Is 154 really the new 162?

With everyone gathered in Cincinnati this week, there was a renewed round of questions about a subject near and dear to every player’s and writer’s heart: the incredibly busy schedule from Opening Day through the end of September. And now it’s starting to sound sorta real. Bob Nightengale:

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and Tony Clark, director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, each said Tuesday that the topic would be heavily discussed in negotiations for their next collective bargaining agreement, which expires in December 2016.

"In looking back from the time I played to now that I’m watching what these guys are doing, I don’t know how they do it," Clark said. "What these guys are being asked to do with respect to games’ start times, with respect to the travel distances themselves, with respect to performing at an elite level with three days off a month, is a challenge.

–snip–

The schedule has never been more demanding on players. Teams are playing more night games than at any other time in history. Teams, even on getaway days, usually don’t get to their hotel until 2 or 3 in the morning, and after a few hours of sleep they are back on the field.

And you wonder at times why these players look like they’re sleepwalking, particularly playing day games after night games, with lethargic performances.

It was different back in the day, when amphetamines were a ballplayer’s best friend.

It didn’t matter how tired you were or how many adult beverages you had the night before, greenies could get you through that day.

Not that I’m doubting Tony Clark or Bob Nightengale, but I really would like to see some data here. I remember when amphetamines were (finally) outlawed, and there were predictions of immediate and dramatic effects … which, as best I can recall, did not actually happen. On the other hand, it’s quite clear that the recent decline in hitting statistics is tied largely to the larger (effective) strike zone.

Still, do the hitters particularly struggle when playing after a night of travel? And are there more of these nights than ever? Again, I’d love to see the actual data. Travel’s never been easy. One thing that’s changed is that more and more players are multimillionaires, and multimillionaires tend to be a little less tolerant of mid-level discomfort and inconvenience. I read Barry Srvluga’s new book about the Nationals. It’s called The Grind … because of course that’s how it feels, when you’re doing it for seven or eight months. But one’s also reminded just how well-paid and pampered the modern major leaguer is, assuming he’s got his roster spot locked down.

Again, I’m not saying anybody’s wrong about all this. Just saying I’ll really believe it when there’s some actual evidence that the travel really is depressing run production.

Anyway, I still believe the money might preclude taking four home games (and eight TV games) away from every team. But if the players really want this, they’ll just have to give up something the owners want. Because I don’t see why the owners would even think about just giving those games away.