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The last time an MLB season was only 60 games

Tommy Bond went 40-19 in 1878 for the

Tommy Bond went 40-19 in 1878 for the Boston Red Caps. Credit: From The New York Public Library

Tommy Bond went 40-19 for Boston’s pennant-winning Red Caps in 1878, with a 2.06 ERA in 532 2/3 innings.

That is not too shabby under any circumstances, but he had an added degree of difficulty: Boston and the other five National League teams that season played only 60 games, facing each opponent 12 times.

Thus did Bond secure all but one decision for the 41-19 champs, who finished four games ahead of second-place Cincinnati. (Shout-out to Jack Manning, who went 1-0 that season, albeit with a 14.29 ERA.)

Why bring this up now, nearly a century-and-a-half later?

To remind everyone that there is nothing new under the baseball sun, even in this craziest of (tentative) seasons, with Major League Baseball formally announcing its 60-game schedule on Monday night.

This has happened before, in both 1877 and ’78, the second and third seasons of NL play, in a world far different from our current, COVID-19-delayed summer.

Take Bond. Sure, winning 40 games in a 60-game schedule is quite a feat, but in fairness he had things going for him that Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole will not.

For example, he threw underhand, which the rules of the day required. He also was only 45 feet from home plate.

Then again, his pitch count likely was elevated by the facts that each at-bat could extend to nine balls and four strikes, and that hitters were permitted to request a pitch be thrown high or low in the zone. He threw 57 complete games that season, down one from 1877.

It was a challenging season in business terms for the NL, which faced fierce competition for top players from the International Association. That league folded after 1878, prompting NL owners to institute the reserve clause into contracts to rein in player movement.

That clause would be a source of much contention over the next century or so.

The International Association was dominated by teams in the Northeast, while the NL featured only Boston and Providence from the East along with four Midwestern teams: Cincinnati, Chicago, Indianapolis and Milwaukee.

Boston – the franchise ancestor of the current Atlanta Braves – played at the South End Grounds, where it drew 48,915 fans that season, going 23-7 at home.

The Red Caps were managed by Harry Wright, a sports pioneer who was behind the first fully professional team, in Cincinnati in 1869.

But there were interesting teams and players outside Boston, too.

Paul Hines of Providence won the majors’ first Triple Crown, leading the league in batting average (.358), home runs (four) and RBI (50). He also recorded an unassisted triple play from centerfield.

He long suffered from hearing problems – perhaps the result of a beaning – and died both deaf and blind 85 years ago Friday, at age 93.

The 1878 season began on May 1 and ended on Sept. 30, so there were many more off days than there will be in 2020. Boston did not have a game between Sept. 13 and 26.

Money always was tight.

In August, the league held an all-night meeting in Cleveland at which it was announced, according to The New York Times, “The expenses of the league would exceed its receipts this year.”

It was then decided that 1879 salaries would be capped at the level of expected receipts for 1878.

Come 1879, with the International Association gone and National League having expanded to eight teams, things began to stabilize.

Providence won the pennant, finishing five games ahead of Boston with a record of 59-25. That is 84 games, if you’re scoring at home.

Never again would major league teams play as few games as were played in 1878. Until now.

New York Sports