I'll believe it when the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals actually take the field (especially with thunderstorms in the forecast), but MLB is scheduled to begin a shortened season on Thursday with most of the teams beginning play on Friday. To mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on players and fans, the league is playing a 60-game season with other teams in their region. Although MLB has experienced disruptions before, this season will be unlike any other. Here is a brief history of seasons that were shortened or cut short altogether to give you context.
The United States entered World War I in 1917, and MLB did absolutely nothing to assist with the war effort that year. In 1918, the federal government stepped in and threatened to declare professional baseball unessential to the war effort and cancel the season if did not pitch in. MLB relented, limiting travel and ultimately shortening its season from 154 to 120 games. In addition, many players missed part of the season to enlist in the Army.
When the U.S. was pulled into World War II, MLB commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis wrote President Franklin Roosevelt in January of 1942, asking if he could hold a season that year. Roosevelt responded, writing, "I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going. There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means that they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work even more than before." Thus, baseball continued interrupted through the war, but its quality dropped, as more than 500 players left to serve in the military.
A players' strike from June 12 to July 31 reduced the season by 54 games and created a unique scenario. The season was split into two halves, and an extra round was added to the postseason, so the winners of each half met to determine who was top in the division. That approach worked unless you were the St. Louis Cardinals or Cincinnati Reds, who had the best records in their divisions — the Reds had the best record in MLB — but did not win either half and were left out of the playoffs.
MLB players struck again 13 years later, and this time, the results were disastrous. Instead of the players and owners coming to an agreement and playing a shortened season, acting commissioner Bud Selig canceled it after 34 days — with about 50 games left to play. The season was shaping up to be one of the most exciting in MLB history — just ask the Montreal Expos — which made the cancelation sting even more.
U.S. District Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor suspended the strike on April 2, 1995, and bound the players and owners to the terms of their expired collective bargaining agreement until a new deal could be reached. MLB began a shortened 144-game season three weeks later. However, fans did not welcome it back with open arms, as teams played with lower attendance and hostile crowds. Even with the exciting 1998 home run race, the sport took more than a decade to recover attendance figures, which have since dropped below their pre-strike levels.
— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.