Baseball History: The MLB Strike of 1981


The NBA and its players are just the latest to not be able to come up with a collective bargaining agreement. Baseball history has had its share of work stoppages. The first to take a huge chunk of the season occurred 30 years ago in 1981.

The 1981 Major League Baseball strike was years in the making. Players and owners had been battling with the first work stoppage occurring in 1973. Only two weeks of the season were lost that year. 1981 was entirely different. It wasn’t the worst strike (1994 was), but it was the first in baseball history that affected the way the game was played on the field.

In 1981 major league baseball shut down for 50 days from June 12 to August 10. During that time a total of 713 games were lost. The reason behind the strike was free agent player compensation. The owners wanted a system in which they got a player of similar value for each they lost in free agency. The players felt that this system would void their newly acquired right to become free agents after their contracts expired. The fans didn’t care what either side wanted. They just wanted baseball.

History shows that the owners did not get what they wanted and the battle was just beginning. I would come to a head in 1994 when that season was aborted.

As for 1981, the players and the game came back on August 10 with the All-Star game played in Cleveland. It was a wise public relations move as a Cleveland Stadium was packed. The fans saw a great game as the National League defeated the American 5-4.

With 713 games lost it was decided that the season would be split into two halves. Teams who led their divisions when the strike occurred automatically qualified for the post season. Which meant that the New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers wrapped up pennants earlier than anyone in baseball history had before or since.

With those four teams playing for nothing until September the season continued with the Milwaukee Brewers, Kansas City Royals, Montreal Expos and Houston Astros filling out the post season bracket. The Cincinnati Reds finished with the best overall record in baseball, but did not make the playoffs.

Though upset at the players for going on strike, fans took to the game quickly when it returned. As baseball and sports history shows this is not always the case.

The post season went from two rounds to three. The first two rounds were best of five series between the winners in each division. The winner of that series advanced to the League Champion Series just as before. Then the World Series.

The Los Angeles Dodgers ended up being crowned champions and for the most part baseball was back. Each game of the Series between Los Angeles and the Yankees was a sellout.

But as we would find out over the next 30 years baseball history is sports history and has a tendency to repeat itself.