We are getting close. As of this morning, the MLB and MLBPA were getting close to agreeing on a reopening plan for the 2020 season. All that remains as an obstacle in front of the 2020 MLB season is the approval by the government. There will be many changes for this upcoming season. One of which is the playoff format which we broke down here. Perhaps now the biggest question is, with all the temporary changes and a shortened 82 game season, will the 2020 World Series Champion be a legitimate champion or a joke in the record books? In order to answer this question, we must look to history and previously shortened MLB seasons.
During the 1918-1919 MLB season, the world was in the middle of its first Great War. The draft was fully enacted and as many as 15 players a day were being drafted into military service from Major League Baseball. This was due to the fact that being a baseball player was deemed “non-essential” work. Sound familiar? Baseball players were forced to find work related to the war effort or risk being drafted. This shortened the MLB season to a measly 126 to 128 games depending on the team. An armistice was reached in 1919 but the season was still shortened due to the fact that many players had not yet returned home from duty. This lead to a 140 game schedule in 1919.
However, the 1918 World Series Champion ended up being the Boston Red Sox who was led by the standout pitcher, Babe Ruth. Ruth was later sold to the Yankees for $125,000 thus beginning the Curse of the Bambino. The Red Sox would not win another World Series Championship until 2004, 86 years later. However, looking back,, everyone always thought of the Red Sox World Series Championship win as legitimate because if they didn’t then the Curse of the Bambino would have been 88 years in length counting back to 1916, the Red Sox most recent title before 1918. Yet, when looking through the history books everyone considered the 1918 championship to be legit therefore making the great curse only 84 years in length. Of course, the following season in 1919 was the Black Sox Scandal which de-legitimizes them for a completely different reason than a shortened schedule.
The story of 1972 is a ton of fun. The first two weeks of the season were held up due to a player strike. Players wanted to be compensated for inflation. After 13 days the owners conceded. Then the craziest thing happened. The schedule was not altered and the 13 days that were missed were not made up. The schedule simply just continued from the spot they were at. This led the Tigers to win the A.L. East over the Red Sox by a half-game due to the fact that the Tigers played one more game than the Red Sox.
Fortunately, the Tigers did not win the World Series as they were dispatched by the eventual champs the Oakland Athletics. This would be the first of three consecutive World Series Championships for the A’s. We remember the 1972 A’s for having a roster filled with the likes of Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, Catfish Hunter, and Reggie Jackson. Not for their shortened season World Series victory.
Similarly to 1972, 1981 was shortened due to a much lengthier player strike due to free agency issues. A total of about 107 games were played during the 1981 season as players left in mid-June and returned in mid-August. Again, just like 1972 teams came back and continued the schedule as is leaving a number of teams playing differing amounts of games. This turned out to be much more of a problem in 1981. In 1981, MLB decided to do a first-half champion and a second-half champion.
However, there was nothing for the overall record. Reds fans should be pissed about that fact because they finished the 1981 season with the best record in baseball but did not win the first half or second half champion. Instead, the best record in baseball for 1981 sat at home. The Los Angeles Dodgers would go on to win the World Series beating the New York Yankees. This is the most memorable example of why a World Series Champion may be considered illegitimate. Yet, we still count the total for the Dodgers.
While 1994 was also shortened but there was no World Series Champion as the postseason was canceled. The 1995 season started late due to the same reason the 1994 season ended, a collective bargaining disagreement. The season was shortened to 144 games that realigned the league into three divisions and introduced the wild card. Unlike the 1972 and 1981 seasons, there weren’t any injustices when it came to the playoffs. Ironically it took a shortened 1995 season for the Atlanta Braves to finally win a World Series. The team that had dominated the 90’s so thoroughly but could never win the big one. The 1995 season goes down as the year the Braves finally got over the hump. Nothing less, nothing more.
There has been an abundance of shortened seasons in MLB history and 2020 will go down in the books a similar way. Yet, when we look back at those shortened seasons we don’t look at the World Series Champions with an asterisk or a demerit. We look at them as legitimate World Series Champions of those respective years. These teams aren’t the 1919 White Sox or the 2017 Houston Astros. Let’s keep that in mind for the upcoming 2020 season.
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