Makeups and Tiebreakers That Never Happened
The White Sox survived a makeup game and tiebreaker to make it into the playoffs this year. Some teams never got that chance.
Surveying baseball history since 1901, I found nine cases where makeup games that could have changed who played in the postseason were not played, not counting years where the season was shortened. All occurred in the years before World War II. The list:
1901 – The Chicago White Sox finish the season 83-53, 4 games ahead of Boston, who were 79-57. Since they scheduled 140 games then, each team could have played 4 make-up games, which could have lead to a tiebreaker. Boston’s potential makeup games were with Baltimore and Cleveland, while Chicago’s games would have been with Baltimore and Washington; Baltimore had 7 potential makeup games in 1901. There were 8 ties and 11 unplayed games that year in the AL.
1904 – The Boston Americans finished at 95-59, 1.5 games ahead of the New York Highlanders (92-59). The schedule had 154 games starting in 1904, so New York could have made up 3 games (two with Cleveland and one with Philadelphia) and climbed into a tie for first had they won all three. New York actually had 4 ties, three of which were apparently never resolved.
1905 – The Philadelphia Athletics were 92–56 with 6 unplayed games, only 2 games in front of the White Sox at 92-60 with 2 unplayed games, so if they had played it out, the Sox could have finished ahead of Philadelphia. Only one of the makeup games would have been between Philadelphia and Chicago.
1906 – The White Sox again are involved, this time finishing with a 93-58 record, 3 games ahead of New York (90-61). Each had 3 unplayed games and therefore a tie could have resulted if they had played it out. All of the makeup games would have been against other teams.
1907 – This time the Detroit Tigers (92-58) finished 1.5 games ahead of Philadelphia (88-57). Detroit missed 4 games and Philadelphia 9, so the Athletics could have finished as many as 5 games ahead if they had played all their games!
1908 – For the fifth year in a row, the AL had another situation. The Tigers again were the beneficiaries, finishing half a game ahead of Cleveland, 90-63 to 90-64. Furthermore, the White Sox (again) were 1.5 games back at 88-64, so a three-way tie would have been possible. Why didn’t the NL have any tiebreaker opportunities in that five year stretch? Well, first of all, only one pennant race was closer than 9 games. Second, the NL overall had many fewer missed games. Interestingly, the Cubs and Giants actually did tie in 1908 at 98-55 and had to play a makeup game – the one close NL race from 1904 to 1908. In fact the game they needed to make up was the famous Merkle’s Boner game earlier in the season that ended in a tie. They made up the tie game at the end of the season, which the Cubs won, and that lead to their last World Series victory (as everyone in the year 2008 knows).
1915 – The Federal League wasn’t immune to the makeup problem. In 1915, Chicago (86-66) finished even with St. Louis (87-67), but was declared the pennant winner on percentage points. Third-place Pittsburgh was also in the mix at 86-67. Chicago could have been first, tied for first, tied for second or third had all games been made up.
1935 – A long gap to the next case, with Detroit (again) at 93-58 beating out the Yankees (89-60) by 3 games. With 8 makeup games possible, New York could have won.
1938 – For the first (and only) time it happens in the NL. The Cubs (89-63) finish 2 games ahead of the Pirates (86-64), in a situation similar to 1935.
Honorable Mention – In 2000, Seattle (91-71) finished half a game behind Oakland (91-70) in the AL West, but they made the playoffs as the wild card anyway. It didn’t matter since the Yankees beat them both on the way to the AL pennant and, ultimately, a World Series victory.
Dishonorable Mention I – Strike years were especially bad, as might be expected since schedules were shortened haphazardly. In 1972, Detroit (86-70) beat out Boston (85-70) for the AL East crown, as Boston did not get to play the extra game. I don’t think they could actually determine which extra game they needed to play (even if the new bargaining agreement allowed it) since they missed a total of 7 games.
Dishonorable Mention II – In 1981, five different races were suspect due to unequal numbers of games: First half AL West (A’s 37-23 versus Rangers 33-22), first half NL East (Phillies 34-21 versus Cardinals 30-20), first half NL West (Dodgers 36-21 versus Reds 35-21), second half NL East (Expos 30-23 versus Cardinals 29-23) and second half AL West (Royals 30-23 versus A’s 27-22). Of course the Reds and Cardinals were doubly screwed since they both had the best records in their divisions for the entire year – they just couldn’t (or weren’t allowed a chance to) win either half.
Dishonorable Mention III – In 1994, Cincinnati (66-48) beat Houston (66-49) by half a game in the NL Central – not that it mattered since there was no postseason that year due to the strike.
So early in baseball’s history many games were missed or tied and not made up, which often lead to what today would be considered a tarnished pennant. In any event it would have been hard to make up all the games necessary to complete their schedules. Strike years lead to many similar cases, but I imagine that bargaining agreements were hard enough to come by without allowing for possible makeup games. Does anyone know if the current bargaining agreement explicitly discusses makeups?
These days baseball works hard at making up missed games throughout the season so that if such a situation arises, as it did this year, it can be resolved. Even so, this year a rainout of the White Sox makeup game on Monday (which was delayed for more than three hours) could have delayed the start of the playoffs.