Baseball, basketball: Enough already

The Baltimore Sun

Tomorrow is Halloween, and until last night I was petrified with fear, scared almost out of my wits ... of an asterisk.

The one on the World Series schedule. * Game 7, if necessary, on Halloween night.

It was possible if the Philadelphia Phillies hadn't won the World Series in five games. And had the storms stayed in the Northeast one more day, we would have moved that asterisk back to November. The only other time that has happened, it took the 2001 terrorist attacks. This time, though, it might only have taken an extended bout of bad weather.

However, baseball has ensured that next season, bad weather will not push the Series into November. It went ahead and pushed on its own.

The tentative 2009 schedule, released to scandalously little fanfare in mid-September, places a potential Game 7 on Nov. 5.

Enough is enough. Shorten the baseball season.

And while you're at it - since the two seasons now intersect, which is also horrifying - trim the NBA season as well. More on that later.

The idea that a season can span 10 months, including spring training, is ridiculous. Everybody concerned - players, fans, the leagues, the networks - suffers on nights like Monday's Game 5, Part I in Philadelphia, potentially the season's climax, played in conditions similar to the bishop's round of golf in Caddyshack.

There's simply no way to remedy this except to shorten the regular season. There are too many teams, traveling too much, playing too many games crammed into too narrow a window. It's better to go backward in regular-season games than in postseason games (and teams).

The last time there were only 154 scheduled games, there were 14 fewer teams, four fewer divisions and two fewer playoff rounds. But 154 seems to be the magic number.

The easiest place to trim is interleague games: The American League plays 18 each, the National 15. Get them down to nine each. Keep the division schedules as they are, juggle the interdivision games accordingly and you're there. Juggle how? That's baseball's problem; it never should have created two leagues with an uneven total of teams.

If that's not enough, knock the league championship series back to best-of-five. But that should be enough. Eight fewer games, with a few old-fashioned doubleheaders - worth considering anyway, now that we're entering the next Great Depression - and the season can both start later and end earlier.

If you think you'll miss the old 162-game season, ponder this: eight fewer starts by the Orioles' pitchers. You're welcome.

As for the NBA, whose openers got big-footed by the delayed World Series - its season has been too long for too long. The Olympics make it even longer; the bodies (like the San Antonio Spurs' Manu Ginobili) are already starting to pile up. Trimming the NBA season, though, would benefit the game, its players and its fans in non-Olympic years, too. Too much of any sport isn't a good thing.

First to go: the best-of-seven first round, one of the numerous bad ideas by the NBA recently; back to a best-of-five. Then, 10 games off the regular-season schedule. How do you do that? Cut interconference play in half, to just one game against each team in the other conference. The resulting 67-game season is too short, so add five intradivision games.

Between regular season and postseason, that's close to a month lopped off the schedule and a more sane travel schedule.

If baseball and basketball take these steps back, we could avoid clashes between sports that have no business being played close to Halloween.

That's no trick. It's all treat.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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