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Baseball Should Base Shortened Season On Format Used for 1981

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Johnny Bench and the 1981 Reds Were Excluded From Playoffs Despite Having the Best Overall Record


Even though Major League Baseball has a scheduled start date of April 1, by most accounts Opening Day will be pushed back because of the coronavirus. Sports reporter R. J. Anderson wrote an article addressing that very subject, which was published on yesterday.

“At least some teams are bracing for another postponed start to the year, according to what front office members have told CBS Sports,” Anderson wrote. “One proposed alternate timeline would see the exhibition season tee off in April, with the regular season to follow in May.”

This delayed start would be perfect for baseball, both for financial and health reasons. By then fans could be safely permitted, albeit on a reduced capacity.

The five month span, starting on May 1 and closing at the end of September, offers baseball an ideal opportunity to split the season into halves. A sixty game schedule like the one in 2020 would comprise both halves, amounting to a season of 120 games.

Season one starts in May and concludes in mid-July, just in time for the traditional Midsummer Classic. After the All-Star week season two commences, adding an unusual zest and optimism for a new opportunity to contend.

The format would not be unlike the 1981 season, when a players' strike halted the games in June. Once an agreement was reached, the sport decided to split the season into two halves.

Those clubs in first place before the strike were declared division champs and earned bids to the playoffs, so the post-strike half allowed also-rans a fresh start.

Because of several regrettable outcomes of that 1981 decision, baseball must tweak the format in 2021. Every team but one which had won the first half failed to do so in the latter, indicating that there might have been some tanking.

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Cincinnati was a victim of the split seasons, which will forever raise the furor in Reds fans old enough to remember the travesty. They ended 1981 with the best overall record in the National League yet, because of two second places finishes, did not qualify for the playoffs.

There is an easy way to avoid both of those flaws from forty years ago, a point system somewhat like that used in the National Hockey League. Each team gets one point for each win in the first half of the season, an easy calculation for even the most-mathematically challenged among us.

Assuming the Dodgers only lose twenty of the sixty games in the first half, they enter the post All-Star segment with forty points. Those points probably indicate that Los Angeles finished in first place in the N.L. West, which in 1981 would have automatically put them in the playoffs.

In my proposed 2021 format, however, the Dodgers could not simply sit back in cruise control, for the point total for wins in the second season would count a half point more. Were Los Angeles to play only .500 ball over the last half, they would finish the season with a total of seventy points.

Let us say San Diego's young lineup took a while to get hot, winning ten fewer games than the Dodgers before the Midsummer Classic. After that the Padres went on a roll to go 40-20, amassing sixty points for the second half. Those five dozen, added to their thirty before the break, puts them with ninety, well ahead of the Dodgers.

By winning the N.L. West the Padres get to open the first playoff round at home, just like the other five teams with the most points in their respective divisions. The second place club with the highest total would also get home field for the opening series which, just like in 2020, will be the best of three.

Had baseball used this approach in 1981, the two pitfalls of that season would have been eliminated. The teams that won the first half would still have to compete at a high level to qualify for home field or perhaps the playoffs altogether, and a team like the Reds with the best overall record would have not been excluded from the postseason.

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