Top Ten Origins: The World Series

It’s October, time for that great American pageant: The World Series. The championship series of “America’s pastime” has been played annually since 1903 (with two exceptions in 1904 and 1994). Debates over which are the “greatest” of these series make for delightful (if heated) conversation and are best conducted over beer. Here, Origins offers ten World Series contests over the decades that are landmark moments in baseball’s evolution as a commercial enterprise and its adaptation to the significant social and cultural changes of modern America.

1. 1903: Boston Americans beat Pittsburg Pirates, 5 games to 3

One game in the 1903 World Series.
One game in the 1903 World Series.

The National League began in 1876, evolving out of the National Association, which dated to 1871. Over the next quarter century it faced a number of challenges to its status as the only “major” league in baseball. The most enduring of these, the American League, started in 1902, after Ban Johnson opted to transform his minor Western League into a major league. Tensions between the two leagues, including the raiding of players contracted to National League teams by the new circuit (the American League), prevented any measure of cooperation. But in 1903, a series was contested to determine the “world’s” best baseball team (it was not the first competition labelled a “World Series,” but it was the most enduring). The American’s League’s Boston Americans, led by pitcher Cy Young, beat the senior league’s Pittsburg Pirates, whose lineup included shortstop Honus Wagner, five games to three. Animosity between the two leagues was so great that the World Series was not played in 1904, but beginning in 1905 the tradition that would become known as the “Fall Classic” occurred annually until 1994.

2. 1919: Cincinnati Reds beat Chicago White Sox, 5 games to 3

The 1919 Chicago White Sox Team--The 'Black Sox.'
The 1919 Chicago White Sox Team--The "Black Sox."

The Black Sox scandal was the most infamous moment in baseball’s history – rivalled only by the steroid revelations of the turn of this century. The Chicago White Sox were favored to beat the Cincinnati Reds. As detailed in Eliot Asinof’s Eight Men Out, and John Sayles’ popular film of the same name, organized gamblers coerced eight White Sox players into conspiring to throw the Series. When the deception was revealed, major league owners created the position of commissioner to oversee the game’s operation, with Judge Keenesaw Mountain Landis being the first to hold the position. His initial edict was to ban the eight players from baseball for life, including “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, who was consequently never inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Little thought was given to what had induced eight players – who felt that they were underpaid and not sharing in the financial benefits of their team’s success – to risk their reputations in this way.

3. 1921: New York Giants beat New York Yankees, 5 games to 3

A program from the 1921 World Series.
A program from the 1921 World Series.

More than any other player, Babe Ruth was central to reviving baseball’s tarnished reputation following the Black Sox scandal. After his sale from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees, Ruth’s prodigious home-run power made him the most recognizable player in the game during a decade in which the rise of radio and the emergence of a consumer economy combined to make professional sport both popular and profitable. Ruth’s Yankees would make the World Series six out of eight years beginning in 1921. In their first appearance, they played their city rivals, the Giants, from whom they leased the Polo Grounds – so that all games in 1921 were contested in the same ballpark. Yankee Stadium, known as “the house that Ruth built,” was not opened until 1923. The Giants won the 1921 Series in eight games, the last time that a best-of-nine-games format was used. More significantly, this was the first World Series with radio broadcasts, although these were recreations from game reports. The following year’s Giants-Yankees Series would see the first live radio broadcasts.

4. 1947: New York Yankees beat Brooklyn Dodgers, 4 games to 3

Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers.
Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers, poised and ready to swing.

Nineteen forty-seven is a year indelibly marked on American sporting consciousness. That season, Jackie Robinson made the Brooklyn Dodgers roster and broke the “color barrier” that prevented African-Americans (and dark-skinned Latinos) from playing in white leagues, a prohibition that organized baseball had informally enforced since the 1880s. Robinson’s historic and remarkable (he was named the National League’s rookie of the year) season culminated in his Dodgers appearing in the World Series. This was also the first year that Series games were broadcast on television, albeit primarily limited to sets in the surrounding area. The Dodgers lost a heart-breaking seven-game series to the New York Yankees, but baseball had forever been changed.

5. 1955: Brooklyn Dodgers beat New York Yankees, 4 games to 3

Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series.
Jackie Robinson stealing home in the 1955 World Series.

Mythologized as “the boys of summer” in Roger Kahn’s eponymous popular history, the Brooklyn Dodgers finally won their first (and only) World Series championship in 1955. “Dem bums,” as they were known to their fans, beat their crosstown rivals, the New York Yankees, four games to three. Robinson jump-started the Dodgers by dramatically stealing home in Game One (although Brooklyn lost that game). The Yankees would turn the tables a year later, winning their own seven-game series, in a championship best remembered for Don Larsen throwing the only perfect game in World Series history. Beyond nostalgia, 1955 was also significant for including the first World Series game to be televised in color.

6. 1959: Los Angeles Dodgers beat Chicago White Sox, 4 games to 2

L.A. Coliseum during the 1959 World Series.
L.A. Coliseum during the 1959 World Series.

