How Many Games in a Baseball Season

How Many Games in a Baseball Season?: A Common Question

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More than any other sport, baseball has a lot of games. They say that’s what it takes to differentiate between teams ~ that in baseball any team can beat any other team on any given day, and it does not mean the best team won that day necessarily. So let’s examine how many games in a baseball season, and why they seem to play nearly every day for half a year.

Major League Baseball teams today play 162 games during its regular season, generally from April through early October, though sometimes seasons start in late March. This does not take into account games played before and after the regular season during spring training and the post-season playoffs the World Series.

The length of a MLB regular season has remained the same now for 60 years. Prior to 1961, for a very long time Major League teams played 154 games per regular season. The extra 8 games were added due to expansion of the league, when the California Angels and (new) Washington Senators joined the American League in 1961, and the New York Mets and Houston Colt .45s (now Astros) started in 1962 in the National League.

Magic Number 162

Over the years there have been talks of shortening the season for the top level of professional baseball play in the world. However, the 162-game stalwart remains, surpassing the 82 games played by National Basketball Association and National Hockey Association teams during their regular seasons, and vastly exceeding the 16 regular-season games for the National Football League.

Let’s examine some of baseball’s history, how their seasons were originally constructed, and later morphed into the marathon of games fans are now accustomed to.

History of a Lot of Games in Baseball

In the years just before baseball morphed into the professional realm, culminating with formation of the National League in 1876, it was set up as matches between “gentlemen’s clubs” spread out in the Eastern United States. As the game began to become organized, clubs realized that single matches were not quite enough to truly determine the best squad. So the series was introduced.

The National League just continued the practice of several consecutive games between teams over several days, before moving on to play another team. This became pretty much a necessity with the need for teams to travel to other locations, as it would be costly for every team to play each other a single game at a time.

Pro baseball started with about 70 games per season, then expanded in 1901 with the birth of the American League, when teams in both leagues began playing 140 games a season. However the total number fluctuated for 2 decades, until in 1920 the 154-game season was introduced. It would last 41 years unchanged.

The 154-Game Standard

From 1920 to 1960, there were only 16 Major League teams, 8 in each league ~ and there was no interleague play. That is, National League teams would complete 154 games playing only against 7 other National League squads, and vice-versa for American League squads.

This means each team played every other team 22 times per season, for 154 games. The system was balanced and fair and there was no need to adjust it. Until the post-war nation grew in population, and Americans started moving west en masse. New clubs were needed, hence the start of what is known as the Expansion Era.

More Teams, More Games

As noted at the start here, MLB added 4 teams in 1961 and 1962, and with it the new 162-game schedule. Which immediately became controversial, when Roger Maris of the New York Yankees broke Babe Ruth’s long-standing single-season home run record. Maris hit home run No. 61 after playing in more than 154 games ~ as Ruth had been limited to in 1927 ~ so for a long time the Maris record was denoted with an asterisk. (Which is why the Hollywood movie about his home run chase is titled “61*”).

With 10 teams in each league now, each team played every other team 18 times, for 162 games. They still were not allowed to play teams in the other league, except in the World Series.

Just 8 years later, 4 more teams were added (Montreal Expos, San Diego Padres, Kansas City Royals, and the Seattle Pilots, who turned into the Milwaukee Brewers after just one season). The leagues were also split into East and West divisions, and a 5-game playoff series was established between winners of each division to see who would represent each league in the World Series.

So the postseason was expanded greatly ~ but the regular season games cap remained unchanged. And it continued as such through a series of major changes in how the MLB was structured:

  • In 1995 the MLB split the leagues from 2 to 3 divisions, and added a wild-card playoff spot to the team with the best record that did not win its division. Another round of playoffs, the Divisional Playoffs, were added before the League Championship Series (LCS) and then World Series.
  • In 1997, regular-season games between teams of both leagues, called interleague play, started on a limited basis. It is widespread today.
  • For the 2012 season, 2 more wild card teams were added, which had to play each other in a single-game playoff to advance to the regular Divisional Playoffs (where they have to face the team that finished with the best record at the end of the season).

