Schedule Changes Since 1876

This article was written by Ron Liebman

This article was published in the 1973 Baseball Research Journal


When each team had several games cancelled at the start of the 1972 season, traditionalists muttered about tampering with the schedule. Actually, the major league schedules have been changed several times since the National League was organized in 1876. Originally there were 8 NL teams playing each other 10 times for a total of 70 games. The following two years, there were only 6 teams, with each team playing the others 12 times each for a schedule of only 60 games, the shortest of all time. From 1879 until 1891, the league gradually increased the schedule from 84 (after the league returned to 8 teams in 1879) to 140 games. Every few years, 14 games were added, with each team playing each other team twice more. The games usually started in late afternoon, and many games were cancelled on account of rain or darkness.

During the 1882-91 period, the American Association existed as a rival major league. It started with six teams in 1882 and played 80 games. The next year, with 8 teams, it played a 98-game schedule. In 1885 it went to 112 games, and from 1886 to its demise in 1891, it played 140 contests. The 8-team Players League also had a 140-game schedule in 1890.

After the AA disbanded, the National League expanded to 12 teams in 1892, and the 154-game schedule made its debut with each team in the circuit playing each other 14 times. The League schedule was reduced to 132 games for the next 5 years (l893~97), but then went back to the 154-game card in 1898-99,  But the NL was finding the 12 teams a little unwieldy. For 1900 they were consolidated into 8 teams and a schedule of 140 games. The American League which has been a minor circuit known as the Western League gained recognition as a major league in 1901, and the two loops each played 140 games in 1901-03.

The 8-team, 154-game schedule, where each. team played each other for 22 games, was inaugurated in 1904 in both leagues and became traditional. That schedule pattern, which was also adopted by the Federal League in 1914-15, stayed in existence continuously from 1904 until 1960, except for the World War I year of 1918 and the next season as well. In 1918, the schedule was curtailed on September 2 on orders from the War Department, and each team played about 125 games.

The war ended in November 1918, and the clubs, hustling to get some of their players out of military uniform and into baseball uniform, decided on a 140-game card in 1919. The season turned out well; in fact, a new home run record by Babe Ruth gave great promise for the future. A 154-game schedule was mapped for 1920 and this was continued without a hitch through World War II.

In 1953 the first franchise shift in 50 years took place when the Boston NL club moved to Milwaukee. Other shifts followed, calling for a major realignment of teams. Expansion brought about the 10-team, 162-game schedule (18 games between opponents) with the American League expanding in 1961 and the NL following suit in 1962. The year 1961 marked the only year when the two major loops played schedules of unequal length and also the only year they had a different number of teams.

 The present set-up was inaugurated in 1969 in both Leagues, with each team playing 18 games with 5 opponents and 12 games with 6 others in a 12-team, 2-divisional arrangement. The total remains at 162 games, with the two divisional champions in each league meeting in a championship series (playoffs) of 3-out-of-5 games, with these games not counting in the final averages.

Several other schedules have been considered through the years. At the strong recommendation of Yankee President Larry MacPhail, the major leagues tentatively agreed to the longest proposed schedule in history at their joint meeting in August 1946. In order to capitalize on the post-war popularity of baseball and to compensate the owners for the pension benefits and other concessions granted to the players, a schedule of 168 games (8 teams playing 24 games with each opponent) was planned. However, heavy opposition from the public and the players doomed the plan and the majors voted at another meeting, held in September 1946, to continue with the 154-game schedule. Tom Yawkey of Boston was credited with convincing the owners that the MacPhail plan should be scrapped.

The NL tentatively agreed upon a 165-game schedule in 1968, with the idea of adopting it for use in their first 12-team year of 1969. The proposal called for each team to play 15 games against each opponent. Even though this would make impossible an equal home and road distribution of games, the owners felt that this would be more desirable than cutting back to 154 contests. The latter set-up would have been the same as the pattern adopted in 1892 and 1898-99. Ultimately, the NL went along with the American League plan, which called for divisional play.

The latest actual change, of course, occurred in 1972 when an early season player-strike led to the cancellation of the first 10 days of play. The owners and players could not agree on the issue of compensation for the replay of games postponed during the strike, so a compromise plan, put forth by the AL owners, was adopted which provided for cancellation of the 86 games scheduled during the strike period. This resulted in uneven cards of 153-156 games in the NL and 154-156 games in the AL. In the AL Eastern Division, Detroit was declared the champion by ½ game over Boston, based on a 86-70 won-lost record for the Tigers and 85-70 for the Red Sox.

The following table shows the changing pattern of the National and American League schedules from 1876 to the present day.

 

NATIONAL AND AMERICAN LEAGUE SCHEDULE LENGTHS

Years

Leagues

Teams

 Series

Games

1876

 NL

8

 7×10

70

1877-78

 NL

6

 5×12

60

1879-82

 NL

8

 7×12

84

1883

 NL

8

 7×14

98

1884- 85

 NL

8

 7×16

112

1886-87

 NL

8

 7×18

126

1888-91

 NL

8

 7×20

140

1892

 NL

12

11×14

154

1893-97

 NL

12

11×12

132

1898-99

 NL

12

11×14

154

1900

 NL

8

 7×20

140

1901-03

 NL-AL

8

 7×20

140

1904-17

 NL-AL

8

 7×22

154

1918

 NL-AL

8

 7×22

154*

1919

 NL-AL

8

 7×20

140

1920-60

 NL-AL

8

 7×22

154

1961

 NL

8

 7×22

154**

1961

 AL

10

 9×18

162**

1962-6 8

 NL-AL

10

 9×18

162

1969-71

 NL-AL

12

 5×18

162***

 

 

 

 6×12

 

1972

 NL-AL

12

 5×18

162****

 

 

 

 6×12

 

 

*Season ended on September 2 instead of September 29 by decree of U.S. Secretary of War Newton D. Baker. Teams played 123-129 decisions that year (1918).

**National League expanded to 10 teams one year later than the American League. Leagues played uneven schedules in 1961.

***Schedules beginning in 1969 called for 12 teams in each league, with a split into two divisions. Each team played teams in its own division 18 times and teams in the other division 12 times. The two divisional champs then were to meet in a 3-of-5 playoff series (games not counted in regular standings) to determine the League pennant winner.

****The games scheduled on the first 10 days of the 1972 season were cancelled as a result of a player strike.

Teams played 153-156 decisions in NL and 154-156 decisions in AL. Season opened April 15 instead of April 5-6.

 

© SABR. All Rights Reserved