How many games are needed for a legitimate season?

We still don't know when - or if - the 2020 Major League Baseball season will begin. We do know it won't be a full, 162-game season, though.

Even in a best-case scenario, there's just not enough time to play all 162, not without extending the regular season deep into December and the World Series beyond New Year's Day. That's not happening.

So if they play in 2020, it's going to be a shortened season. Which is not unprecedented in MLB history, given past labor disputes.

But how many games are necessary for a season to feel complete? If they start up in mid-August and play 60 games before holding a modified postseason tournament, will that feel legitimate?

Is there a number that needs to be reached to legitimize a baseball season?

Here's the key fact: No MLB season has ever ended with fewer than 102 games played by each ballclub.

baseballs-in-bin-sidebar.jpgThat bare minimum number came in 1981, when the midseason strike created a nearly two-month gap in the summer that was never made up. Teams just played the schedule as originally drawn up, which actually led to no uniform number of games played in the end. Most teams wound up playing between 106-109 games, but the Pirates and Cardinals were at the low end with only 102 while the Giants topped the list with 111.

The 1981 strike also led to MLB's decision to have split-season division champions. The teams that led their divisions when the strike began in June were named first-half champions, then the teams with the best records after play resumed were named second-half champs. The two champs then met in the first Division Series before advancing to the traditional League Championship Series.

The problem with that altered format? The two National League teams with the best records over the entire season (the Reds and Cardinals) didn't even make the playoffs because neither won its division in the first or second half. Meanwhile, the Royals made the playoffs despite finishing 50-53 overall.

No other strike-shortened season was reduced to such gimmicks. The 1985 strike and 1990 lockout didn't eliminate any meaningful number of games. The 1972 strike saw most teams lose between six and eight games. The worst strike in MLB history, meanwhile, led to the cancellation of the 1994 season after 112-117 games per team, then limited the 1995 season to 144 games.

The takeaway from all of that? Only two seasons in modern history have included fewer than 144 games per team: 1994 (which had no postseason) and 1981 (which had a weird postseason).

It's pretty clear a potential 2020 season isn't going to have more than maybe 110 games (roughly two-thirds or a normal season) and quite possibly could have fewer than that.

So here's the question: How many games are needed to legitimize a baseball season? Is 80 enough? Does it need to reach triple digits? At what point would an altered postseason format be necessary?

As has been the case throughout this entire ordeal, there's still no way to say anything definitively yet. Hopefully, within a few more weeks, we'll get some clarity.

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