If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that, sometimes, you just have to do the best you can under a given set of circumstances.

It’s a lesson that smacked baseball in the face back in 1981.

When the players voted to strike in late May of that season, most teams had played somewhere around 55 games.

And then, when MLB and the MLBPA reached an agreement on a resolution in late July, there was enough time left to play about another 50 games.

What a nice, even split, huh?

Probably seemed natural and lucrative to declare that the 1981 season would have two official halves, with the “winner” of each division in the first half squaring off against their second-half counterparts — those teams with the best records after the split.

Fortunately for MLB, no team won both halves of their division, so we got a full slate of Division Series for the first time ever.

Find 1981 Reds team photos on eBay (affiliate link)

Find 1981 Reds team photos on Amazon (affiliate link)

It was a case of baseball doing the best with what they had, trying to salvage some goodwill after the hideousness of the strike … at least that’s one way to look at it. We’ll leave aside the more cynical interpretations for now (apart from that sideways mention of revenue above).

But even doing the best you can in an imperfect situation almost always leaves warts exposed.

In 1981, one of those warts was the Kansas City Royals’ making the playoffs even though they limped along to an overall losing record at 50-53. That left them fourth in the old American League West, but only if you jam the two halves together into an incomplete whole, which we weren’t supposed to do.

The fourth-place Yankees also made the cut in the AL East, but at least they had a winning record, at 59-48.

The National League was sort of embarrassing, though, as the St. Louis Cardinals fashioned the best overall record in the East, yet sat at home while the Philadelphia Phillies and Montreal Expos battled it out in the NLDS.

Even worse, the Cincinnati Reds put together the best record in all of baseball, finishing with a shiny .611 winning percentage (66-42) … but got no further into October than the Redbirds did.

That is to say, Cincy didn’t “win” either half, and so had to bow out in favor of division-mates, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.

It was a bitter pill to swallow, particularly since the Dodgers went on to win the World Series (over the Yankees), and particularly since the Reds spiraled into an abyss of losing that made The Big Red Machine seem like it belonged to another universe.

Maybe, just maybe, one last deep run into October would have helped make those early 1980s Reds teams a little more bearable.

Or … the 1981 Reds team picture, the kind that you could pick up at the ballpark that summer (but not in June) … just a little more sought after, and a little less painful to behold.

Wow! Wax of the Day

The summer of 1981 was all sideways when it came to action on the field, but collectors had more choices than ever, thanks to the entrance of Fleer and Donruss to the hobby. For the first time ever card buyers could walk into a retail outlet and lay eyes on a sight like this one …

This eBay lot features a an empty 1981 Donruss wax pack box, complete with then-reigning NL MVP on the box top. It’s a fun vintage piece that can really tweak your nostalgia sense. Check out the complete listing right here (affiliate link).