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Opening Day Countdown: The 1981 Brewers

We're just 81 days away from Opening Day! In today's countdown we take a look at the strike shortened season in 1981.

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

The Seattle Pilots were summoned from the ether in 1969 to bolster the records of the other American League West teams for a year before relocating and becoming the Milwaukee Brewers. For 12 seasons the Pilots/Brewers franchise would go without a postseason appearance. That would change in 1981, but what should have been a memorable season for the team...well it was. But for the wrong reasons.

The 1981 season was a strike shortened season. According to Wikipedia began on June 12 and play resumed on August 9. The strike resulted in 38% of the major league schedule going unplayed. So that's about 61-62 games that were missed. The reason for the strike was:

The strike was called in response to the owners wishing to win back the prerogatives over the players. The owners had already lost at the bargaining table and in the courts on the issue of the free agency draft. At issue during the seven-week-long negotiations was the owners demanding compensation for losing a free agent player to another team. The compensation in question was a player who was selected from the signing team's roster (not including 12 "protected" players). The players maintained that any form of compensation would undermine the value of free agency.

Gee, that sounds like a familiar problem...

The Brewers ended that season with a 62-47 record. In doing some of the research for these recent countdown articles I happened to see that 62 wins. I actually thought nothing of it. I just assumed it was another bad year for the team. Then the other day I noticed they had made the playoffs that year. Here's what happened.

Because of the strike the playoff format changed for that year. The season was split into two halves. The winner from each half made the playoffs, unless a team won their division in both halves. Then there would be a Wild Card team. These teams would enter into a five game division series. There would be a best of five Championship Series followed by the World Series.

In the first half the Brewers finished with a 31-25 record which was only good enough for third place. The New York Yankees finished first with a 34-22 record. The Brewers won the second half with a 31-22 record. When you add the whole season up, the Brewers actually had the best record in the AL East. The Orioles were 1 game back, while the Yankees were two games back. Must have sucked to be the Orioles that year.

The Brewers would go on to face the Yankees in what was Milwaukee's first postseason since the Braves were still around. Unfortunately they would not go very far. The series would run the full five games but the Yankees ultimately came out victorious. The Yankees would sweep the A's in the Championship Series before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series.

I was surprised to learn Rollie Fingers won not only the Cy Young award that year, but also the AL MVP award. It's rare for pitchers to win the MVP award, and I don't have a problem with them winning it, but he was a reliever that year. It kind of makes be question the entire voting history of the award. Although it was a shortened season.