Rob Manfred was talking only in the vaguest of senses: here is a proposal that hasn't been made, one that may have zero supporters, and even if it did, still probably would never happen. But it's still remarkable to hear an MLB Commissioner not immediately reject the idea of shortening the season:
"I don't think length of season is a topic that can't ever be discussed," Manfred told ESPN.com. "I don't think it would be impossible to go back to 154 [games]...We already have some of our record books which reflect a 154-game season and obviously some of it reflects a 162-game season. So there's some natural flexibility there."
The question was spurred by a Wall Street Journal report that found the percentage of players who played 150 or more games in 2014 was the lowest in history. The story details the lengths teams go to to help their players resist fatigue over the marathon of a season, especially since the leaguewide ban on amphetamines nine years ago. And if you don't think that ban was a huge deal, note that one in 10 players are taking Adderall with MLB's permission—and an unknown number are taking it without clearing it first.
The WSJ report hints that quality of play dips over the course of a long season, though the data seems thin. But in being intrigued by the idea of a shorter season, I'm not thinking about the players; I'm thinking about me. The games go forever and the season goes forever and it's way too easy to just start tuning out in mid-August. There is too much baseball! And I like baseball.
MLB is doing good work attempting to speed up the games, but simply having fewer games would work too. Same goes for any sport attempting to compete for America's limited attention span and find a commitment/interest balance that only the NFL seems to have struck so far.
It's just a pipe dream, though. I can't see any way owners would agree to give up 120 gates, or players to forfeit five percent or so of their salaries. These things only creep upward. Still, I kind of like that Rob Manfred is willing to just throw shit out there. Banning shifts? Faster games? Fewer games? Some of these are better and more realistic ideas than others, but it's refreshing to see a Commissioner who's not afraid to at least have them.