The World Series has been a staple of American sports since 1903 when the best team of the American League play against the winners of the National League to earn the top spot in professional baseball. Most people know the contemporary Fall Classic as a hyped-up best-of-seven series that competes for television ratings with the NFL, NBA and NHL. The World Series was the only professional postseason in America at the time the Fall Classic began, well before the other three team sports leagues started and before radio and television carried live events.
Exhibitions played in late 1800s
The original World Series were played as annual exhibition games from 1884 to 1890 and then again in 1892. Baseball-Reference.com states the first World Series in this form went to the Providence Grays of the National League over the New York Metropolitans of the American Association by three games to none.
Eight such exhibition series were played. The longest was a 10-games-to-5 victory of the Detroit Wolverines of the National League over the St. Louis Browns. In all, the American Association won just one series outright with two ties during the exhibition years.
1904 Series never played
The 1903 World Series was determined by the teams playing in the first Fall Classic, not Major League Baseball itself since both the National and American Leagues were separate entities. In 1904, owner John T. Brush of the New York Giants announced during the season that if his team won the National League pennant, there would be no World Series.
Baseball-vault.com states Brush was true to his word–the Giants won 106 games but didn’t play against the Boston Americans simply because Brush’s field manager, John McGraw, felt the senior circuit was the better of the two leagues. Early on in the history of the World Series, the intense rivalry between leagues was more about pride and less about dollars.
Originally, the series was best-of-nine
The 1903 World Series was a best-of-nine format which was repeated from 1919-1921, according to the Information Please Online Almanac. No World Series ever went the full nine games. Three out of four of those best-of-nine bouts went eight games. The American League and National League split the longer series at two apiece.
Attendance Topped 100,000 for the first series
In the first World Series in 1903, more than 100,000 people saw eight games with an average attendance of 12,554. At the beginning of professional baseball, that attendance figure was huge. Baseball Almanac reports the winner’s take of the gate receipts was a total of $50,000. In the four games of the 2012 World Series, attendance topped 170,000 and winners shared a pool of more than $23.5 million.
LCS not added until 1969
League Championship Series weren’t played until 1969 when expansion teams were added. Until then, the winners of the regular season standings in both leagues simply played in the World Series. If teams were tied atop the standings, extra games were played to determine the winner.
Perhaps the most noted of these extra playoffs occurred in 1951 when the New York Giants played the Brooklyn Dodgers in a best-of-three series in October of 1951 to determine the National League pennant race. The Giants trailed the Dodgers by 13 ½ games in August but finished the season 37-7 to tie their in-city rivals on the last day of the regular season. Bobby Thompson’s famous “Shot Heard Round the World” beat the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth with a three-run homer in Game 3 of their tiebreaker series, according to Baseball Reference. At the time, Thompson’s dinger was the most famous walk-off in MLB history.
William Browning writes for sports and news on the Yahoo! Contributor Network.