In perusing Twitter while avoiding the real world, I stumbled across this fascinating tweet from John Thorn, the Official Historian for Major League Baseball:
Who knew (Besides John…)! Anyway, what other choice was there besides taking a deep dive and finding out more?
First, it’s important to take a step back into 1876, the first season of the National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (the “NL”). Prior to this, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players (the “NA”) had a rollercoaster of a five-year existence, folding following the 1875 season. William Hulbert, a Chicago businessman, felt the NA was riddled with mismanagement and corruption throughout its existence. As a result, he founded the NL, which ultimately evolved into the sport we know today.
In its inaugural season, the NL consisted of eight teams which resided in cities that had a population of 75,000 or more: Chicago, Hartford, St. Louis, Boston, Louisville, Mutual (New York), Athletic (Philadelphia), and Cincinnati. The teams were to play 70 games between April 22 and October 21.
Ultimately, Chicago took home the first ever NL pennant with a 7-6 win over Hartford. Notably, Chicago player Al Spalding not only threw the NL’s first shutout but also announced his plan to open a sporting goods retail store, known today as Spalding. After the season, the Chicago Tribune published a newly created statistic for the very first time: batting average. Keeping with the Chicago theme, Chicago infielder Ross Barnes led the league with a sparkling .429 batting average.
Unfortunately, during the NL’s Winter Meetings following the season, the Philadelphia Athletics and the New York Mutuals were expelled from the league for failing to complete their required schedule in 1876 due to financial hardships. This brings us all the way back to what brought us here in the first place: the first two 60-game seasons in baseball’s history.
Throughout the 1877 and 1878 seasons, each of the six remaining clubs played each of its opponents 11 times. Interestingly, Chicago suffered a fall from grace, dropping all the way to fifth place in the 1877 season with Boston taking the reigns to the pennant with a 42-18 season. The Boston Red Caps were able to double-up in 1878, winning a second pennant in two seasons with a final record of 41-19.
In 1879 the NL shuffled its teams once again, regaining two teams to return to its original eight and changing up the cities taking part once again. Thanks to the burgeoning sport, the schedule expanded to its largest season yet, encompassing 84 games.
As time went on and the sport continued to grow, the number of games in each season continued to consistently fluctuate until 1920, when Major League Baseball decided to take its 18 teams, divide them into two divisions, and set a 154-game schedule. This schedule continued until 1961, when MLB again added teams and settled on 162 total games, bringing us all the way to… 2020.
One extra note: in both the 1877 and 1878 60-game seasons, the home run record stood at a resounding… four dingers. Assuming the league starts as we all hope it will, Ronald Acuna Jr. may just mess around and accomplish this feat by August.