Friday, January 14, 2011

The World Series: An American Legacy

By: C.G. Morelli

A game played by “the boys of summer” seems a bit out of place in the chilly days of October.  But, it’s during this autumn month when the Major League Baseball season winds down with one of the most exciting events in all of sports, the World Series. 

Over the course of a few weeks, teams slug it out in the playoffs, trying to earn a spot in our country’s most celebrated championship series.  But it hasn’t been around forever.  Just how did the World Series begin?

The Very First World Series

As far back as the 1880’s, head-to-head grudge matches had taken place between the top teams in various leagues.  Many of these contests featured long series of up to fifteen games and were not taken very seriously by players or spectators.  But in 1903 something special happened. 

For the first time, the well-known National League was feeling a lot of competition from a brand new league, which called itself the American League.  Many fans, who once believed the National League far more talented than the American League, began to wonder what would happen if the best team from each were to square off.  Managers on both sides saw a competition between them as a way to attract more interest in the game, and also to see who was best once and for all. 

At the end of the season, it was agreed that a tournament would be played between the two best teams in each league.  They decided to name it the World Series.

The mighty Pittsburgh Pirates, champions of the National League, took on the American League winners, the Boston Pilgrims in the best-of-nine series.  Everyone expected the Pirates, led by their star shortstop, Honus Wagner, to defeat the Pilgrims easily.  But it quickly became clear that Wagner would not be a factor.  He finished the series with only six hits, while committing six errors in the field.  Instead, a young pitcher from Boston named Bill Dineen stole the show, pitching four shutouts in the series to lead the Pilgrims to a surprising victory. 

When the team returned to Boston, fans swarmed the field at Huntington Avenue Grounds hoping to catch a glimpse of baseball’s first World Champions.  The grudge match between the two leagues created so much interest in the game of baseball that they decided to continue it every year.  The World Series has now been played for more than a century.  

Continuing the Tradition

Over the years, the World Series has changed only slightly, in order to make it the most competitive and exciting event it could possibly be.  In 1922, the length of the World Series was shortened to a best-of-seven series, as it remains today.  In 1969, the playoffs were created, giving more teams a chance to compete for a spot in the World Series.  In 1994, the commissioner of baseball added the Wildcard Round to the playoffs.  Many current baseball fans will agree that this feature has made the game even more exciting at the end of the season than it had been in the past.  As a result, the playoffs last a bit longer, pushing the World Series slightly later into the fall.  It is now common for the series to end in November rather than October.

Overall, however, the World Series we enjoy today has not changed much since the time of Honus Wagner and Bill Dineen.   The Fall Classic, as it has come to be known, still pits the best team in the National League against the best the American League has to offer.  It is still the grand stage for some of the greatest athletes in sports, and it still attracts the interest of millions of fans worldwide.  Most importantly, the dream of playing in a World Series some day is still fresh in the minds of many young boys and girls.

Into the Record Books
  • On October 10, 1920, Bill Wambsganss of the Cleveland Indians completed the only unassisted triple play in World Series history.

  • In game five of the 1956 World Series, Don Larsen of the New York Yankees pitched the only perfect game in series history by not allowing a single runner to reach base in nine innings.

  • On October 12, 1982, Paul Molitor of the Milwaukee Brewers became the only player in history to record five hits in a single World Series game.

  • Yankees closer, Mariano Rivera, holds the all-time record for recording the final out in four World Series championships.

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