The 114th World Series, aka “The Fall Classic,” will be contested between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox, two storied franchises. The Dodgers’ franchise was born in 1883. It joined the newly-organized National League in 1890. Before being known as the Dodgers, the team was known, at various times, as the Atlantics, the Bridegrooms, the Grooms, the Superbas, the Robins, and the Trolley-Dodgers (a reference to the complex maze of trolley cars that existed in Brooklyn during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The name, Trolley-Dodgers, was shortened to Dodgers in 1898.
The Dodgers have been pioneers in many areas, for instance, they were the first team to:
1. appear on tv (1939),
2. wear helmets (1941),
3. wear numbers on their uniforms (1952), and
4. most significantly, play an African American (Jackie Robinson in 1947).
In addition, I would be remiss if I did not mention that the team employed the same announcer, Vince Scully, for a record 67 years. Many people consider Scully to be the best baseball announcer ever, and having watched and listened to him for most of those 67 years, I would be hard-pressed to argue with that assessment.
The team has been to 23 WS and won six, the last one in 1988. In this era of multiple rounds of playoffs reaching the WS back-to-back is not easy. In the last 40 years it has been done only four times in the National League – twice by the Dodgers (1977 and 1978 and 2017 and 2018), once by the Atlanta Braves (1991 and 1992), and once by the Philadelphia Phillies (2008 and 2009).
The Red Sox were founded in 1901. They are an original member of the American League. They play in the oldest and, perhaps, the most iconic, ballpark, Fenway Park. Every baseball fan should see a game in that park at least once. It is a unique experience. It boasts some unusual features, notably the “Green Monster” and the “Pesky Pole.”
Like many old ballparks, Fenway was shoe-horned into an existing neighborhood (Fenway-Kenmore), which accounts for its unusual dimensions. It stands on filled-in marshland, which is likely the derivation of the name, Fenway. “Fen” is another name for wetland or bog.
The WS will begin Tuesday, October 23 in Boston. It is a best of seven series, with the home splits being 2 – 3 – 2. Boston gets the extra home game because it won more games during the regular season – 108 vs. the Dodgers’ 92. The Red Sox are the betting favorite and have the better team on paper.
Some WS facts:
1. The first modern WS was played in 1903. It was arranged by the owners of the two league champions. The Boston Pilgrims beat the Pittsburgh Pirates five games to three to win the first world championship.
2. There was no WS in 1904 as the owner of the NL champion Giants refused to play the champion of the “upstart,” “inferior” AL.
3. Beginning in 1905 the two leagues arranged the WS, and it has been played every year since then, except for 1994 during the players’ strike. Neither war nor earthquake has cancelled it.
4. The first night game was Game 4 of the 1971 WS in Three Rivers Stadium between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
5. In 1989 Candlestick Park in San Francisco, the site of Game 3, was damaged by a massive earthquake before the game, which badly shook the Bay Area. The Series was delayed for ten days, but not cancelled.
6. From 1903 through 2002 the AL and NL alternated home field advantage. In 2003 MLB, in what I believe to have been a misguided attempt to increase interest in the mid-season All-Star Game, decided to award home field advantage to the league that won the game. In 2013 MLB finally abandoned that ill-advised policy and awarded home field to the team with the best record.
7. The AL has won 65 of the previous 113 Series (58%), including Houston last year in a seven-game thriller.
8. The Yankees have made the most appearances (40) and won the most championships (27).
9. There has been only one no-hitter in the WS. Actually, it was a perfect game. It was pitched by the Yankees’ Don Larsen, a journeyman pitcher, in 1956 against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
10. Unlike some other sports where the best regular season teams generally win the championship, the team with the highest regular season winning percentage has only won the WS about one-half of the time. In fact, in the wild card era, with the extra layers of playoff series, the best regular season team often does not even reach the WS. I believe the Red Sox will face added pressure in the WS. They won 108 games and were the best team in baseball during the regular season. They need to win the WS to cap off what many believe was an historic season.
11. Only one WS MVP has been a member of the losing team (more on that later).
12. Only a handful of players have been good enough to play at the highest levels in two of the major sports, and only one has been lucky enough to play in both the WS and the Super Bowl. Can you name him? See answer below.
There have been many memorable WS. All fans have their favorites. Personally, I have seven, which I will profile below. These were not only exciting in their own right and/or featured a memorable play, but also had some significance to the sport in addition to the game itself. So, in chronological order:
1. 1955 – The Brooklyn Dodgers won their first and only WS – Despite having tremendous teams featuring various future Hall-of-Famers, every time the Dodgers played the Yankees in the WS they had lost. A key hit here, a key error there, same result. The Dodgers were living up to (or down to) their unofficial nickname – the “Bums.” Year after year, the Dodger fans’ famous refrain was “Wait until next year.” Well, this year it was the Dodgers that made the key play. In the decisive Game 7 Sandy Amoros, an unheralded utility player who had been inserted into left field as part of a “double-switch,” made one of the most amazing catches in WS history to save the game, and the Dodgers won 2-0. “Next year” had finally arrived, and a ten year old boy on Long Island became a Dodgers fan for life. As one NY paper touted the next day “Who’s a Bum?!”
