Monday, June 9, 2008

History Lesson: The First World Series

In 1884, the National League and its major league rival, the American Association, met for the first time in a post-season championship series that they called the "World Series," or, more commonly, the "World's Series." In earlier seasons, pennant winners had met informally to play exhibition games, but the 1884 Series was the first to be officially approved and scheduled by league offices.

In the series, the NL’s Providence Grays, behind the pitching of Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, swept all three games from the AA’s New York Metropolitans -- the ultimate anti-climax.

Postseason championships continued until the AA folded in 1891, then reappeared as the Temple Cup Series that pitted the top two National League finishers against each other. Lack of fan interest killed the Temple Cup after four years of lopsided series.

Then, two years after the American League’s formation in 1901, baseball’s czars reestablished interleague championships with what most fans consider the first “modern” World Series in 1903. In that series, the AL’s Boston Pilgrims (now Red Sox) upset the haughty Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three in a best-of-nine set.

The idea of a postseason series was proposed by Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss, who challenged Pilgrims owner Henry Killilea near the end of the season; all it took to seal the deal was a handshake. The victory by the American League upset the peace that had ended the American League War. And the following season, manager John McGraw of the pennant-winning New York Giants, whose ownership did not recognize the “treaty” between the two leagues and was angry at the AL for having placed a rival franchise in New York, refused to entertain any notions of staging another postseason contest.

By 1905, tempers had subsided and the Series was allowed to continue—which it did uninterrupted until 1994, when a bonfire of greed and power conspired to take the Series away from the public. (But that's a story for another day.)

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