Fans now easily remember the anomaly 2020 season, cut to 60 regular-season games due to the historic pandemic, when the postseason was dramatically expanded to add to the playoffs all 3 second-place teams from each division per league, plus 1 more wild card team that had the best record of teams that did not finish first or second. Those 8 teams played a best-of-3-games series in a very expanded overall postseason eventually won by the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Tradition, Records, and More

Still, through all of this, MLB’s normal regular season remains at 162. There are several reasons, chief among them is tradition, and season records. Major League Baseball is like no other sport in how it clings to tradition; it’s like a huge aircraft carrier in the ocean, very slow to change course.

Aside from tradition there is the matter of what to do with season records, if players accumulated more statistics but over more games played. Many remember what Maris went through with the criticism of his 61 homers in more than 154 games. Baseball is a sport where fans pay a lot of attention to records, and there are a lot of single-season records most everyone knows, like Rickey Henderson’s 130 stolen bases in 1 season.

If they reduce (or even enlarge) the number of games, how would future records be handled? MLB owners seem in no hurry to figure it out; the 162-game schedule seems here to stay.

Back to the ‘Why’

While that history seems fine and dandy, many people debate the actual reasons why so many games are played in baseball seasons. Among the top arguments are these:

  • Because it can. Compared with other team sports, baseball has less physical contact and is considered by some to be “less demanding.” Few baseball players run (or skate) all game long as in basketball or hockey, or crash into each other every game like football, nor do baseball players have to jump into the air consistently. All that running, skating, crashing, and jumping takes a toll on human muscles and joints, and requires time for bodies to recover. Hence breaks of a few or many days between games in sports other than baseball. It is pretty well known that football players can only play 1 full game a week. It’s the same reason why pitchers in baseball don’t often pitch every day: body pains, tiredness, or sore joints.
  • Bigger statistical sample size. It is strongly believed that in baseball, more contests are needed to truly determine the best team. Baseball games are in essence micro-battles between different pitchers and batters, with dozens occurring every game. One very good pitcher can win almost any baseball game regardless of the opponent. But that’s just one player. Many baseball games are played, often in a series of games, so every part of a team’s roster is put to the test over time. When you hear a team has a “deep bench,” this is a good thing because non-regular players are good enough to give the regulars rests during the long season where games are generally played 6 out of 7 days each week for 6 months.

Hitting a baseball coming at you at a high velocity is the single hardest action in sports.

As such, baseball players can be quite streaky. That is, sometimes a hitter just feels better, or sees the ball better, or whatever reason, but he suddenly can go on a spree of hits and even home runs. This player can dominate a single game, or 2 or 3 in a row. However, over the course of a long season, or even  a 7-game playoff series, who’s hot or cold tends to balance out. Teams with the better players typically win.

  • Convenience for fans. Baseball games are not packed full of action from the very first pitch to the last out. And MLB seasons are rarely decided on a single game. Baseball fans can come and go as they please, because missing an inning or two, or a game that week, could make little difference. In other sports, fans have to sacrifice a full 3 or 4 hours to watching the game intently, because who knows when the biggest moment might play out. Baseball has games every day, so if you miss something one game, there’s always tomorrow.

The second part about convenience is that, because there are more baseball games, individual game ticket prices tend to be lower than for the other sports. Football only plays 16 games per regular season; so prices for those limited number of tickets are in demand, hence much higher prices per seat.

Final Words on Baseball Season Games

Baseball seasons feature many more games than other major team sports. Much of it harkens back to the earliest professional baseball leagues in the mid-19th century, when clubs designed the games, and ultimately their seasons, as lengthy battles. Baseball players test their endurance long-term, like a marathon, compared with the sprint that is other team sports.

Related Questions

Question: Who has played the most Major League Baseball games ever?

Answer: Pete Rose, with 3,562. His contemporary, Carl Yastrzemski, is second, with 3,308.

Q.: Do minor league teams also play a lot of games?

A.: Yes, but not 162. As with the MLB, the MiLB sometimes changes the number of regular season games. For 2021, it’s 142 games for the highest level, AAA; and 120 games for AA and A leagues. Minor league seasons typically start later and end earlier than the MLB regular season.

See Also:
Do Postseason Stats Count in Career Stats in MLB?
MLB Manager Insider: 14 Things You Should Know
MLB Pitcher: 15 Things You Should Know
Top 17 Slowest MLB Pitchers in History