2. 1960 – Pirates Beat Yanks – This was an odd Series. The Yankees were clearly the better team. They outperformed the Bucs in every category. They won their three games by a combined score of 38-3! Bobby Richardson, their second baseman, was named MVP, the only time a player from a losing team has been so honored. But, the Bucs won four close games and the Series. The seventh game was, perhaps, the best of all WS games. It doesn’t have the cache of other famous games, because it was played in the afternoon before a relatively small tv audience, rather than in prime time. Not only was it close; it featured several twists and turns and memorable plays. Also, it was the deciding game and featured a “walk-off” homer by the Pirates’ Bill Mazeroski in the bottom of the 9th inning. Ironically, Maz was a light hitter, known primarily for his fielding. Many people believe that single homer was responsible for his getting voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Another outcome was that the Yanks fired their manager, Casey Stengel, which made him available to become the first manager of the Mets two years later.
3. 1969 – The Mets won their first title – On paper this was a huge mismatch. The AL champion Orioles had won 109 games and blown through the playoffs. They were very strong in all three areas – pitching, hitting and defense. The Mets, though sporting the best record in the NL, were still viewed by many as lovable losers. Indeed, they had finished ninth the previous year. Only the most optimistic fans gave them much of a chance. Yet, they got the key hits and made the key plays in the field. They not only won but did so in five games.
4. 1975 – Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk “pushed” his home run fair to win game 6. The Cincinnati Reds were considered to be the superior team. Known as the “Big Red Machine” because of their powerful offense they had won 108 games during the regular season and had swept the Pirates in the NL playoffs. But, Boston was a popular and exciting underdog. The Series became memorable because of Game 6. The Reds led three games to two and 6-3 when the “Saux” tied the game with a pinch hit three-run homer. Then, in the bottom of the 12th Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk led off with a drive down the left field line. Clearly, it had the distance, but would it go fair or foul. TV replays showed Fisk standing at home plate waving his hands to the right as if to “push” the ball “fair.” It was “fair,” winning the game. That was a seminal WS and tv moment. But, the Reds spoiled the Cinderella story by winning the next day 4-3.
5. 1985 – KC won with an “assist” from the umpire – This was known as the I-70 or “Show-Me” Series because St Louis and KC were both in Missouri and were connected by Interstate 70. St. Louis seemed to have the Series won. They were ahead three games to two and 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning when disaster struck. The first base umpire, Don Denkinger, missed an obvious call, ruling a KC runner safe when tv replays clearly showed him to be out. But, this was before replay reviews, and the erroneous call stood. Given the extra out KC went on to win the game and the next day as well, winning the Series. Tough break for the Cards, but they still had their chances to win. All they had to do was get out of the inning or win Game 7. Champions have to be resilient.
6. 1986 – Mets win, barely – On paper, the NY Mets were the better team and were big favorites. But, they lost the first two games at home. They won Games 3 and 4 to even the Series, but proceeded to lose Game 5 and were trailing in Game 6 by 5-3 in the bottom of the tenth with two out and none on. Then, they staged the most unlikely of rallies. Three straight singles with two strikes on the batters and a wild pitch tied the score. Next Mookie Wilson hit a routine ground ball to first base, which, inexplicably, rolled between first baseman Bill Buckner’s legs and under his glove. The winning run scored, and the Mets won Game 7 as well. WHEW! That rally proved the old baseball adage. “The game is not over until the last out.” Baseball is the only sport in which the clock does not run out on the trailing team. Regardless of the score, you get your “last licks.” Many fans, especially Mets fans, consider that Game 6 to be the best WS ever.
7. 2016 – “Cubs win, Cubs win! The Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians four games to three to win their first WS since 1908, thus ending the longest championship drought in North American professional sports history. In addition, they expunged various “jinxes,” including the “Billy Goat jinx” and the “Bartman jinx.” Game 7 was a real thriller. It went extra innings, and featured a rain delay in the 9th inning. Many fans consider it to be the best WS game ever.
This series will match two franchises with extra incentive. The Dodgers, despite having had several outstanding teams, have not won the WS since 1988, an historic drought for them. The Red Sox want to put a “cap” on an outstanding season. However, no one knows what will happen, including the so-called “experts.” Fans know that you play the game on the field, not on paper. In a short series anything can happen. History tells us that an unlikely hero or two will emerge to lead his team to victory. Who will it be? Your guess is as good as mine. Enjoy the Series.
Full disclosure: I am the aforementioned ten year-old, and I “bleed Dodger Blue.” Go Dodgers!!
Quiz answer: Deon Sanders – 1992 WS and 1995 and 1996 Super Bowls.