Best of SI: Inside Chaos of MLB's Last Severely Shortened Season
World wars, earthquakes, civil unrest, terrorist attacks, military threats, infectious mosquitos, strikes and lockouts. Life has disrupted many a baseball season and the comfort provided by its constancy of games. But never like this. The coronavirus pandemic is likely to reduce the 2020 season to the shortest one since the American League joined the National League in 1901—if there is any season at all.
Rob Manfred continues to consult government and public health officials to find a path forward for baseball this season. The league has proposed safety protocols to the players association and continues to negotiate financial terms that would allow a 2020 season to commence. Yet playing remains only a hope. We’ve already seen the first April without a major league game in 137 years, since the American Association opened as scheduled May 1, 1883.
If baseball does return, what might it look like? The answer may be found in the shortest season this one threatens to eclipse: 1981. Players went on strike June 12 to protest a demand by owners for a compensation system to accommodate teams that lost a free agent. They didn’t play another game until Aug. 9. That ripped 59 days from the baseball calendar, never to be restored.
As in ’81, we again could be looking at compressed training camps, schedule inequities and a redesigned postseason format. Unlike 39 years ago, when the shutdown resulted from baseball’s own doing, a resumption this year should be met by fans with relief rather than animosity.