20-20 Vision: An Abbreviated Season Has Not Served Major League Baseball Well
Eighty-two games into the 2019 season, the Washington Nationals were 41-41. They had the ninth best record in the National League. They were sixth in the NL Wild-Card race. Then they caught fire, winning 52 of their final 80 games in the regular season, not only gaining a Wild-Card berth in the post-season, but claiming the first World Championship in the history of the franchise that was born as the Montreal Expos in 1969.
Do not, however, expect any team matching that kind of rally in 2020.
If Major League Baseball does work out the details, the current proposal of an 82-game regular season, which would allow for an expanded post-season to begin the first week of October, will set the stage for some curious moments by the end of the regular season.
There have been five previous seasons that were compromised, dating back to a 1918 season cut short because of World War I, and more recently labor negotiation showdowns that led to abbreviated seasons in 1972, 1981, 1994 and 1995.
The regular-season ended on Sept. 2, out of respect for World War I. The number of games played ranged from 122 by the St. Louis Browns to 129 by the Chicago Cubs. The Cubs had a best-in-baseball regular-season record of 84-45, but it was the Red Sox (75-51) who knocked off the Cubs in the World Series. The Cubs ran away with the NL race, finishing 10 1/2 games ahead of the second place New York Giants.
But could things have been different with a full-season in the American League? There certainly was potential for a heated race down the stretch. The Indians were 2 1/2 games back of the Red Sox with 27 games that were left on their original schedule, and the Senators were four games back, which could have been made up if they had been allowed to play the 26 games that were canceled on their schedule.
The players -- by a 47-0-1 vote among player reps and their assistants -- went on strike late in spring training, and it carried into the regular season, resulting in the loss of 86 games total. That might not seem like a big number considering there were 12 teams in both the American League and National League. But. ...
The Tigers won the AL East with an 86-70 record, finishing a half-game ahead of Boston, which played one less game than Detroit, and the Red Sox had four scheduled games against the Tigers wiped out by the strike.
The players went on strike after the owners implemented a free-agent compensation that would allow a team losing a player to receive both a roster player and a draft pick from the team that signed the player. In response to that in-season move, the players walked out on June 11, and did not return to the field until Aug. 9. Not only did it result in the loss of 713 games -- 38 percent of the scheduled -- but it resulted in the decision to create a split season to try and create second-half interest by every team getting a fresh start.
Nice idea, but it created a disappointing result. Neither St. Louis, which had the best season record in the NL East, and Cincinnati, which had the best season record in the NL West, advanced to the post-season. They finished second in their division in both halves.
There is a feeling that the teams that finished in first place prior to the strike -- the Dodgers in the NL West and Phillies in the NL East -- were more concerned about staying healthy and being ready for the post-season when play resumed than they were in winning second-half games. The Dodgers, who were 36-21 before the strike were 27-26 in the second half, and the Phillies, who were 34-21 in the first half, were 25-27 when the season resumed.
Easily the most disappointing season of all. The season came to an end on Aug. 12, 1994 with the Expos, sporting a 74-40 record, six games up on the Braves in the AL East. With no settlement until the weekend before the 1995 season was to begin, there was no post-season in 1994. And if that wasn't enough, the struggles in creating interest in the Expos in Montreal led to a financial challenge which led to the Expos not even making an offer to retain Larry Walker, who signed with Colorado in the spring of 1995. They also dealt Marquis Grissom, John Wetteland, and Ken Hill prior to the start of the 1995 season .
Teams opened spring training with replacement players, and it wasn't until the weekend before the regular season was scheduled to begin that a current Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, at the time a federal judge in New York's Southern District, ordered an end to the strike, while imploring the two sides to continue to negotiate. The teams had a hurried spring training of three weeks, and the regular-season opened on April 25 with a 144-game schedule.
That left baseball to wonder what might have happened with the full 162-game slate. The Colorado Rockies finished one game back of the Dodgers in the NL West, but did earn the NL Wild-Card, finishing one game ahead of the Houston Astros, who finished second to the Braves in the NL East.
In the American League, the Angels lost a one-game playoff with the Mariners for the NL West title, and finished one game back of the Yankees for the AL Wild-Card.