The growing impact of television and the emergence of commercial air travel meant that sport franchises didn’t need to be confined to the rail corridors of the Midwest and the Atlantic seaboard, while suburbanization was changing how baseball was consumed. Worried about both the capacity of his ballpark (Ebbets Field) and the limited parking for cars, Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley petitioned local planners and politicians for assistance in building a new stadium, before turning his gaze elsewhere. In a development both inevitable and stunning, the Dodgers and their fellow National Leaguers, the New York Giants, simultaneously decamped for the West Coast following the 1957 season – to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. Playing in the cavernous Los Angeles Coliseum while awaiting the completion of their new ballpark in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers hosted the first West Coast World Series game in 1959, on their way to winning the championship in six games.

7. 1960: Pittsburgh Pirates beat New York Yankees, 4 games to 3

The Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1960 World Series.
The Pittsburgh Pirates win the 1960 World Series.

The 1960 World Series is best remembered for how it ended, on its final swing. The powerhouse Yankees – featuring future Hall of Famers Whitey Ford (who threw two complete-game shutouts in the Series), Mickey Mantle, and the late Yogi Berra, along with MVP Roger Maris – outscored (by more than two-to-one), outhit, and outhomered the Pirates, and still lost. The deciding Game Seven ended in dramatic fashion, when second baseman Bill Mazeroski, best-known for his fielding, sent the hometown Pirates to victory with a ninth-inning, game-winning home run – the first-ever last-inning Series-winning homer. (Toronto’s Joe Carter duplicated the feat in Game Six in 1993.) Contested by two long-standing franchises in two historic ballparks, Forbes Field and Yankee Stadium, the 1960 Series was the culmination of baseball’s now-rose-colored post-war boom. The game would begin to change almost immediately with expansion to California and Washington, DC in 1961 and two more teams added in Houston and New York in 1962, the latter of which – the Amazin’ Mets – would win the 1969 Series.

8. Three from the early 1970s: 1970: Baltimore Orioles beat Cincinnati Reds, 4 games to 1; 1971: Pittsburgh Pirates beat Baltimore Orioles, 4 games to 3; 1972: Oakland A’s beat Cincinnati Reds, 4 games to 3

Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium in 1970.
Cincinnati's Riverfront Stadium, 1970.

The crass commercialism of baseball’s modernity was on full display during the early-1970s. Game One of the 1970 World Series, played at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium, marked the first time that a World Series game had been played on artificial turf, a product developed for the indoor climate of Houston’s hyper-modern Astrodome. Game Four in 1971, also at Three Rivers Stadium, was the first night game in World Series history, a scheduling change driven by television executives’ desire to have games played in primetime. The A’s victory over the Reds in 1972 was the first World Series contested entirely in multi-purpose stadia (“cookie-cutter” facilities designed to accommodate multiple sports, primarily baseball and football): the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum and Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium. It would be another 15 years before the Metrodome in Minneapolis hosted the first indoor World Series game in 1987.

9. 1992: Toronto Blue Jays beat Atlanta Braves, 4 games to 2

The 1992 World Series.
The 1992 World Series.

Despite having expanded outside the United States in 1969 when the Montreal Expos joined the National League, it was another 23 years before the championship of the National Pastime was played north of the 49th parallel. Game Three in 1992 marked the first World Series game played in Canada. But the biggest “Canadian” controversy of the Series occurred before Game Two, when the U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium paraded an upside-down Canadian flag into the pre-game ceremonies. With an extra-inning victory in Game Six, the Blue Jays became the first Canadian-based team to win the World Series. Their manager, Cito Gaston, was also the first African-American to both manage in and win a World Series.

10. 1994: World Series cancelled

A strike by major league baseball players began on August 12, 1994.
A strike by major league baseball players began on August 12, 1994, and led to the cancellation of the 1994 World Series.

A decade-and-a-half of contentious labour relations, which had split the 1981 season in half, culminated in a strike by major league baseball players that began on August 12, 1994, and led to the cancellation of the World Series (announced on September 12th). The strike would not end until April 2nd of the following year, when major league baseball had attempted to demonstrate its resolve by holding spring training with “replacement” players and threatening to begin the season with rosters populated in the same fashion. This was only the second time that the World Series had not been played.

Bonus. 1924 Colored World Series: Kansas City Monarchs beat Hilldale Giants, 5 games to 4

Kansas City Monarchs and the Hilldale Giants line up before the 1924 World Series.
Kansas City Monarchs and the Hilldale Giants line up before the 1924 World Series.

A response to the color barrier instituted by the white major leagues was the creation of black-owned baseball teams. Some barnstormed, while others constituted what were known as the “negro leagues.” Entrepreneur Rube Foster created the Negro National League in 1920, while the rival Eastern Colored League began in 1923. A year later their respective champions met in a World Series that featured future Hall of Famers Judy Johnson, Biz Mackey, and Bullet Joe Rogan. This series took place though 1927, while a subsequent incarnation – the Negro World Series – occurred annually from 1942-48.

October, 2015