that it’s already over and excited for the next one. But the WBC is such a weird baseball event that even though I followed the tournament in gamer and YouTube clip form, I didn’t watch that many of the games themselves.

Part of it is that it happens in March, sure: I spent my sports-watching chits on the NCAA tournament over the weekend (though I seemed to have other things to do Saturday around noon). I’m not opposed to winter baseball, but the rhythm isn’t there yet.

I think the bigger issue is that the Classic is still pretty new and hasn’t warped the sports calendar around it yet. This is only the fifth edition so far, and the first one in six years due to the pandemic. In normal times, the tournament is held every three years. That’s a really odd interval when most big events are either annual (assorted domestic championships, La Copa America) or quadrennial (the Olympics, the World Cup and other international championships).

If part of the joy of being a North American sports fan is the changing of the seasons, the flip side is that there is inertia where the average fan knows what they’re paying attention to in, say, August. And while we’re used to big events happening on the Olympiad or in relation to it, a three-year gap isn’t going to slot into that rhythm either.

Several commentators have started arguing that the WBC should take place in July: replace the All-Star Game with a solid two weeks of a non-exhibition international tournament. And I’m aligned! But baseball should go even further, and they should hold it every year starting in late June.

An annual tournament that draws eyes from around the world, happening every year in the middle of the season! An international break that always has stakes; a big event that happens in what is often a slow point on the U.S. calendar between the NBA finals, the tightening of the pennant races in August, and the return of the NFL. Globally late June is fallow, too; the Cup usually starts the second week of July, as does the Euro cup.

So a late-June-to-early-July schedule would take advantage of competing against much less sports competition. The players would be in prime shape. Major League Baseball gets a huge event that helps build audiences at the midpoint of the season and has a chance to mint new superstars. It’s a no-brained, which means it will almost certainly not happen as long as Manfred is in charge.

The objection is that this would wreak some level of havoc in the Major League schedule. It’s bad enough that World Series games now leak into November (climate change not withstanding); how do you schedule 162 games around a two- or three-week gap in the middle without starting even earlier, or risking the series competing with Thanksgiving?

So the other half of the proposal is this: assuming it’s a fait accompli that MLB will be expanding to 32 teams in the next decade, let’s cut back the number of games in a season. I think a lot of people, myself included, anticipate 32 teams getting split into NFL-style divisions: four divisions of four teams each, in two leagues. The playoffs would be the division champs plus two wild cards for each league, with the division champs with the best record getting a bye to the second round. But as I was looking at this Tuesday, I think baseball would be better suited to going back to two divisions per league, like it was prior to the ‘94 introduction of the wild card.

(I lean towards keeping the two-league structure, for historical reasons and keeping open the potential for the occasional Subway or Freeway series. But I’m open to the idea of a radical geographic alignment—something like this, but with eight team divisions instead of four. We’re fantasizing here.)

And then…we cut the number of games back to 152.

Yes, it’s crazy! Within each team’s division, teams play each other eight times each: four home, four away, for a total of 56 games. Each team then plays the other 24 teams four times each, for the other 96. This is a truly balanced schedule that still allows for intra-divisional rivalries, facing each team an equal number of times home and away. And by dropping ten games from the schedule, there’s space in June to hold the WBC every year.

It’s a plan that makes a 32-team league an asset instead of a disappointment. It draws the world’s attention to the sport at a fallow spot in the calendar that is also one of the best times of year for baseball. It’s an All-Star Tournament that counts. It will create chances for players to stand out on the global stage and bring their new fans with them into the back half of the season. This would be great for the MLB and the sport as a whole.

It’ll never happen—the owners will never cut games just like they’ll never add a few weekday day games back into the schedule. So I’ll see you in March 2026, and hopefully I’ll remember to watch the games live that time.

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