From the moment Major League Baseball announced that there would be a 2020 season people have been voicing concerns about the legitimacy of the season. As the season began the worries about its legitimacy grew louder and louder. Some even went so far as to declare that this season shouldn’t count, or that at the bare minimum any records set or titles won should bear some sort of asterisk.
I understand why people feel this way. We have been hardwired since as early as 1895 to expect 100+ games in a season. For a long time, the magic number was 154 games, then in the 1950s, it expanded to 162 games. We’ve been at that number ever since and any MLB season that doesn’t approach 162 is viewed in a different light. I understand why people would be upset about a 60 game season, at the same time you are dead wrong if you think a 60 game season is illegitimate.
Part of what makes baseball so great is that it is often dirty and bucks what we expect. Some seasons end up with 153 games, 1981 saw teams play games of different numbers in the low 100s, while 1994 ended before the playoffs even began. Baseball history is jagged and uneven, that is what makes it so very real. It’s far from perfect, the little boxes we have created as baseball fans in our neverending quest to analyze and quantify everything don’t always line up perfectly with every MLB season.
The larger issue at play are the unrecognized MLB seasons. Some of you are probably scratching your heads, what unrecognized MLB seasons? From 1920 to 1948 there was always at least one other major league in existence that MLB refused to recognize and still refuses to recognize. I am, of course, referring to the Negro Leagues. In total there were 6 leagues that non-MLB historians have recognized as being major leagues (7 if you count the two Negro National Leagues as separate). Those leagues were famous for playing varying schedules. Some teams would play 60 games, others would play 80, while some teams would play 20 before folding. The Negro Leagues were in many ways just like MLB when it first came into existence, a fact that MLB and its fans conveniently like to ignore when the topic of legitimacy is bandied about.
The idea of a 60 game season being viewed as illegitimate bothers me because it hearkens back to why MLB and its paid historians have always passed off the Negro major leagues as illegitimate. Now, race and racism are why the Negro major leagues have never gotten their due. In order for MLB to recognize them as major, it would requite MLB to admit that they have a deeply racist past. We know that’s never happening, it’s simply easier for MLB to treat the Negro Leagues as an other to be reflected on as outside of their purview.
Race and racism don’t play a role in the legitimacy of the 2020 season. However, the idea that a 60 game season is not legitimate does have roots in the Negro Leagues being dismissed as illegitimate for only playing 60 or 70 games. We’ve spent how much time pouring every detail of every MLB season in order to retroactively insert modern stats onto past MLB seasons, yet we can’t do the same for the Negro Leagues, and why is that? A lack of results, which hasn’t been true for years now, and the fact that they only played 60 or 70 games in a season is given as the reason. Yet that doesn’t stop us from counting 1981 as a season, or 1994, or any of the MLB seasons that took place before 1892. We will count 2020 as well, and you know what, we should.
We have this problem in baseball where we want everything to be uniform. We want a game that is far from uniform to fit into all the neat and tidy boxes we have created for it. If a bit of baseball history doesn’t quite fit then we either find a way to make it fit or in the case of the Ngro Leagues we lop it off altogether and label it as lacking for whatever reason. Do I think a 2020 MLB season should be taking place? No, I most certainly do not. Is it problematic that some teams will play 45 games while others will play the entire 60 game schedule? Sure, it’s a problem. That’s baseball though, a jagged little thing that we love and cherish not in spite of but because of all its flaws and hard edges. That’s why we, myself included, need to stop declaring 2020 illegitimate for one reason or another. It’s a jagged part of baseball which means it is as legitimate as the day is long.