The Yankees were supposed to have Opening Day under their belt and were scheduled to wrap up their series against the Baltimore Orioles today. Instead, the season remains delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. MLB and the MLBPA recently agreed on a deal for the 2020 season, and one of the agreements the two sides settled on was that the season will not start until there are no bans on mass gatherings or travel restrictions.
With that established, it is almost a guarantee that there will be a shortened season. That got me to wonder how the Yankees have done in previous years when playing during an abbreviated season. Let’s start with over 100 years ago.
In April of 1917, the United States declared war on Germany. This was the start of the involvement of the United States into World War I. At first, the war did not have much of an affect on rosters as only a handful of players enlisted into the war. As things started to get worse, team owners agreed to cut down on travel and even moved spring training games closer to their home stadiums.
Owners tried to get exemptions for their players from fighting in the war, but to no avail. Teams were losing players to war and rosters were getting all messed up. As a result, the season was cut down from 154 games to 126 games. The Yankees finished the year with a record of 60-63, finishing fourth in the American League out of eight teams. The World Series was played in early September as the Boston Red Sox defeated the Chicago Cubs in six games. Fun fact: Boston only scored nine runs throughout the entire series, which is the fewest amount of runs scored by a winning team in World Series history.
World War I ended in November of 1918. Because of that, the 1919 baseball season was cut by 13 games as teams had to wait for their players to return home from the military. The Yankees improved from the year before, this time going 80-59 and finishing third in the American League.
The first two weeks of the 1972 season were erased by the first ever strike in MLB history. The strike was based on a disagreement between players and owners about increasing pension payouts to track inflation. Baseball resumed when the two sides agreed on a $500,000 increase in pension fund payments, as well as the introduction of salary arbitration.
The start of the season was missed and those games were never made up because the league did not want to pay the players for the time they were on strike. The Yankees played 155 games that year, winning 79 of those and finished just three games over .500. New York settled for fourth in the AL East. Bobby Mercer led the team with an 8.2 bWAR as he was an All-Star, won a Gold Glove in the outfield and finished fifth in MVP voting. After the three shortened seasons we’ve covered, the Yankees have yet to make the postseason. That changed, however, in the 1981 season.
The 1981 season was shortened to 107 games as the league encountered its second strike in baseball history. The game was shut down for 50 days and a total of 713 games were lost because of it. Because they resumed so late into the calendar year, the league decided that the season would be split into two halves. There were division champions in both halves of the season, that both gained entry into the postseason. The Yankees won the division in the first half and the Brewers won the second half.
The two teams faced off in the ALDS, and the Yanks defeated the Brewers. New York then played the Athletics in the ALCS where the Bombers won and went to the World Series to square off against the Dodgers. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they lost to Los Angeles in six games. The Yanks took the first two games of the series, but LA stormed back and won the next four straight en route to their fifth World Series title in franchise history.
This is one I’m sure most people are the most familiar with. In the middle of August 1994, the baseball season stopped. They were 113 games in, but the rest of the season was canceled as the players and owners couldn’t reach an agreement to end the strike. The Yankees were 70-43 at the time, which was good for first place in the AL East and 6.5 games ahead of the Orioles. No one knows how the rest of the season would have played out, but the Yanks owned the best record in the American League and had their postseason hopes dashed.
At the time, this was the longest strike in sports history at 232 days. It finally ended in April of 1995. The start of the season was postponed three weeks as they played an accelerated spring training. The Yankees played 145 games in 1995 and finished second in the AL East behind the Red Sox. The Yanks entered the playoffs with a 79-65 record and faced off against the Mariners. New York won the first two games of the series, including Game Two in a 15 inning marathon. One more win and the Yankees would move on, but the M’s were able to take the next three games and overcome the deficit.
The Yankees haven’t had the most success in shortened seasons, but this obviously doesn’t mean much for the 2020 season. At this point we can just hope we are able to stop the spread of the virus so we can return to our normal lives and play ball!