The season began with Fernandomania and ended with a World Series between classic rivals, the Dodgers and the Yankees.
To bats, Mike Schmidt made his way to the conquest of his second consecutive prize as the Most Valuable Player. Nolan Ryan released another game without a hit.
But perhaps the best way to describe baseball in 1981 is by recalling Pete Rose’s search for the record for most hits in NL history. The star tied the record in June but had to wait until August to break it, because a strike paralyzed activity in the Major Leagues for almost two months.
Rose had to settle for regularly visiting the batting cage during the long wait.
“I went there on each of those strange days,” he recalled.
If it’s possible to play some baseball this year, fans should prepare for a shortened campaign. And the 1981 one would offer the most relevant comparison opportunity available.
Aguella season was split in two by a labor dispute. But when the sport finally resumed, their stars took advantage of that shortened opportunity and shone.
“The chaotic, the changing, the unique, the intense – all of those elements absolutely weighed on how memorable that time was,” said Steve Rogers, the right-handed pitcher whose Montreal Expos qualified for the playoffs for the first time in history in that 1981.
THE ‘BULL’ APPEARS
The first days of the ’81 season were dominated by Fernando Valenzuela. The Mexican rookie took Los Angeles by storm, winning his first eight starts with the Dodgers, including five with shutout.
By the time the strike broke out, the spotlights were pointed at Rose, who was then in the Phillies, defending champions. On June 10, in Philadelphia’s last game before the layoff, the star needed a hit to match the record of 3,630 set in the National by Stan Musial.
Ryan was on the mound against the Phillies. Rose tied the record with a single in the first inning.
He struck out his next three innings against the Houston right-hander. He did not break the mark until August 10 against San Luis, in the first duel of the Phillies after the strike.
Baseball’s first major event after the strike was the All-Star Game in Cleveland on August 9. Schmidt hit a home run in the eighth inning, for the National League to prevail 5-4.
If baseball’s return proved positive for players like Rose and Schmidt, many pitchers faced more challenges. Rogers had the added responsibility of appearing on the union’s negotiating committee during the strike.
“My ability to stay in shape was significantly affected,” he recalled. “I really didn’t have the ability to pitch that much.”
Still, the year was memorable for Rogers and the Expos. Baseball expanded its postseason, allowing the four divisional leaders in the run-up to the strike to qualify. It also incorporated the teams with the best post-stoppage in each division.
This yielded some strange results. Cincinnati was 66-42, the best overall for the season. However, the Reds came second in each of the two halves of the season and missed the playoffs.
Kansas City was 50-53, but won the second half in the AL West and played the postseason.
Additionally, the teams played an uneven number of engagements. The Expos (30-23) outscored the Cardinals (29-23) at the Eastern top of the National during the second half. They got what would be their only postseason ticket in Montreal.
The Milwaukee Brewers also qualified for their first playoffs. Houston advanced with the help of Ryan’s fifth no-hitter on Sept. 26 against the Dodgers.
Montreal dismissed manager Dick Williams in the twilight of the season. He then had a record of 16-11 under Jim Fanning, to sneak into the postseason. Rogers pitched a two-hit shutout against the Mets in his last start of the regular season.
In the first round of the playoffs, Rogers beat Steve Carlton twice, including the fifth and final duel in Philadelphia. He pitched a full game during that 3-0 win and even drove in a couple of runs.
Against Los Angeles, in the Championship Series, Rogers pitched another complete game, on the third engagement. But in the fifth, when he entered as a reliever, Rick Monday hit a home run in the top of the ninth inning, and the Dodgers captured the Nation’s pennant.
The ending was disappointing, but the season was memorable for the Expos.
By the time the World Series ended, with the Dodgers crowned in six games, including one won by Valenzuela, it was fair to say that the 1981 season, while far from ideal, was definitely not a sham either.
That’s the challenge baseball is facing this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic that has put the entire season in check. If the campaign does open, it will be in empty parks, and if that start is delayed even until the summer, the calendar could be so abbreviated that some results will seem illegitimate.
Will there really be a genuine champion? Rose wondered. “The commissioner has seen his job cut … You can’t please everyone.”
But ultimately, the format for baseball’s return is a secondary concern. Just playing games safely would be a win.
And it is unknown if this will be possible.
“How do you track contact if a player caught the virus and was in a clubhouse? The number of games is debatable,” said Schmidt. “If you need a number and there’s no problem playing games, you can probably crown a champion after a regular 60-game season. And with an abbreviated postseason. It’s all about the money, and what everyone is willing to bet on. not to lose it. “
and 47 losses was the Dodgers’ mark in both parts of the 1981 season.
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