The apples have been picked, the leaves are falling, and there’s a feeling of magic in the crisp fall air because baseball’s biggest event — the World Series — begins on Tuesday.
- So before the Houston Astros and the Atlanta Braves kick off their best-of-seven series, we’re diving into the history of the Fall Classic and what makes October baseball so special. How can you not be romantic about baseball?
QUOTE OF THE DAY
The only reason I don’t like playing in the World Series is I can’t watch myself play.
📖 The history
The first World Series was played 118 years ago in 1903 as a nine-game series between the American League (AL) champion Boston Americans (who later became the Red Sox) and the National League (NL)–winning Pittsburgh Pirates, with Boston claiming the first World Series title.
- While the Fall Classic still pits the AL and NL winners against each other, the first edition of the World Series actually marked the end of two years of bitter infighting between the leagues.
The National League of Professional Base Ball Clubs (which later became known as the NL) formed in 1876 but had to endure threats from other upstart leagues. One such league was the AL, which formed in 1901 and immediately started poaching players from the NL.
- After two years of tension, the Pirates’ owner challenged the Americans to an interleague competition, creating the first World Series.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing from there. The very next year, the NL winners (the NY Giants, now San Francisco) refused to play the AL champion Boston Americans, claiming the AL was an inferior league.
- But they later regretted that decision, and in 1905 the leagues established the World Series as a formal event. It’s been played (nearly) every year since.
A major low point for the Fall Classic came in 1919, when eight players from the Chicago White Sox were bribed to lose the World Series as part of a larger gambling syndicate.
- The participating players earned at least $5,000 ($78K today) for losing to the Cincinnati Reds, but when they were caught, they were banned from baseball for life.
- Luckily, the drama in the years since has mostly happened on the diamond, with countless thrilling moments coming on baseball’s biggest stage.
👀 Memorable moments
Speaking of, here are just a few of our favorites from over 100 years of World Series history.
Jackie Robinson’s debut: In 1947, the same year he broke baseball’s color barrier, Brooklyn Dodger (who later became the LA Dodgers) Jackie Robinson desegregated the World Series. While his Dodgers lost that series, Robinson would compete for a title five more times, winning a championship in 1955. Legend.
The Catch: A play has to be pretty special to be referred to simply as “The Catch,” and Hall of Famer Willie Mays’ iconic grab during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series sure was. With the game tied 2–2, Mays’ catch provided a crucial first out for the New York Giants and prevented Cleveland from scoring on the play.
- The Giants won the game en route to sweeping the series and hoisting the World Series trophy, with Mays’ catch forever etched in the memories of baseball fans.
Perfection: If Hannah Montana had been around when NY Yankee Don Larsen took the mound during the 1956 World Series, he would’ve scoffed at her “Nobody’s Perfect” single. In Game 5 Larsen pitched the first (and to date, only) perfect game in World Series history, not allowing any player to reach a base.
- The win gave NY a 3-2 series lead, and they went on to win the title two days later.
Now walk it out: Boston Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk waving his home run fair during Game 6 of the 1975 World Series and LA Dodger Kirk Gibson limping around the bases after hitting a walk-off while injured during Game 1 in 1988 are enduring images. But there’ve only been two walk-off homers to win the whole shebang.
- In 1960, Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Bill Mazeroski hit the first. With the game tied 9–9 in the bottom of the ninth inning, Mazeroski sent it over the fence, giving Pittsburgh their first World Series title in 35 years. Couldn’t have written it better.
- The other walk-off homer to win the World Series came in 1993, when Toronto Blue Jay Joe Carter belted one in Game 6 to give the Jays their second-ever (and second consecutive) title. Touch ’em all, Joe.
💃 Women at the World Series
Women have made barrier-breaking strides at the World Series,both in the broadcast booth and on the diamond.
All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL): If you’ve seen A League of Their Own, you know some of the story of the AAGPBL. The league originated in 1943 as a (segregated) way to keep baseball in the national spotlight while most young men were fighting in World War II. Just like Geena Davis shows in the movie, these women could flat out play.
- Despite the war, the MLB did host a World Series in 1943, but we have to shout out the winners of the AAGPBL’s inaugural “Scholarship Series,” the Racine Belles. It pays to hit like a girl.
Lesley Visser: The legendary broadcaster has been part of many notable firsts for women in sports (she literally wrote the book on it). One moment came during the 1990 World Series, when Visser became the first woman to cover the Fall Classic on national television, working as the lead field reporter for CBS Sports.
Hannah Storm: Another icon in sports journalism, Storm made history during the 1995 World Series as the first woman to host a World Series game solo and the first to preside over the World Series trophy celebration. Now that’s something to celebrate.
Jessica Mendoza: When we think of barrier breakers in baseball broadcasting, we think of Jessica Mendoza. In September, she was part of ESPN’s first-ever all-female MLB broadcast team, less than a year after becoming the first female World Series analyst on any national platform during the 2020 World Series. Stan is an understatement.
🔢 By the numbers
With over 100 years of history, there’ve been countless records set (and broken) on baseball’s biggest stage. Here are some notable numbers from the Fall Classic.
1: The number of current MLB teams that have never played in a World Series. Six teams have never won the championship, but the Seattle Mariners have never even played for one. Don’t stop believin’, M’s fans.
2: The number of major pro sports championships Deion Sanders has competed in. Sanders is the only person to have played in both the World Series and the Super Bowl.
- He competed with the Atlanta Braves in 1992 and won the Super Bowl in 1995 and 1996 with the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys, respectively. Get you a player who can do...everything.
14: The record number of games World Series Hall of Fame catcher (and walking quote machine) Yogi Berra played in, winning in 10 of his appearances.
27: World Series titles the NY Yankees have won, the most of any team by a wide margin. The catch? They haven’t won since 2009.
108: The longest World Series title drought. After 108 grueling years, Chicago Cubs fans finally saw their beloved Cubbies hoist the trophy in 2016.
📺 How to watch
The Braves and the Astros will look to make their own history when the World Series begins on Tuesday with Game 1 set for 7:30 p.m. ET. All games will be airing on FOX in the U.S. and Sportsnet in Canada. Play ball!