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1981 MLB Season: Greed leads to the Reds and Cardinals getting screwed

Publish Date: 05/24/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

1981 strike season

Due to a player strike, the 1981 MLB season was interrupted, leading to an unorthodox postseason. This meant it did not follow its usual format. Fans could easily recall the postseason of 1981, as this was the first time divisional rounds existed in each league. Once the strike was resolved, it was agreed upon that there would be a split season, with only four teams leading their division eligible to enter the postseason as “first-half champions”. After the second half, all teams would start from zero, and whoever was ahead at the end of the season would be declared second-half champions. First-half division winners would face each other in AL/NLDS playoffs before AL/NLCS winners battled it out before the World Series began shortly afterwards. One of the major drawbacks to this format was that first-half winners would move directly into postseason play without needing to participate in second-half games, they had to participate, but winning was not as big a deal because they had already gained entrance to the playoffs.

Video: The Legacy Of The 1981 Cincinnati Reds: Part One

The Legacy Of The 1981 Cincinnati Reds: Part One


First Half winners and second-half winners

The Yankees, Athletics, Phillies and Dodgers had already earned spots in the division series no matter their performance during the second half. Should any of these teams have won both division titles in 1981, they would have received an automatic bye in the opening round of postseason play, so I guess there was something to play for. That did not occur; the Athletics finished second place while Phillies, Dodgers and Yankees finished below them, with finishes below first place. This allowed for the Brewers, Royals, Expos and Astros to make it into the postseason by winning the second half of the split season.

The Playoffs Begin

The Yankees defeated the Brewers in an exciting series that went down to the fifth and deciding game while the Athletics swept the Royals in three straight games, setting up an ALCS between the Yankees-Athletics where the Yankees would eventually take home the Pennant by sweeping the A’s in resounding fashion. Meanwhile, in NL action the Expos defeated the Phillies, while the Dodgers eliminated the Astros leading to a Expos-Dodgers NLCS where Dodgers took home the LCS crown on a dramatic ninth inning home run by Rick Monday; unfortunately, for the Phillies they were the only first half winners to not advance to the LCS!  One alternative suggested would have been selecting teams based on overall record rather than first-half winners; this would have had far-reaching effects on standings and teams competing for the LCS; for example, neither the Yankees or Dodgers would have qualified under this system; only the Athletics (who won the AL West first half ), would have even qualified for the playoffs Athletics, the Brewers (who won AL East 2nd half season), the A’s vs Brewers should have been the ALCS, but at least those teams actually made the playoffs.

The Reds and Cardinals get screwed

Two teams in the National League had the honor of finishing with the best records in their respective divisions: the Cardinals (59-43) and the Reds (66-42) would have shared divisional supremacy and play in the NLCS; instead, both finished with top records but fell short due to playoff ineligibility. At that time, Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals featured veteran players such as Garry Templeton at SS – something no doubt changed during Herzog’s first year managing and general managing them both, including Whitey Herzog himself leaving his mark upon them all the while Whitey Herzog took his first step in being general manager/GM of a Major League baseball but did not make playoffs either way! In 1979, under John McNamara’s direction, the Reds had won both the National League West and advanced to the Championship Series before falling short to Pittsburgh in three straight games. Tom Seaver led all MLB pitchers with 14 victories, finishing 2nd in Cy Young voting behind Fernando Valenzuela of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Though many key contributors from their big Red machine had long since moved on, Johnny Bench, George Foster, and Dave Concepcion were still around and finished four games ahead of the Dodgers overall in standings; the Cardinals finished four ahead of the Expos although the Expos had played six more games compared to St Louis. I feel the Reds had superior pitching talent, so give them an edge NLCS matchup with Seaver taking control. On the AL side, no team seemed stronger throughout the season than the Oakland Athletics, led by Billy Martin and rookie Rickey Henderson. These A’s proved themselves as the ultimate all-around contenders. Buck Rodgers continued to lead his Brewers as they featured many of the same top offensive players from 1982 that led them to the World Series. Pete Vukovich led his team with a 14-4 record and recently acquired closer Rollie Fingers finished with 1.04 ERA, leading the league with 28 saves, winning the AL Cy Young Award and MVP honors.  I would have picked the Brewers over the Athletics based on hitting ability; Steve McCatty and Rick Langford’s pitches started to wear down; therefore, choosing seven game series as being the best option is preferable, so the outcome could go either way. If the 1981 World Series had been between the Reds-Brewers instead, Milwaukee would have made two consecutive World Series, while Reds would have only had one more postseason appearance under the Big Red Machine team. There would have been no Fernando-mania either way: much of what made 1981 unforgettable was due to Fernando Valenzuela. His performance made the Dodgers exciting to watch, Valenzuela won both ROY and NY Cy Young awards during that year.

Video: Prime 9: 1981 Cincinnati Reds

Prime 9: 1981 Cincinnati Reds

What would have happened

The ALCS would not have lasted long in the American League as the Oakland Pitchers looked shot in the playoffs and the Brewers were a great hitting club. I think Milwaukee advances to the World Series in a four-game sweep.

The Reds and Cardinals are an interesting contrast, After the 1981 season the Cardinals did everything they could to get better, while the Reds blew up the roster and in 1982 trotted out the worst roster in team history. The Reds had an all-time great pitcher in Tom Seaver and an all-time underrated pitcher in Mario Soto. I think the Reds win this series in a final game 5 win and in-game.

Video: MLB Baseball's Seasons: 1981

MLB Baseball’s Seasons: 1981

The Real World Series

Once again the Reds starting pitching of Seaver and Soto makes them a tough out, but the Brewers would have won this series in a fantastic seven game series with the Brewers being too much on offense for the Reds’ third and fourth starters,


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