Looking Back at Four Shortened Seasons in Yankees' Franchise History
It's still too early to tell just how many Major League Baseball games, if any at all, will be played this season. Either way, and with MLB's developing response to the novel coronavirus pandemic in mind, 2020 will go down as one of the most historic years in baseball history.
Although players and the league would love to play a full 162-game schedule, chances are this year will feature a truncated campaign for all 30 big-league teams.
Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's recommendation to cancel all gatherings of 50 people or more for the next eight weeks, the earliest any baseball activity can resume is May 10. Factor in a couple weeks of Spring Training for players to get back into the swing of things and the beginning of June is the absolute best-case scenario for a rescheduled Opening Day.
That being said, staying realistic – and based on COVID-19 projections – odds are the season doesn't begin until even later into this summer.
For any team, shortening the regular season changes the trajectory of how this year was destined to transpire. Fewer contests means more contenders and tighter races, emphasizing the importance of a hot start out of the eventual gates. Plus, the predetermined schedule is more important than ever as well, deciding the caliber of teams each club will face. There's no way to keep that balanced unless the league elects to rework the entire schedule all together.
In understanding how a truncated season can impact a playoff race, specifically for a World Series contender like the Yankees, let's revisit four occasions across baseball history where seasons were shortened.
Working backwards, we begin with the 1994 season, leaking into the following year as well.
The season came to a screeching halt on August 11, 1994, due to a players strike. Not only was there was no postseason that year – and, of course, no World Series – but it took almost 250 days to suspend the strike, forcing the 1995 season to be delayed two weeks as well.
In 1994, New York had a 70-43 record when the strike began. They were on pace to win the pennant, sitting pretty with the best record in the league. Sure, you can look back and point fingers at the negotiations that caused the strike as the catalyst for no postseason, but from the Yankees' perspective, it was off the field circumstances that abruptly ended their pursuit at a title.
The Bombers hadn't been to the playoffs since 1981 – a season we'll get to momentarily – and were arguably the favorites to represent the American League in the World Series if the season had continued. That's the harsh reality that anything can happen during unprecedented circumstances – even taking away every team's chance at winning a title is in play.
In 1995, the Yankees returned to the playoffs. New York was the inaugural Wild Card team, finishing second in the AL East, before famously losing in the divisional round to the Seattle Mariners in five games.
The schedule in '95 included just 144 games after the strike pushed Opening Day back three weeks. The Yankees were just seven games behind the Red Sox in their division on the final day of the regular season. Who knows if they could have made a run at a division title if those first three weeks were played.
1994 and 1904 are the only seasons when no World Series was played since the first Fall Classic in 1903. If the national emergency created by COVID-19 continues to escalate, 2020 could be added to that list as well.
Another strike occurred in 1981, canceling games from June 11 to August 10. The All-Star Game was pushed back to August 9 as an Opening Day of sorts for the second half of the season.
Here, as the league adjusted to a unique schedule, the formatting of who made the postseason was altered. Instead of just one division winner from the East and West in each league – as was the divisional format at the time – there were division champs from the first and second halves of the year.
The Yankees went 25-26 after the strike was suspended – and had an overall record good enough for fourth place in the AL East. Nonetheless, a hot start of 34-22 to lead the division up until when the strike began meant a ticket to the playoffs. New York went on to lose in the World Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
This example goes to show that adjusting playoff formatting – something the baseball world needs to brace for should an abbreviated season take place this year – hasn't always meant the team with the best record makes the postseason. Depending on how late the 2020 season begins, it'll take all hands on deck to create a fair format to give deserving teams a shot at a title.
Here's another example of a strike having a direct impact on eventual postseason bids.
Approximately two weeks were subtracted from the schedule in 1972 due to another strike, leading to discrepancies in off days and matchups later on.
In the end, New York finished 6.5 games out of first place in its division, missing the playoffs. Technically they could have made a run at a postseason bid if those games were played as originally scheduled in early-April rather than only 155 total contests taking place. Yankees aside, however, this had an even more debilitating affect on the Red Sox.
Both Boston and Detroit finished the season with 70 losses. Detroit happened to play one additional game, however, and had a one-game advantage over the Red Sox in the win column. It was that extra, decisive game that helped the Tigers "win" the AL East after a tight race down the stretch – regardless of the fact that both teams didn't play an equal amount of games, the Tigers advanced.
It's safe to say we won't see anything like that occur again. If the season comes down to some sort of unjust scheduling discrepancy, a one-game playoff could be a good way to solve the problem.
The United States may have been involved in the first World War as early as the spring of 1917, but Major League Baseball continued as normal. When the draft expanded in July the following year, rosters were picked apart and the season was eventually cut short.
1918's regular season ended on September 2 and the World Series – Boston taking down the Chicago Cubs – was over less than 10 days later.
New York wasn't in contention that season – 13.5 games back from the Red Sox in the American League – but only 126 games played is to this day the third-fewest games played in a single season in Yankees history.
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